Welcome to my home
Simon Hope enjoys Spanish home cooking in Brighton's friendliest bodega
I went to Bodega D Tapa with probably one of the best chefs in Brighton, if not most of Britain. Forget Gordon, Jamie or Anthony - Karen Samuel knocks the spots off them all. Daunting for the Bodega? Not at all, for like all true kitchen gods and goddesses, Karen expects nothing and appreciates everything (though she did quietly say afterwards she may have approached one or two dishes differently).
A bodega is a small wine-cum-grocery store - with the added bonus of being able to sample. You find them all over Spain, and now we have our very own Bodega D Tapa in Brighton. It is so tiny that ten customers would fill it, but that is its charm and, being just opposite the Corn Exchange, makes it ideal for pre-entertainment entertainment. Maria runs the show with an electric enthusiasm that only the Spanish can engender. As neither myself nor Karen are vegan, allergenic or squeamish, we opted to allow Maria to choose a selection of tapas for us.
The tradition of serving small snacks with drinks is found all over Spain, while the word tapa literally means a 'cover' or 'lid'. It's association with appetisers comes from the old habit of covering your glass of wine with a slice of bread, ham or cheese to ward off insects. The edible lid is the precursor of modern tapas today, where the only restriction on what you nibble is the chef's imagination.
Maria soon had us quaffing large glasses of house wine at a fantastic price of £2.50 per glass. I had a smooth but gutsy red Regantio Viejo, while Karen enjoyed the crisp white Privilegio Del Contado. Picos arrived (bread and breadstick nibbles) closely followed by some Croquettas - deepfried cheese, ham & egg fritters (£2.50). Roger from Dali's at Seven Dials wandered in and chatted to Maria about sherry tasting; more food came and went. Tinned Russian salad on Picos (£2.50) was a blast from the past. Then Chorizo Braised in Red Wine (£3.25) as Vincent Gizzi - local architect extraordinaire and obviously in love - breezed by. Pâté and Iberian Ham on Pa Amb Tomaquet (£2.50) was eagerly devoured. Two masterclass wedges of potato Tortilla (£2.50) arrive and are dispatched. Then tinned, white asparagus and bitter red pepper in oil (£2.50), meltingly luscious slices of manchego on tostas (£3.50). They in turn were followed by two types of sliced Chorizo (£3.25), Tuna Balls with peppers in oil (£2.75) and finally little strips of Quince Cheese in Pedro Ximenez sherry (£2). Total cost with a couple of glasses of wine: a bargain £37.25.
Bodega D Tapa has no pretensions of being a restaurant. It's a place to nibble, chat, laugh and observe - in fact it's a way of life! Maria is a fabulous hostess and even treated us to an impromptu sherry tasting, from bone dry Fino through the beautiful bouquet of Oloroso and on to apricot and vanilla notes in a Cream, then finally a sweet and unctuous Pedro Ximenez with a finish that goes on forever and surely the perfect partner for chocolate! I certainly won't be saying "Adios" to Bodega D Tapa - just "Hasta la mañana".
Atmosphere: Mi casa es su casa
Food: Barriga llena, corazón contento
(full stomach, happy heart)
Drink: ¡Viva España!
Bodega d Tapa
111 Church Street, Brighton.
Tel. 01273 674116.
copyright The Insight 2004