Gilly Smith’s Food Review: Tapas Revolution

I first met Omar Alibhoy back in 2018 at Westfield in Shepherds Bush where his first Tapas Revolution spread itself confidently across the heart of the shopping centre, its stools at the long bar treating casual shoppers to its signature dry-aged ham and other classic Iberian tapas. Omar told me that he’d brought his brand to Britain because while Spain may be a home from home to millions, who even knows how to make calamares?  Not that that’s what most visitors to Tapas Revolution are interested in as they tuck into a small pate of Fritura Mista, but Omar is, and that’s what makes this Revolution different to most.

His book Spanish Made Simple is just that, and according to friends who love to cook Spanish food, it’s one of the best on the market. But whether or not you’re a home cook who loves to play with different cultures on the plate, it’s this that flavours the eating experience at Brighton’s North Street restaurant which opened earlier this summer. 

Now, full disclosure here; I know just how much Omar cares about detail because my daughter was part of the opening team (and is now a supervisor), and spent two weeks learning exactly what a Spanish welcome should be, the story behind the food and how to mix a mean Margerita.  That bonding with the largely Spanish crew created a family feel which anyone who knows anything about Spain will know is the real meat on the table.

And so to the food. Dining with the legendary Brighton food critic, Andrew Kay (below) was always going to be a treat, but I was wary about the torreznos con mojos, the slow cooked pork belly drizzled with a herb mojo verde and sweet spicy sauce and the chorizo a la sidra, a spicy Asturian sausage roasted with red onion and vintage cider reduction. Spanish food culture has had the pig at its centre for generations, yet as in Italy, the slow creep of the factory farm has already begun to erode its roots. Would Omar care enough about bringing his Spanish food culture to Britain to pay for high welfare, locally sourced pig? I didn’t dare ask.

It was delicious, a melt in the mouth, knife through butter dish which I left Andrew to finish, just in case, while I devoured the guisantes con jamon, a delightful plate of garden peas with mint, confit onion, slow roasted garlic and jamon. I might have left the jamon on the side… The garbanzos y espinacas, the vegan braised chickpeas with baby spinach, garlic and spices was a safer bet, and a tasty and moreish option to the usual runners and riders of patatas bravas and calamares   A couple of glasses of white Rioja, a table on the terrace in the sunshine, and that was a Friday lunchtime I shall do again.

https://www.tapasrevolution.com/brighton

165 North Street, Brighton, BN1 1EA

01273 737342

Jim Gowan’s West Hill Watch: Dials roundabout breaking up yet again!

The million-pound Seven Dials Roundabout which was re-designed in 2013 and has been repeatably closed for costly repairs and further re-design since is breaking up yet again. The initial budget was exceeded by more than 50% and now confidence in the so-called experts from the highways department is crumbling as fast as the roundabout itself. The initial 2013 design was claimed to improve road safety until a picture was published of an articulated truck driving over the pavement in front the Small Batch Coffee shop.

The highways engineers had omitted to include bell bollards in their design! Several of these bell bollards were then hastily positioned on the pavements and now, at least, offer some protection to both pedestrians and buildings. When the 2013 design started breaking up, the height of the cobbled “outer island” was reduced and the kerbstones re-laid. It then became obvious that this levelling of the cobbled outer island with the tarmac lane surrounding it undermined (in more ways than one) the rationale of the roundabout itself which was to keep all traffic except HGVs and buses (which needed more space for turning) on the single lane of tarmac!

Now that the original raised kerb has been removed cars and motor bikes routinely cut cross the cobbled surface, increasing the likelihood of collisions and threatening the safety of pedestrians who, incidentally, were encouraged by the highway engineers in 2013 to practise “informal crossing” (i.e., not to use the zebra crossings). The same highways engineers had also wanted to chop down the 130-year-old elm tree, claiming that this was essential for the implementation of the design.

This crazy destruction of a perfectly healthy elm tree (part of the national collection) was fortunately prevented after thousands signed a petition and two daring residents camped in the branches of the tree to stop tree cutters in their tracks whilst the Council reconsidered its decision. The irony of the present design is that it is closer to that built in the 1960s (which had a large central island) than the one built after that which was essentially a mini roundabout surrounded by two lanes of traffic. A striking difference, however, is that the 1960s island was grassed whereas the 21st century one is paved!

#Staycation Special: The Warren on the Beach

So you’ve decided that going away isn’t worth the pfaff and anyway you live in the best place in the country and the weather’s perf… OK, scrub that last bit. The weather’s variable. Today, it’s lovely. Tomorrow…

So what to do? Well, head down to the beach – that bit just to the east of the pier next to the Volks Railway Aquarium Station, The Warren On The Beach is doing another few weeks of theatre, cabaret, comedy and family shows, alongside an outdoor stage, street food and bars till August 30.

The indoor-outdoor site is free to enter, which means it’s there for a quick drink, and there’s a Happy Hour, where you get 20% off all drinks, Monday to Thursday before 6pm.

Shitfaced Shakespeare (23 – 30 August) will be treading the boards on the beach once again with Much Ado About Nothing. Featuring the finest classically-trained professional performers and one fully Shitfaced cast member, we guarantee that no two nights are ever the same. Having toured the world, broken America and sold-out the West End, they’re back on Brighton beach for one week only.

Lost in Translation Circus Present: Cabaret Paradiso (12 – 22 August) a phenomenal show for all the family featuring cabaret, burlesque, circus, sideshow and contemporary variety. Created in a moment where the world of arts stood still, Cabaret Paradiso celebrates performers from different arts forms and backgrounds, bringing back all the joy, celebration, hilarity, cheekiness, and irreverence that is a great night out. Indulge in fabulous fun for everyone in Brighton’s quirkiest new venue down on the beachfront and featuring Circus Abyssinia stars Bibi and Bichu.

The Snail and the Whale (13 – 30 August) continue their national tour with a string of sea-side shows. The Olivier award-winning cast bring Julia Donaldson’s much-loved picture-book to life.

For full line up and tickets head to warrenonthebeach.co.uk


Passengers through time and space (with the help of a highwire)

One of the things we’ve missed most this past year has been going out and seeing people do extraordinary things, things that we couldn’t imagine doing ourselves. Whether that’s playing an instrument, performing some act of athletic wonder or somesuch. If what you’ve most missed has been virtuoso acrobatics – vaulting somersaults, breath-taking trapeze and daredevil balances on the highwire, well, are you in luck.

Passagers is “an intoxicating mix of dance, physical theatre, acrobatics, circus skills and original music” performed by Canadian troupe The 7 Fingers that sounds just extraordinary.

Trapeze is a fantastic motif for our times – taking a leap off into the air, a leap from holding on to something into space and on to something new. “Passagers was originally designed as an ode to travel – departure versus arrival, chance versus choice, familiar versus foreign, confinement versus border-crossing” says 7 Fingers co-founder Shana Carroll. “Those themes have taken on a new meaning for all of us recently, with the very idea of departing or arriving feeling like a distant dream.” Themes that, in our strange new world, have taken on very new and very real meanings.

It’s on at The Dome on 30 September and 1 October.

Tickets range from £10 (restricted view) to £23.50. Family tickets and concessions available.

Ticket bookings:

W: brightondome.org

T: 01273 709709 Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm

E: tickets@brightondome.org

Portuguese wine: The next big thing

If you prefer your wine to be powerful rather than elegant, you’re in luck.
Andrew Polmear tells all 

What’s the next big discovery among European wines? People talk about Hungary and Croatia, but my money is on Portugal. It’s a country that’s always made wines for its own consumption but, under the dead hand of President Salazar, there wasn’t much incentive to make quality wines. The British shippers had been buying wine from the Douro valley in the north east of Portugal since the late 17th century. They added brandy to the wine to preserve it during shipping and so port was born. But less and less port is drunk now in Britain and the growers are turning back to unfortified wine, but using modern wine-making methods. The result is a revelation.

I’ve been drinking two Portuguese reds: ‘Animus’ from the Douro made by  Vicente Faria Vinhos, selling at Aldi for the extraordinary price of £5.49; and The Society’s Portuguese Red from the Setubal Peninsula, made by Casa Ermelinda Freitas, and sold at £6.50 by The Wine Society. They are both 2019 but they come from very different ‘terroirs’. 

The Douro is high altitude, sharply drained, stony and mountainous, while the Setubal peninsular is low lying, with sandy soil, exposed to cooling ocean breezes. Both areas get hot. But despite the different ‘terroirs’ both are instantly recognisable as Portuguese. It’s the huge mouth-feel they have – what the wine trade calls ‘structure’. It’s the opposite of watery – a feeling of wine in the mouth that is so satisfying that flavour comes a mere second. It’s like velvet on the tongue. But there is flavour: black plums and dark cherries with a hint of perfume. Is that Turkish delight? Is it woodsmoke?

How do they do it? Conditions are right: plenty of sun, but enough cloud and cool ocean breezes to avoid the wine tasting like jam. Then they have marvellous local grapes. The star is Touriga National, a powerful grape with dark rich fruit and a leathery taste reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon. And there’s Tinta Roriz (which the Spanish call Tempranillo) – another big-flavoured grape. The wine from Setubal is from the Castelao grape plus a little Alicante Bouschet, a rich combination.

Then there’s the wine-making. EU funding in the 1990s enabled a lot of wine-makers to move to temperature-controlled, stainless steel vats. At the same time, higher educational institutes in Lisbon and Vila Real taught modern methods to a whole generation of wine-makers.

Now family wine-makers are producing their own wine, like the Freitas family, or, like Vicente Faria, are branching out so they can bottle enough wine to interest supermarkets like Aldi. They must soon rumble the fact that wine lovers are prepared to pay more for wine this good and prices will go up.

If you prefer wines that are elegant rather than powerful, if you like Burgundy with its Pinot Noir, rather than Bordeaux with its Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, then Portuguese reds are not for you. But if you share my love of power, my enjoyment of wine that lets you know you’ve got a real mouthful, then Portuguese reds do the job wonderfully.