“Hola!” said a waiter with a smile as bright as the Costa Bravan sun. You get a lot of holas at Tapas Revolution, the new eaterie which sells tapas not on some Mediterranean shoreline but in the Meadowhall shopping centre’s Oasis food hall.
So what’s new? After all, we’ve had places which serve tapas like La Tasca and there’s Made in Sheffield El Toro in Broomhill while we in this city are not entirely wet behind the ears in the chorizo department (some of us can even pronounce it correctly) since Michael Morgan was pioneering them at the old Mediterranean restaurant back in the Nineties.
“Hola!” said sexy Spanish chef Omar Allibhoy, who opened it recently as the latest of his mini-chain. What’s new is that his is the Spanish take on Spanish tapas and is as authentico as it gets. It’s not some Anglo-Saxon culinary grab with a ‘never mind the pimientos what about the profits?’ attitude. He didn’t quite say it that way but you knew what he meant.
A month or so he ran a one-night-only tapas place on Chesterfield Road to give local foodies a taste of things to come and I was there. He must have liked what I wrote because I got invited to Meadowhall to review it with a free meal ticket. So this review comes from a man who got two glasses of wine, eight tapas, two coffees and a packet of churros on the house. Now you can take the following with a pinch of paprika if you wish.
But even if I’d paid £5.75 for the Torreznos con mojo dulce, or crispy pork belly in a sweet and spicy sauce I’d be raving about it. The pork has been cooked long and low and slow then cubed so it looks like a version of that stripy Bassett’s Liquorice Allsort, in different shades of brown. So you get the soft and slithery fat followed by a slight resistance on the tongue of sweet, juicy meat. The Chinese do a similar dish, named after Chairman Mao, with different spices, but they don’t do the same sauce. For a minute I think someone has poured on the chocolate sauce which goes with the churros. This is sweet and really good. It’s made from honey, paprika and a few other spices and, I guess, the cooking juices. And isn’t there a hint of cinnamon? There is. That’s the Arab influence in Spanish cooking.
But you don’t want a bite by bite account of my meal so let’s say “Hola!” to the lovely Claudia, as Spanish as they get (with an American accent), who is the branch manager. In fact, all her staff are Spanish or Spanish-speaking (including a local student who is using the job to improve her language skills). That’s important. The chefs have not had to learn Spanish cooking, they were born to it.
So, I ask Claudia, how are we British taking to tapas? She gives me the kind of look a Spaniard gives when the Galacticos miss an open goal. “English people struggle with (the concept of) tapas. They say ‘This is mine, that is yours.’ They don’t really share. And they struggle to order octopus . . .”
If it’s any help this writer is only too happy to share his abondigas (meatballs) and had already sampled the octopus on pop-up night. Believe me, it’s no struggle. And we already knew it takes two to tapas (or more).
What they do like at Meadowhall is the patatas bravas (£3.95), not overloaded with tomato sauce, by the way, which come with a fierce kick and the pan con tomate (£2.95), tomatoey garlic bread. Omar had been at pains to point out the bread was the only thing they didn’t make themselves and his cheffy concern over a point a big corporation might have glossed over made me believe him when he says everything else is cooked on site.
The restaurant is built around a bar and is open to the Oasis roof so if you get the right table you can watch the action and the chefs carving the hams.
The Great Sheffield Shopping Public also love the calamari fritos (£5.50), light, tender and crispy with a good sprinkling of paprika and as good as any I’ve tasted. There was paella (£4.95), perhaps not quite as exciting as that cooked by Omar himself the other week in a Sheffield back yard in the rain but then I ate it just as it had been made with added atmosphere. I reminded myself how good are the ham croquettes (£4.75), oozing Bechamel sauce from their interiors, enjoyed a special of cod loin on sweet peppers (£6.25) and had a plate of hams and chorizo (£7.50). The chorizo is terrific.
Not all cooking in big shopping centres has to be burgers or second rate. So would I go back if I had to open my wallet? Certainly: there are plenty of tempting offers like a £20 set menu for two.
We left content, munching some churros from Omar’s churroseria opposite, as some more people were arriving. “Hola!” said a waiter.
The Oasis, Meadowhall. No booking, just walk in. Web: http://www.tapasrevolution.com