It’s not often I get to offer you a post that includes eating out AND eating in, so get yourselves ready.
Tapas Revolution isn’t new to this blog. I visited last year – in fact, nearly exactly a year ago – with some pals and saw it very much as a dinner of two halves, one half good and the other not so good. Having said that, the good half was yummy so I was willing to give it another go.
How better, then, than to return on a night I could not only try a few of the new dishes on the menu as well as some of the old classics, but also meet the popular chain’s founder Omar Allibhoy and walk away with his newly-launched cookbook, Spanish Made Simple.
Omar Allibhoy is a pretty impressive chap. Not only is he clearly a talented chef and restaurateur – he dreamed up Tapas Revolution and now has seven restaurants across the UK with more in the pipeline. But he’s also just an all-round lovely guy.
Friendly, fun, passionate, and totes down to earth. I mean, the guy was appearing on Saturday Kitchen just a few days after we met him, but it didn’t stop him hanging out with a load of food bloggers and talking us through his book, his food, and plenty more.
As we chatted, we tried dishes from the new Tapas Revolution menu including some classic Iberico ham, some golden, crispy deep-fried croquettes (the croquettes were a winner on my last visit) as well as baked piquillo peppers filled with mushroom bechamel and piquillo pepper sauce.
We also got our chops round one of the new dishes on the menu – Cogollos de tudela con vinagreta de panceta or warm roasted lettuce salad with honey and smoked bacon vinaigrette. It’s not often you get lettuce in this country in a dish other than a salad, and I really enjoyed a taste of something different.
For dessert the sweet sherry chocolate pot was, as you’d imagine, fabulously indulgent. But for me it was the torrija – caramelised brioche bun soaked in custard – that won. Think eggy bread, but sweeter, creamier, richer, and generally more calorie -laden.
In an effort to stay off the booze (I know, who was I kidding), I had started off with a Horchata from the drinks menu. It’s a classic Valèncian drink made from tigernut root and I can safely say, I’m not a fan. Sorry Omar, it just didn’t do it for me.
What did, though, was the taste of the Alvear Pedro Ximénez Añada Montilla-Moriles sherry that we tried. In recent years I’ve found myself coming round more to dessert wines and sherries, and this was a sweet, amber liquor that was all the right levels of fragrant, sweet and intense.
Not only did I enjoy an evening of tapas, and walked away with my own (signed!) copy of Omar’s new book, but fellow blogger Midlands Gourmet Girl and I had the pleasure of his company on our train journey back to Rugby. No he wasn’t going there, he’s got far better places to be, but he was lucky enough to be changing trains in the Midlands hub that is Rugby station so was stuck with us.
During our journey, the three of us covered plenty of topics from his own background and restaurants to a bit about us – including my lack of confidence in my own culinary skills. According to Mr Allibhoy, his book can allow even the most amateur of cooks to rustle up a feast. So, at some point, I assured him I would cook some dishes from his book. And peeps, when I say I’ll do something, I blimin well do it.
There’s all sorts of dishes packed in Spanish Made Simple, which by the way is billed as ‘Foolproof Spanish recipes for every day’. Nibbles, meat and game, eggs, classic Spanish dishes you’d expect to see and some slightly more unusual.
Omar had suggested – in writing in the front of my book – that I should try to make the Torreznos which is slow-cooked pork belly with a sweet, spicy and sour sauce. But finding it slightly daunting, I opted for a couple of dishes that were a) easier and quicker and b) that I had the ingredients for in my house at the time.
For main course, I decided on Higaditos Al Jerez Dulce, otherwise known as chicken livers with sweet sherry wine and spices. They would be accompanied by Coliflor Con Ajos Vinagre Y Alcaparras, or simply ‘cauliflower with garlic, vinegars and capers’. Believe it or not, I actually had all the ingredients I needed, bar capers which I instructed Mr M to pick up on his way home. I even had some authentic Pimenton from one of my numerous trips or blogging treats, so it was game on.
Both recipes were super easy, and I’m not just saying that. For the cauliflower it was a case of boiling it then draining and leaving to cool, then frying garlic, capers and cumin seeds, adding pimenton and sherry vinegar, then bunging the cauli in. Yep, that simple. Perfect for a kitchen novice like me.
The liver was marginally more complicated – and only marginally. Can I just say, I know not everyone loves liver but I’m a massive fan. It’s good for you, it’s healthy, it’s cheap and it’s blimin tasty. I’m just a bit nervous about cooking it because when done wrong, it can be bloody awful.
However, I girded my loins and decided that if I followed the instructions, even I could manage it. This time the pimenton was used to coat the raw liver, along with cumin, salt and flour. The liver was then fried with whole garlic cloves, then flambeed in sweet sherry wine honey and thyme.
I’ve never flambeed before but was confident with Mr M on hand and his expert firefighting skills that it couldn’t go too wrong. I’m happy to say, not only did I not burn my house down but it did exactly what it was meant to and I ended up with gorgeous-looking liver coated in a rich, sticky sauce.
We served both dishes with sweet potato mash and it made for a delicious dinner, even if I say so myself. The liver was slightly crispy on the outside but gorgeously tender on the inside and the sauce was an unctuous mix of sweet honey with smoky garlic and pimenton. The cauliflower was the perfect accompaniment, with the capers and vinegar providing the acidic tang to balance out the smooth richness elsewhere on the plate.
As you can imagine, I’m pretty darn proud. The last meal I cooked for Mr M involved raw veg (yes, I know!), a red face from me and a lot of mickey-taking from him, so it was great to make my culinary comeback with a stonkingly wonderful dinner.
Returning to cookbooks and branching out to new dishes that aren’t just my tried and tested dead-certs is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages but haven’t quite managed, until now. Thanks to Omar and his words of encouragement – plus my free book – I seem to be back in the saddle of this cooking malarkey. I might still have my stabilisers on, but I’m pedalling and up for a bit of practice. Watch this space!
I was invited to Tapas Revolution to meet Omar Allibhoy and try several dishes for free. I was also given my book for free, but everything I cooked in this post was from our very own kitchen.
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