Once upon a time I ordered a chorizo tapas dish from a pub that very nearly ruined my love of this gorgeous smoky Spanish sausage. Bulbous little balls, deep-fried to oblivion until they’d morphed into weapons of mass destruction, ready to burst either on you or in your mouth, splattering boiling oil everywhere. Not only did it ruin my day, leaving me furious that such awfulness could be served up – and that I’d been stupid enough to pay for it – but it also left me slightly (wrongly) anti-chorizo for some time. Yes, I’ve had it, but I felt that the experience had somewhat dampened our relationship.
I have many things to thank El Borracho de Oro in Birmingham for – good service, tasty food and equally enjoyable sangria – but the main one is for restoring my faith in chorizo. Thanks to these guys, that murky memory of exploding fat and dark disappointment has been replaced by a far better memory. A winner in and of itself, before we even get on to all the other great stuff that has led to this Spanish delight being praised far and wide – and from far more experienced, important people than little old me.
I visited early on a Saturday evening with friends after a casual spa day (not my average Saturday – if only). El Borracho has been on my list for a long time given the rave reviews it’s had, but as usual I’m late to the party. We arrived to one of the warmest welcomes I’ve had in some time and soon felt very comfortable despite wet hair and shiny faces.
It seemed churlish not to have sangria when surrounded by the feeling of Spain (despite a typically grey, wet and windy day in the UK) so we got cracking on a carafe while we chose what to have. The menu is expansive, to say the least, with introductory choices of breads and dips, cheeses and hams that each get their own section. That’s before you even get to the meat, fish and vegetable tapas plus the paellas.
My friend Hannah is a tapas lover and does that kid in a sweetshop thing or ordered many, many items. Not that I’m complaining of course. She’s also pescatarian but was kind enough to let me and our other friend check out the meat dishes too. We started with Galician bread with Extra Virgin olive oil with its trademark taste of sunshine.
Hannah’s also a cheese queen so we ordered a small selection of El Borracho’s offerings which include: Manchego; a mild cow’s cheese from Mahon in Minorca; an unpasteurised goat’s cheese; a blue cheese and a lightly-smoked sheep’s cheese. These last two were my favourites, though I have to confess to being keen to move on to the hot dishes we’d ordered.
Patatas Bravas isn’t something I’d ever really order – even in a Spanish restaurant. I’ve had it so many times, rarely been blown away, and often see that there’s far more on a menu that I’m willing to spend money, time and calories on than something so run-of-the-mill.
Thank goodness my pals don’t feel the same! The Patatas Bravas at El Borracho are probably the best I’ve ever had. These were lightly-spiced, fried squares of perfection that I think I’d have been happy to eat on their own but the alioli and brava sauces on top just pushed them up a few leagues. Liberally glugged on top without dousing the potatoes, the alioli was unashamedly garlicky, just as it should be, while the brava sauce brought sweetness and tang in just the right proportion.
Another dish I didn’t have particularly high expectations of are the potato churros with blue cheese sauce. I was wrong. They’re dreamy savoury versions of the winning dessert – light and fluffy inside, crispy yet clean on the outside and the perfect vehicle for some naughty blue cheese dressing. Why I haven’t come across these before I don’t know – I feel a bit bereft for having missed out for 35 years.
Truffle and wild mushroom croquetas were nice but not the most memorable ones I’ve ever had. Crispy aubergine with honey, sesame and chilli was a bit of a wildcard choice chosen mainly out of intrigue. Bringing a slightly oriental twist to the table, it got the thumbs up from me though my pals weren’t sure. Ticking all the requisite boxes of sweet, spice and savoury I thought it was a welcome twist to a classic menu.
Our meat treat was pork cheek with red wine sauce and potato mousseline – probably the most akin to a main course out of all the dishes but still a manageable portion size. Super soft pork (no knives needed here), rich, decadent red wine sauce and soupy, slightly sweet potato. A winner.
Piquillo Relleno de Marisco – roasted Piquillo pepper stuffed with saffron and seafood bechamel – was less impressive. A nice idea and there was nothing wrong with the flavour, but the soft, stodgy texture just didn’t do it for us.
And so to the chorizo. To you, these little balls of sausage cooked in Spanish red wine won’t seem like much. To my non-veggie friend they were nice enough. To me, they are a sign that El Borraco de Oro is everything that the place that insulted chorizo in the worst way possible is not. Top quality chorizo cooked in the wine for long enough that it had taken on its flavour and served simply with the confidence that good ingredients, well executed are all you need.
The Tortilla ‘Al Barracho’ – filled with leeks & smoked cheese – was slightly less simple but still showed off the skill of the guys in the kitchen. Personally, I think I’d be happy to stick with a simple tortilla if it’s as well executed as this rather than complicating it with extra ingredients – even if I am a glutton for melted cheese.
Tapas done, we declared we couldn’t possible manage dessert yet somehow found ourselves persuaded by a combination of a bit of sangria-induced giddiness, the great atmosphere that comes with a bustling restaurant and some entertaining live music, and the rather nice waiter who it seemed so rude to say no to.
One of my pals went for the Tarta de Santiago casera – A homemade almond and lemon tart, which us heathens would describe more as a cake and once you get your head around this it was pretty good. A chocolate fondant with salted caramel was well executed. And sadly it was my dessert that was a bit of a letdown – a trio of Crema Catalana – one coffee flavours, one tonka bean and one citrus flavours.
Sadly, in my uneducated opinion, this is one of those dishes that proves why you shouldn’t mess with a good thing. For starters, three crema catalana is just too much. By the time you’ve had a spoon of each one you’re already done. Secondly, the flavours just didn’t work. Crema catalana is all about sweet, creamy custard with citrus and cinnamon to differentiate from its French creme brulee cousin. Once you start messing with that you lose the classic flavours and it all ends up just a bit, well, weird.
Nevertheless, in what I’ve decided is a sign that this place really is great, we left raving about our meal and guaranteeing that we’d be back. The desserts might not have been on point for me, but everything else was – the welcome, the ambience and most importantly the food.
From a casual post-spa tapas to birthday celebrations, post-work eats or romantic meals for two, I can see how El Borracho de Oro caters for it all and I’m not at all surprised that it’s won Birmingham’s heart. A healthy selection of offers will guarantee to pull people in no matter how tough times are, and at the other end of the scale they offer some pretty impressive showstoppers like a whole roasted suckling pig which I’ve already decided will be my birthday dinner this year. And on top of that all – it’s restored my love of chorizo. And for that, El Borracho, I will always thank you!
We paid in full for our meal at El Borracho de Oro. They didn’t know I was a blogger.