El Tapeo – The restaurant
El Tapeo is located right in heart of one of Bangkok’s trendiest neighborhoods, Thonglor. Inspired by their sister restaurant ‘El Rinconcito de Juan’ in Madrid, which opened in 2005. El Tapeo which translates as ‘The Tapas’ has been serving up authentic Spanish cuisine since 2017, specialising in dishes from across Spain, not least of which is the northern region, known as Basque country.
The Basque country is celebrated for its gastronomy, whose many varied culinary delights are due to the mixture of cooking styles from the coastal region of the Bay of Biscay to the mountainous borders of the Álava and Guipúzcoa provinces.
As you walk into this wonderfully well-lit, Spanish-style taberna (a combination of bar and restaurant) you’re welcomed by the warm sunshine yellow ceiling, Moorish style ceramic patterned tiles and the wine barrels adorning the walls which gives a nice Spanish accent to El Tapeo.
Chef Alberto Izard Aguilera has laid on some of his favourite dishes that showcase his admiration for the verity of the cuisine, as well his love for good, simple cooking.
Gambas al ajillo
Garlic prawns or gambas al ajillo are one of the most recognised of Spanish tapas dishes which are traditionally served in a special, shallow terracotta bowl called a ‘cazuela de barro’ and accompanied with slices of baguette toasted golden.
As the dish is brought to the table and set-in front of us, the fragrant aroma of garlic wafts through the air. As the lid is removed, we are greeted with the glorious aroma, sights and sounds of olive oil, garlic and prawn sizzling enthusiastically away, tantalising our senses.
Taking a slice of the still the warm baguette, I load it up a couple of good-sized prawns, some thinly sliced garlic (so thin it would have made Paul “Paulie” Cicero from Goodfellas proud) that has a lovely golden caramelisation to it, then drizzled with the virgin olive oil that’s infused with the garlic and chili pepper flakes.
Taking a bite of the crostini, I got a veritable explosion of flavours and textures. From the crispness of the toasted baguette and the richness of the garlicy olive oil with its reddish hue from the flakes of chili to the savoury luscious prawn. The garlic itself almost melts and gives a nice gooey sweetness to the dish. The present but delicate heat and flavour of the chili flakes lends a nice depth to the overall flavour and makes this an incredibly moreish appetiser.
Albóndigas de cerdo caseras
For our next tapas course, we had the homemade meatballs in a tomato sauce. This was a nice contrast to the dish of garlic prawns. Small, airy meatballs of minced pork that have been seasoned with garlic and parsley that are cooked and served in a satisfying tomato sauce.
The meatballs were light and perfectly cooked through with a lovely soft velvety texture whilst the garlic and parsley have a nice presence yet they don’t overpower the delicate pork flavour.
The tomato sauce again is well-made, you can tell the chef at ‘El Tapeo’ has really built-up layers of flavour in the sauce. Starting with good olive oil and sautéing a ‘sufrito’ or ‘refogado’ a mixture of aromatics. In this case red and green peppers, carrot, onion and garlic. The tomatoes are then added and reduced giving the sauce a wonderful depth of flavour. This homely dish is served with toasted baguette giving you that added crunch and a perfect conveyance for each bite.
Cachopo de ternera
Cachopo is a typical dish of the Asturias, a province on the wild north coast of Spain with its rugged, mountainous terrain facing the Bay of Biscay, here the climate is more like that of the U.K than of the sunny Costa Brava. That means the food is heartier and there’s none heartier than the chicken-fried beefsteak, cheese and ham combo that is cachopo.
The house cachopo at El Tapeo is a generous ribeye steak that has been paillard, which means it’s been lightly pounded and flattened. The ribeye is then dredged in a mixture of seasoned flour, dipped in an egg mixture and then back into the flour one last time giving the steak an almost fried-chicken batter.
Finally, it’s fried to golden perfection before being smothered in a creamy, béchamel cheese sauce made with both Edam and a blue cheese similar to Cabrales which adds a lovely sharp funkiness. This is then topped with the salty, cured Iberian ham which helps cut through the richness of the cheese, as well as slices of roasted piquillo peppers by roasting the pepper this gives them a wonderful, smokey-sweet flavour. This truly is a decadent Spanish plate that tastes too good to be morally decent and should definitely be shared with friends.
Paella de marisco
Paella is probably the most iconic of all dishes in Spanish cuisine. Paella is believed to have originated from the Valencian region of Spain and takes its name from the traditional wide, shallow pan. Paella meaning ‘frying pan’ in the Valencian local dialect.
El Tapeo has a choice of several different styles of paella from the traditional ‘Paella Valenciana’ prepared with saffron, chicken and vegetables to the ‘Paella de marisco’ that we decided upon. There’s also ‘Fideua negra’ a Paella-style short noodle, prepared with squid ink, vegetables and seafood.
‘Paella de marisco’ is a saffron-infused rice dish that’s loaded with mussels, squid and prawns finished off with a good squeeze of fresh lemon. The rice is perfectly cooked while maintaining some firmness giving it a little bite. All the flavours from the seafood, as well as the stock are absorbed by the rice making a delightfully flavoursome and creamy sauce.
On top of the paella are mussels on the half-shell and whole prawn while the squid is cooked in with the rice. The squid is soft and delicious having taken on all those flavours. The mussels and prawn were succulent and juicy, I especially enjoy the head being left on as it has so much added flavour, that seeps into the sauce. But I’d have to say my favourite part of the paella are those crispy bits! As the paella cooks, the rice on the bottom and sides of the pan forming a savoury crusty golden caramelised bottom layer called ‘socarrat’ this gives the paella a little added crunch.
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but I do love a good slice of cheesecake! This was a great example of everything a baked cheesecake should be, creamy on the inside and caramelised on the outside.
At El Tapeo the cheesecake is firm with a slightly sweet custard-like creaminess. Served with candied walnuts and a compote of mixed tart red-fruits like raspberry and red currents. The walnuts have a lovey nuttiness and with the coating of caramel-toffee flavour, they also add a bit of extra texture while the tart compote really helps cut through this the sweetness of this creamy dessert.
El Tapeo – Spanish Eatery & Wine Bar
The menu at El Tapeo has a great deal of choice of cuisine from all over Spain with traditional snacks at the bar counter such as ‘Pintxos’ or some of the varied small plates of ‘Tapas’. These can all be paired with a wide selection of Spanish wines, beers and other Spanish-inspired drinks and cocktails. So, if you’re looking to indulge in some great Spanish fare that won’t break the bank, you can’t go wrong with a visit to El Tapeo.
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