October 11 2021

Pig Guide review (of a brand new arrival to the scene): Casa de Tapas, York Street

‘Tapas’: derived from the Spanish verb tapar (a cognate of the English word ‘top’), used to describe the little with-drinks nibbles served by proprietors of pre-19th century Spanish Posadas, Albergues or Bodegas – kind of, early Airbnb ventures that offered rooms and refreshments for travellers. On from this…

The oft-told story goes that the original tapa were thin slices of bread usually topped with charcuterie which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses with in between sips: on one level, a practical measure that prevented flies from hovering over the sweet sherry; on another level, a very canny up-sell: cured meats tend to be quite salty, so therefore activate thirst. If you’ve got a bar full of thirsty customers, you’ve got a bar full of speedier drinkers, right? On from this once more…

In Spain, groups of local merrymakers regularly cruise tapas bars, expecting to be presented with a sliver of ham, or a cube of cheese, or a crisp little croqueta to accompany their drinks as they go; so far, so very civilised. When the Brits ‘discovered’ Spain as a popular (and accessible) tourist destination in the 1950s and ended up binging on albondigas, an influx of tapas bars and restaurants came the other way, and duly opened on our at-home doorsteps. But on from this yet again…

Wandering around Bath these days, you’d be forgiven for thinking… what happened to the UK’s homegrown tapas revolution? For sure, we’ve got a couple of big glitzy chains (and the odd little indie venture) attesting to specialise in the genre but in reality mostly serving up commercial rollout, pre-prepped, often pre-frozen portions of flavourless albondigas, floppy calamari and shrivelled gambas before a sad-looking plate of what tastes like boil-in-the-bag paella arrives at the table. Or, we’re subjected to the dreaded Small Plates menu: a snooty, ‘British’ version of tapas that costs upwards of £8-9 per dish and are only really suitable for sharing with others if you have a bag of chips on the way to the restaurant. And oh, don’t get me started on Asian/Cajun/French ‘tapas’, or the weird rebranding of Greek Mezze as a ‘tapas-style spread’… but we’re moving on for the last time here in, this time, a distinctly optimistic mood…

Tim Coffey – the force behind popular, long-standing Bath indie restaurants The Real Italian Pizza Co, The Herd and Joya Italian Steakhouse – has recently turned his talents to tapas. He’s scrubbed up (without taking any of the intrinsic characterful charm away from) the space recently vacated by Cafe Retro on York Street, built a terrific team and devised an accessible but wholly authentic tapas menu that skips from almendras fritas (all sangria is too wet without at least one handful of salted, fried Spanish almonds) to Tarta de Santiago taking in a properly classic selection of Spanish cheese and charcuterie, tortillas, croquetas, carne and pescado along the way.

Most dishes fluctuate around the £6.50-£7.50 price tag (and you can choose any three dishes for just £18 every Monday-Friday lunchtime), there’s a very generous Tabla de Embutidos that brings a heap of Spanish cured meats, cheeses, olives, bread and that all-important aioli to the table for £18, and a strong selection of vegetarian/vegan dishes make sure everybody’s invited to the fiesta.

Casa de Tapas feels like a proper tapas bar, the like of which you’d easily wander in to when rambling around Barcelona’s Ramblas, offering the kind of bright, shiny, linger-long or go speedy vibe that allows you to choose your own pace according to your mood rather than having the pace and mood dictated to you by an over-keen team. The menu moves according to a ‘what do you fancy, right here, right now?’ beat too; had we, for example, been en route to the theatre, or the cinema, or a gig, that Tabla de Embutidos could have appeared as quickly as a couple of accompanying beers… and probably have disappeared just as swiftly. Having a party? There’s literally something for everybody here, plus proper party-on jugs of sangria to keep spirits lifted. Smoochy date night? That was us, taking our time, chilling out, catching up.

And so it came to pass that we caught up on both Casa de Tapas and each other over waves of delectable dishes including what’s seriously the very best Jamón ibérico we’ve tasted outside of Salamanca, and two types of croquetas (a mushroom and a chorizo and Serrano ham incarnation, both at once perfectly crunchy/salaciously bechamel-creamy), and succulent prawns drenched in brazenly bold amounts of garlic and chilli, and soft, sexy, semi-cured chorizo in a flavour depth charge red wine reduction, and slow-cooked, smoky fresh octopus with dinky little potato chunks soaking up all that smoky sauce, and house bread topped with juicy, super-ripe grated tomato and more garlic and lashings of proper olive oil.

We drank too much Cava sangria, and too much house red wine (another note to take note of here: you know that rumour that’s at large at the moment regarding rocketing wine prices? Plunder the invitingly affordable wine list here and prepare to stop those tongues wagging), and because it was a Friday evening and we all know that calories don’t count on a Friday evening, we finished off our feast with a proper Basque-style ‘burnt’ cheesecake smattered with homemade strawberry jam and a Crema Catalana because… well, when in Spain.

Okay, we weren’t in Spain – we were on York Street, in Bath. But there’s something about Casa de Tapas that really does make you feel like you’ve been somewhere else for the evening, far away from the hedge fund owned “tapas” traders, and the formerly-frozen fritas, and the sad Small Plates being churned out just down t’road. Has the UK’s homegrown tapas revolution finally arrived in Bath? What we can say for sure is that, visiting Casa de Tapas for what is destined to be just the first of many excursions, se sintió como si volviéramos a casa.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Categorised in: Bath, News