Boqueria, Brixton, tapas with old uni mates
So It's nearly 20 years since I graduated from Birmingham University which is both scary and reassuring. I look back to my 4 years as a student with fond memories, not so much the studying which, final year apart, I found dull & un-rewarding. I did however had good fun, grew up and made some superb friends. Though I studied in the big law faculty I was on the law & french course which was a grouping of 20 or so elite misfits. Our experience was similar to all students except we got to spend a year studying at the University of Limoges. We found ourselves dumped in a provincial backwater which though charming was a very different experience to urban, multicultural Birmingham. It took quite a bit of time to find our feet and during that year we all grew close. For birthdays in particular everyone made a huge effort, the sharing of food, cheap sparking wine and company became our favoured activity. The wine and food may have got better in the intervening years but the friendship still remains. A few of us our London based now so if one of the group from further afield is around we make an effort to catch up. This weekend we had a double visit as "Brave Sir Gareth" (daft uni name) and Harriet (she has a PHD so too clever for a nickname) were in town so the Woz (another daft nickname) and myself (I was too dull for a nickname) hosted them on a night our in trendy Brixton. As you may have seen from previous posts Brixton has changed massively in the last 10 years from edgy home of the Academy to full on hipster central. I usually dine and drink around the culinary labyrinth of the market but Woz who is a South London resident books us somewhere slightly further afield.
After meeting up for a drink at the trusty Craft Beer Co she leads us on past the Halloween revellers onto Acre Lane, up the hill past the Blues kitchen, past the fug of cannabis smoke outside the off license to tapas bar Boqueria. It looks tiny from the outside, a narrow bar at the front with about 6 seats but we are then lead round to a much bigger room running along the back of the property and then downstairs into a double basement full of tables. Their front door has a very prominent Michelin bib gourmand sign but thankfully inside is very casual and relaxed. It is is about half full with a very large birthday party occupying most of the basement. We are shown to a nice round table in the centre of the room. We settle in order ourselves some mega gin & tonics, much like the ones I recently enjoyed in Portugal, and get on with the important task of catching up and putting the world to rights. OK, I won't bore you again with my views on tapas/sharing plates but what we order here works well. Harriet is vegetarian and the 2 veggie dishes we order are superb. A spinach cooked in cheese with sultanas and pine nuts is delicious and the deep fried aubergine chips with honey is knockout. The deep fried cod balls are very tasty though I'm less convinced by the good looking but ultimately unsatisfying king prawns. Amongst the meats the jamon and chicken croquettas are excellent. I'm disappointed in the pressa Iberica and a special of lamb ribs turns out to be the meat shredded and served in a couple of spring roll. The gang all like the spanish omelette and 2 portions of Patatas bravas, or brave potatoes as Gaz calls them is too much for us to finish. My enjoyment of the padron peppers is slightly marred by me biting into an errant green chilli that had got mixed in with them.
All in all good food and the portions are generous. We wash this little lot down with some great Alhambra especial beer, a very nice bottle of Albarino and then a bottle of Rioja. Service is a mixed bag, I find the young crew very friendly and they have their work cut out keeping the very thirsty birthday group next to us suitably refreshed. However they are not the most attentive, we have to ask for side plates and to order drinks and food. it didn't feel like anyone was in charge. Having said that we are very much enjoying ourselves and end up being the last guests to leave. We all enjoy our creme catalan for dessert and even more so the boozy coffees and brandies we have afterwards. We finally sign off our meal with a round of expresso martinis. We are definitely well fed and even more refreshed after that little lot. The bill comes to £75 a head which surprises the out of towners who consider that toppy but for my part I think we have eaten and particularly drank extremely well for our money. I have certainly burnt through more money in a lot less time in many places like this. I'd possibly say we might have been better at a smaller table as it did get very noisy so hearing conversation got tricky. I think a place like this on a Saturday night the food and drink need to compliment the company which is the main event. I'd certainly say that this group of fortysomethings enjoyed themselves. It was also nice to get out of the market area of Brixton for a change. I've always thought South London has plenty good local restaurants like this instead of the ubiquitous chains that seem to plague West London. We walked back down to the station post meal and were pleased to see that the SW9 bar was open until 1 so we had time for a quick night cap. My journey home on the night tube was smooth and hassle free. It's always lovely to catch up with old friends and Boqueria was an ideal place to go. I hope I'm still able to enjoy a Saturday night out like this in another 20 years time.