I love it when a new restaurant opens.  Let me rephrase; I love it when a new restaurant is conceived.  Much like the population growth, restaurants are following suit and the gestation period is becoming ever shorter in order to meet the demand of high competition in the culinary stakes.

When SAF closed its doors in early 2012, I mourned their loss to Curtain Road.  Creative vegan cuisine and such a lovely addition to the repetitive offerings in the Shoreditch area, I truly was perturbed as to what could possibly replace them.  So when driving past one day with my friend Paul, he informed me that in fact the Brindisa Group had snapped up ownership of the premises. Good, I thought. A new proprietor that I would happily welcome in.

Brindisa has already established 3 premises, all well loved, in Borough (shop and restaurant), South Kensington and Soho.  I have been able to dine out at all of their ventures and have been greeted by hospitable and informative staff in all ways Español.  I am a big fan of ‘tapas’, in all of its manifestations. It is a way of eating that has truly taken hold of London.  To find out a 4th spot named Tramontana was due to arrive nearby thrilled me, and what’s more, my dear friend Maria has been heavily involved in its opening.  Maria is an extremely happy new addition to the Brindisa team (being Spanish herself the mother tongue is indulged both linguistically and in palate) and its always so wonderful to see someone find a place of work that is fulfilling.  She informs me that they operate ‘like a family’ and I have witnessed the familiar ‘Hola!’ whenever she has entered one of their restaurants.

So I secured my place to witness the birth.  With a glass of Pares Balta “Honeymoon” 2011 to toast my companion’s arrival (thank you Mother), I began my Spanish Inquisition on the tastebuds….

Tapas by definition are small plates, usually savoury and served with drinks.  I planned to fall in line with tradition and sample a variety.  It was the soft opening after all.

So as we sat at the bar spying the well-contained scramble of staff around us (that is quite expected with an opening) I started with the Gilda (pintxo of guindilla and anchovy) which serves as a cocktail-stick sized ‘kebab’ of olive, whole garlic clove, anchovy and green chilli followed by the Beetroot and Hake Ensaladilla which I can describe as a pink cloud of mashed potato and fish in my mouth.  Nice, I had not had either of these combinations before and my Mother’s look of initial horror from my consumption of a whole clove of garlic was immediately surpressed when she tried it (after some gentle coaxing from myself and the barman, who laughingly stated that “Don’t you know?  People, when they go to Spain, they say we smell of garlic!”.  This did not bother me; strong and spicy flavours sit well with my constitution so my voyage of discovery was to continue at a table.

We moved to the back garden which was an interesting collection of mosaic tables and chairs, an area I look forward to sitting again in once the dust settles (my maternal side only comes out when I come to restaurant openings.  I truly feel for the staff running round, appreciating the pain-staking setting up that they have had to experience, the failed deliveries, let-alone managing customer expectations.  Nail-biting stuff so I was checking up on the staff as much as they were checking up on me!).

Next up, Pan de Coca & Tomate (a DIY tomato bread, which I instinctively knew how to put together but for your information; rub garlic on the toasted bread, then the tomato so the juices seep in nicely to the dough and season with salt. Delicious and oh-so-simple) as well as the stalwart Padron Peppers which were not too greasy and seasoned beautifully with rock salt.

Maria had encouraged me to have croquetas before elsewhere but I had not indulged, so this time I followed her advice and was delighted; Stock pot Croquetas were a curious mix of cheese, meat, potato and bechamel which came gushing out of the hot, breadcrumbed jacket they sat snuggly in.  Gone in a flash.  As was the Ensalada Pericana de Bacalao (Alicantino salt cod salad with choricero and nora pepper dressing) which was well dressed on arrival at the table.  Ruben, their Operations Manager and deliverer of such plates gave an astounding description, detailing that the slight toughness of the cod was perfectly normal, as well as the origins of the fresh tomatoes used prior.  I thoroughly enjoyed this sharing of knowledge.  Food is also education and its lovely to hear that the waiters have an good teacher for their work.

I decided to try a ‘pasta’ dish, something I was not particularly familiar in choosing at a Spanish restaurant, so out of the 2 on offer, I favoured the Canalons Cassolans (Flat pasta filled with spinach, goats curd, pinenuts and raisins) and more cured fish in the form of Sarda (a salt cured tuna fillet).  The canalons was a little swamped by the sauce which I felt overpowered the dish slightly but the sweetness of the raisins came through to add a good dynamic to the saltiness of the other dishes.  The fish was ‘fishy’ according to my Mother’s wonderfully descriptive style and I scooped this up speedily on my fork.  Yum.

Next, by encouragement of the waiter (who I must give special mention to.  Richard was a true beacon of light that evening.  Courteous, attentive and adding a British flick of charm to the Spaniards, scooping up plates and customers throughout the restaurant.  His 1st night too and hopefully not his last) the Hamburguesa Blanco y Negro (Mini burger of white butifarra sausage and morcilla) was ordered to appease my mother’s continued need for food (or was I confusing it with my appetite? Ah well…) and a plate of one of the cheeses, the Carrat (ash coated soft goats cheese) which came with a little homemade sweet pickle.  Yum again, the burger in particular.  I am not really in the meat “playing field” anymore, there are so many places offering some form of burger these days but this version was a one-bite wonder of flavours, as described, a black and white combo of sausage meat. A welcome contender.

So onto dessert as one must have a sweet ending and I was intrigued to find out Tramontana’s spin on it.  5 choices and we picked two; the Greixonera Menorcan (a light almond sponge) and the Mus de Chocolate with peach jam.  The almond sponge was so light….I never really had something like that before.  A consistency of moist ground polenta on the tongue, that with each bite felt like it dispersed mist-like down my throat, pleasingly light, complimented by a light caramelesque sauce and curl of ice-cream, thankfully served in tapas form (to curb the chewing motion).  This was in contrast to the truly decadent mousse, which had micro-cubes of brownie on top, acting as the gates to your spoon as you broke through to the jewels of peach jam, like buried treasure at the bottom.  This was not light but it did disperse rather too quickly on the tongue too.

A weighty fullness descended on me.  Over four hours and 12 plates of tapas, my Mother and I had (intentionally) experienced a good range of the dishes and departed more rounded than when we arrived.  Such is the danger with small plates and alcoholic beverages.  1 feeds the other and its an almost never ending exchange (then before you know it, 4 hours have passed).

My wine choices had also strangely served as a 3rd party (judging by the names) and I had encounters with two El Bon Hommes 2011 (from the Tinto range.  And yes two, that tasty I needed to double check), the Gramona Brut Nature G. Reserva 2007 (Cava) and another glass of my first ‘date’ with the Pares Balta ‘Honeymoon’ 2011 (Blanco).

Tramontana will indeed do well.  With its Eastern Spanish influenced cuisine, well-thought out and diverse wine list as well as the amiable staff (manager David is a credit to the existing team), it will certainly do no harm to the Shoreditch offerings available to both City worker and local population’s food cravings.

I noticed the flavour of garlic still clung to my tastebuds this morning, a reminder of my first tapas plate experience.  The barman did warn me though and I was in Spain (oh sorry, Shoreditch) after all.