Charcuterie at The Bull and Last

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Charcuterie platters. They’re like tapas, right, but where you don’t get any choice, and they just serve you meat and, unless you’re very unlucky, a few chutneys and/or pickles? Actually, this is as much the reason why I tend to have a good time when I order these as why I never do so: because you get a whopping pile of tasty, salty, fatty meat, in a whole variety of guises. So I dove into the opportunity to head to Highgate (gastro-) pub The Bull and Last, visiting with Rachael and my parents.

“My theory was that watermelon pickle wouldn’t work”

The wooden board at The Bull and Last held products from a wider range of animals than you’d normally expect from a typically pig-heavy cuisine. Instead of the usual ham and chorizo and more ham offering, we found duck prosciutto – thin, delicately dried strips that genuinely sat somewhere between duck breast and bacon; chicken liver parfait (okay, it’s never going to be my favourite, but it certainly packed a creamy, indulgent punch – in exactly the way that means I find it a bit creepy and unpleasant); ham hock terrine was spreadable, but in a chunky way that didn’t lose all texture; duck rillettes were stringy and fibrous in just the right to-the-teeth fashion; pig’s head was rendered down into almost a croquette; chutneys and mini-pickles cut through the fatty mass of meat, though the perfunctory rocket salad was pretty bland and didn’t add much.

I was sneaky enough to ask if I could have some of the watermelon pickle that was an accompaniment to another dish. My theory was that watermelon pickle wouldn’t work. I contend that I was right, though Rachael and my parents were a little more generous and felt it was ‘interesting’. We all know what that means.

The selection was well-chosen, and a little different, and the thought that went into the creation and presentation of the whole menu shone through. This creativity was especially apparent in the desserts, particularly my pain perdu with hazelnut cream and a (yes, I’m cheeky) substituted-in (but correctly!) Ferrero Rocher ice-cream. Rachael’s Kernal Stout ice-cream, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly to my taste.

Overall, I’m game for trying more of the menu. You won’t even have to twist my arm!

Classic Tortilla at Barrafina

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There are some meals that break you. Of course, there are those so revolting, or so chaotic, that you end up exasperated and miserable. But others break you because they’re so good, so spectacular from both a culinary and experiential perspective, that you’re pretty sure your eating-life will never be the same again.

“Often the selected dish in the Time Out top 100 hasn’t been quite up to scratch”

This was one of those meals that broke me by being Just. So. Damn. Good.

James happened to me in town, so we made use of the fact that whenever he comes along we have a great Chowdown Showdown, and this was no exception. The highlights of the meal were so many it’s hard to even list them. Impeccable tuna tartare with a fresh avocado salsa. Tender squid on a spicy passata. A cheese fritter which oozed and delighted in equal measure. Indulgent pata negra (which we plotted how to steal). The black pudding was rich and not exactly to my taste, but James and Rachael practically fought over who got to devour the last┬ámorsel.

And every dish was presented like a work of art, feeding the eyes first, though definitely not  beautiful in a way that made us consider for a moment not diving right in.

So – the tortilla? Often the selected dish in the Time Out top 100 hasn’t been quite up to scratch when compared to others on offer in the relevant establishment. It’s also true that tortilla is never going to be the most complex dish, or allow chefs to show off and demonstrate the full range of their abilities. But this tortilla is a delight. We tried a classic version, plus one with ham and spinach. Both divulged a flow of rich, yolky flavour on being cut, delivering an instant aroma that the perfect, browned discs hid with their humble exterior.

“There are some meals that break you”

The flavour emphasised eggs (obviously), but in a way that showed just how good these miracles of nature can be when they’re allowed to take centre stage and not cooked till bouncy – in fact this is a dish as much about feel on the tongue as flavour. The ham and spinach match the rich, indulgent fattiness of the eggs, rather than trying to steal the limelight.

You’d be disappointed if you only ate tortilla at a restaurant that offers such a variety of spectacular colours, shapes and tastes. But I’d argue you’d be missing out if you didn’t have at least one small plate of this delicious, if simple, complement to any tapas meal.