Zorita’s Kitchen, London

“If you are looking for a place in London that serves outstanding Ibérico ham or chorizo, Spanish ewe’s cured cheese, some extra virgin olive oil or any of the other Spanish delicacies you’ve come to the right place. You can dine in or even buy the whole range to take home. Remember all those lovely things you had when on holiday in Spain? We have them here for you to taste again.  Our restaurant and farm shop brings the finest foods and best Wines straight from The Haciendas to your place.”

If you wanted to create a restaurant with the foodie credentials to impress Andy, you couldn’t have done much better than Zorita’s Kitchen, a tapas restaurant that, until I did a little research, had not featured at all on my radar.  More than that, it shares with the River Cafe the most glorious views of the Thames (in this case the Millennium Bridge and the Tate Britain over the river), is priced very reasonably and has no obvious flaws that I could see.  How come it is not full to overflowing this and every night?!

Maybe the fact that it is marketed more as a farm produce outlet than a serious restaurant puts off some diners, but to me that adds to the charm – far better to undersell than become an overhyped chain, for example.

Everything about the venue is right, from the modern setting with light, comfortable furniture, the endless bottles and produce on display, and the fact that they have an upstairs offering the best river views.  We sat on the upper tier and perused a menu full of rich delights but majoring on the preserved meat and cheese products from the proprietors’ Spanish farms.

For some tastes there may be complaints that there is not greater choice or more substantial mains to supplement the tapas, though I’d congratulate Pedro and team on the fact that they have not caved in and thrown a stack of popular dishes on what is a well-chosen top quality authentic selection of Spanish foods.  After all – I don’t want endless promotions to flog commoditised food, but I do want a showcase for the best on offer, and to do it in such a sublime location makes for the most perfect evening possible.

Truth be told, it did not take us at all long to decide on the mixed platter of meats and cheeses at under £30, supplemented by a walnut and pear salad and boquerones (AKA marinated anchovies) with crisps, plus additional tapa of pulpo (octopus for the uninitiated, served with baby potatoes and paprika) and Fabada Asturiana (“a traditional Spanish stew with butter bean base, served with pancetta, chorizo, black pudding, coriander, garlic oil, salt and pepper”), plus sampler wines from the Duero Valley.  Not a huge meal but in keeping with the tapas grazing experience.  We could easily have ordered more grub, had the tummies still been rumbling – though in practice the kitchen shut relatively early and we were not craving further vast plates anyway.  Less really can be more on occasions.

First a word about the service: our waitress was very Spanish, spoke good but not perfect English, was charming throughout and not averse to cracking the occasional joke, was there when needed and fully earned a generous tip. It’s not difficult to do service well, but by virtue of poor morale so many places seem to cock it up.  Note also that there are plenty where the service is professional to a tee, in the traditional French style (“waiters should be seen but not heard”) but lacks passion and enthusiasm.  I’d sooner take service that believes in the product and will engage with customers, but that’s me.  Here it was perfect!

The other aspect of good dining that is so often misplaced is that it should combine to facilitate the enjoyment of good company.  In this respect, Zorita’s Kitchen, its food or service were never of the intrusive “look at me” variety, with a net result that a good time was had by one and all – though the food was most certainly appreciated too.  Not flashy cheffery of the kind you see promoted in the papers, but simple use of fine ingredients with the help of artisanal skills and a smile – arguably all you need.

Take the boquerones: anchovies are not to every taste, but here they were sweet with the slightly sour whiff of vinegar, inflected gently with the scent of garlic and not remotely fishy!  They came on their bed of home-made crisps.  Yes, you read that correctly – home-made crisps.  What a joy to find a restaurant that goes to the trouble of fine-slicing and deep frying its own crisps rather than paying 10p a bag for ready salted.  The trouble was well worth the effort, since the delicately salty flavours combined with the sweet fish to perfection.

As for the stew, it was to die for.  Beans used along the Spanish variant of cassoulet style also follow the peasant route to foodie heaven, but without any sense of ironic deconstruction or having been messed about with.  It is what it is, and it is sublimely tasty.  I’d recommend the dish to anyone who appreciates food for what it is, not what statement it can make.

The octopus, a favourite of my companion, reminded me of a tapas bar I once visited in Barcelona (more bar than tapas, truth be told), where I asked the owner which tapas he recommended.  Well, he said, we did get some pulpo from a fisherman up the coast this morning, which we serve in the traditional style.  Do you fancy a taste and if you like it take more?  Of course it was divine, so we ended up trying the full plate.  The pulpo in Zorita’s Kitchen was very similar and tasted zingingly fresh: it exhibited the muscularity of tentacles without being in any way tough.  It’s hard to imagine cephalopods arriving on your plate in any more appetising fashion than this.

The pièce de resistance is of course the humble hams and cheeses.  The matured Iberico ham is expertly carved from a leg situated on the nearby bar. Formidably expensive for a good reason, the happy acorn-eating pigs conspire to offer a depth of flavour you simply could not achieve from supermarket Serrano.  Not for everyday consumption, but certainly for special occasions.

In this case it was supplemented by fine chorizo, other salamis and lomo (pork loin), plus some breathtaking sheep’s milk cheeses that included a gorgeously melting Torta de Dehesa.  When they describe this as “the best soft sheep’s cheese in the world” who am I to argue?  The cheese did sweat in the heat of the restaurant, but that might have been testament to the fact that we did not eat it fast enough!  It did come with fine artisan breads and some delicious, fruity olive oil that I would gladly have taken home with me.

The salad, which nuggets of cheese and walnut, poached pears and a balsamicesque dressing, was also very splendid, and I’ve not even begun on the wine.  There was nothing to criticise, other than the lack of a sherry section in the wine list – I had greatly looked forward to sampling a few glasses of native Spanish fortified wines.

If the above sounds more like a hagiography, be assured that the restaurant is not paying me to say these words.  This truly is excellent food and conducive surroundings, such that my best compliment is that I want to visit again as a paying customer, sample more of their menu and maybe venture into the daily specials.  I don’t say this lightly, so take it as read that my recommendation for Zorita’s Kitchen comes from the heart.  Go try for yourself.

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