If disaster strikes and your easyJet tickets to Alicante have just expired, enjoy the next best thing with a evening of sangria and tapas in tropical East Dulwich.
At the shabbier end of Lordship Lane, opposite the Harvester and next to Tile Magic sits the strangely exotic Barcelona Tapas Bar. Exterior-wise, the neon-lit Spanish taverna is engulfed by a large, wraparound conservatory bringing some alfresco(ish) dining to SE22. Inside, a cavernous bar area is decorated with the terracotta hue of a traditional finca and the handiwork of an interior designer with a mosaic fetish. A big, blue lizard dominates the main room and out the back is a small private dining area which is ideal for large family gatherings.
If you go along to the Barcelona expecting a full-on guitar-strumming, flamenco-dancing, Una Paloma Blanca-singing Spanish experience, you'll be disappointed, although it certainly has the potential. Mind you, saying that you'll definitely find Guantanamera on the stereo, along with the entire Santana collection and even the back catalogue of the Gipsy Kings. The great thing about coming to a tapas bar is that you can control the budget. If cash is limited you can pop in for a San Miguel and a plate of calamares for little more than £7, or of course, when funds allow treat yourself to a big blow-out and have paella and a bottle of sparkly Freixenet. This means the clientele of Barcelona is a very mixed bag. Popular with locals from Forest Hill, East Dulwich and the Village, with the big draw being the oh-so tempting Happy Hour (5pm – 7pm daily) luring folk in with 99p beer and spirits.
The concept of tapas is great. It's a bit like having a last supper, you can order all your favourite dishes and have a running buffet bought comfortably to your table. The hardest part is ordering from the extensive menu. If you're new to tapas then take a gamble and order one of the set menus, which range from around £11 per person for eight tapas right up to £20 each for eleven dishes.
Must-orders include the Chiperones Fritos, a long, thin dish piled high with crisp, lemony baby calamares which are great value at £3.99. Other choices include the Patatas Alioli, spicy fried potato cubes smothered in a slightly synthetic garlic mayonnaise. The house speciality, Albondigas a la Barcelonesa (home-made meatballs) are large and meaty but they have a strange aftertaste. Unlike the fabulous Pimientos Padron. A mountain of teeny tiny green peppers arrive warm, charred, glossy with olive oil and sprinkled with crunchy sea salt, these really are a taste of the Mediterranean. As appetites grow, the list goes on. Gambas al Ajillo is also a winner. Half a dozen tiger prawns are served in a warm garlic and chilli butter. Some dishes are more miss than hit, the Pollo Adobado, sliced chicken breast marinated in a deep red paprika and chilli oil, is much milder than expected.
There is a range of reasonably priced desserts displayed in a revolving glass cabinet. The Crema Catalana is sadly disappointing, the creme a gloopy, cinnamon-flavoured soup whilst the burnt sugar topping is teeth-breakingly sharp. The Tarta de Santiago is an authentic almond tart, but with heavy pastry and a cloying texture. You are probably better off enjoying a nice Jerez or for a real taste of the Costa's, a glass of Fundador brandy (and at £2.20 a shot, it's at package holiday prices!).
This place certainly puts the Bar into Barcelona. There is a good selection of Spanish beers including Estrella and San Miguel. The wine list could rival War and Peace in length, although they mostly sit around the reasonable £15 - £20 mark, there are a few pricey surprises such as the '87 Sicilia Unico at £300 a bottle. With Spain being the home of sherry you'll find a good deal more than Harvey's Bristol Cream on the menu, and for fizz-lovers the cava is also good value with a range of decent vintages on offer.
There's a good choice of house wines available, four of each and a house sherry, all ranging from a dash under £11 a bottle to around £16 for a white Rioja. The white Valdepenas Bonal is a fair example at £12.95, it's dry and a bit rough around the edges but works well with the spicy tones of the tapas.
The Last Word
The Barcelona may not win any culinary awards for fine Spanish cuisine, but it's friendly, authentic and has the cheapest Happy Hour this side of Benidorm.