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Tuesday 29 April 2014

Spanish Tapas & Cava Pairing at Copa de Cava

Words & Photography by Marina Benjamin

Name: Copa de Cava

Where: 33 Blackfriars Lane, London, EC4V 6EP,  http://cava.co.uk

Cost: Cava – by the ‘copa’ – from £5. Tapas style plates £4-14. Nibbling menu £15.00 per person. Tasting menu with cava flight is £60.00 per person.

About: Copa de Cava is the new offshoot of the Camino and Bar Pepito group. But it’s very much its own thing – a project that focuses lovingly on small boutique cava makers, regional flavours, the chemistry of oak-barreling and grape blending, and the finer details of the methode champenoise, which involves double fermenting the cava in the bottle in deep underground caves and tunnels for anything up to two years. You might say Copa de Cava is to Cava what the craft ale movement is to beer: it celebrates the local, the particular, and the fiercely proud end of the drinks industry.

Situated in a vaulted basement under the Blackfriars Lane branch of Camino, Copa de Cava is cozy and clubbable, with a comfy armchair and dark wood vibe. On a Thursday night, it was buzzing with a young crowd but also a not-so-young crowd, roughly divided between people who were there merely to sip the golden-hued nectar, and those gamely ordering small plates from the modern menu of ‘deconstructed’ tapas.

What We Ate/Drank: Copa de Cava’s tasting menu is structured around an appealing idea: a flight of cava, with each glass matched to one or two small plates. So tempting was the notion of progressing through 6 glasses of distinctively fermented fizz – from a Rosado to a Semi-seco, and with every kind of Reserva in between – that other options barely registered. 

The Rosada, ripe with floral and strawberry scents, and tasting a bit like a Kir Royale but without the cloyingness, was paired with salty cured and smoked hams and a dish of "pan amb tomaquet" – crusty slivers of toast rubbed in fresh garlic, tomatoes and olive oil. The salt and sweet worked nicely together, even if the cava itself registered a little too high on sugar to qualify as an aperitif in my book.

The next cava in the flight was called Mont Marçal. This was my favourite of the evening. Dry and lemony on the nose and creamy, almost almondy in the mouth, this smooth-tasting beauty had been fermented for 15 months.

It was both delicious and more-ish, and it came with a Spanish omelette in a glass, a tasty mix of crushed potatoes and fried onions topped with a sabayon of egg yolk and onion oil.

The Brut Vilernau that came next couldn’t compete. A blend of traditional cava grapes, Macabeu and Parellada, with just a dash of Chardonnay, it was crisp and appley. Though it was well paired with tangy mussels cooked in tomato and onion, and a sharpish ceviche of stone bass, I’d have happily stuck with the Mont Marçal.

By time our fourth glass of cava arrived, a fine Aria, Segura Viudas Reserva, I was hungry for more than nibbles. And so I really appreciated the lovely aubergine tart that was a bit like a pissaladière, and a delicious dish of tender seared Iberico pork shoulder, bracingly rare in the middle, that came with a rich side of pearl barley risotto, flecked with tiny cubes of smoky chorizo and sprinkled with Manchego snow.

The cheese course was unexceptional – though it was boosted by a Gran Reserva from a small family-owned winery (Reserva de la Familia Juves y Camps). Full bodied and citrusy, with a toasty aftertaste, this cava really sang.

Five glasses of cava was about as much as I could handle, but the sixth glass of Semi-Seco was appealingly sweet and bubbly, and I managed to drink most of it. The dessert was billed as a Crema Catalana, but the restaurant had either run out of them or not made any that evening, and instead served up a glass thimble, containing a single raspberry smothered with sweetened whipped cream.

Likes: The warm atmosphere and friendly service were a real boon, and the staff is genuinely knowledgeable about the different cavas. The food was hit and miss, but the hits were truly delicious. The deconstructed tortilla at £4, and the pork shoulder with pearl barley risotto at £12 were especially good. And at £25 a bottle the Mont Marçal is a must have.

Dislikes: Copa de Cava is more bar than restaurant and with noise levels to match. I’d have preferred a mellower setting in which to savour the tasting menu.

Verdict. I look forward to another visit, when I’ll sit down with a bottle of Mont Marçal and sample some of the other tapas. I hear the steak tartare (£14) is excellent. Recommended.

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