Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Angels & Gypsies, Camberwell

I had been looking forward to testing the tapas at Angels & Gypsies for quite some time having listened to local Camberwell dwellers G&S rave about it for ages. Camberwell isn’t necessarily an area known for its gastronomic delights so a Spanish tapas haven and some relaxed dining nestled amongst the fried chicken and kebab houses of Camberwell Church Street is a most welcome addition. Plus the simple fact anything that might involve chorizo excites me to a level that is not natural for a foodstuff. And getting to try lots of little dishes of different things.  And good Spanish red wine. And the list goes on…..
The restaurant itself is very laid back and the clientele when I visited on a Friday night were families or groups of friends rather than couples. The décor is rustic and warm and centres around a wood and ceramic tile horseshoe bar in contrast to the more contemporary chic of my other London tapas favourite Lola Roja.  A pleasant bubbling chatter of conversation filled the air without the need to bellow at your dining companions or have a diploma in lipreading. The waitress recommended around 10 dishes for a group of 4 which turned out to be pretty accurate.
Calamari Romana was crisp on the outside without having turned rubbery on the inside. I was initially dubious of the concept of orange aioli but you really did get a subtle flavour of orange working its way through to the palette which, whilst unusual, wasn't in any way displeasing.

The platter of Spanish meats included Ibérico jamón, chorizo, salchichón & lomo and was all of beautiful quality. The pickled vegetables served with it cut through the grease of the meat perfectly.
Chorizo sausage arrived as one big, fat, red sausage braised in Basque cider and served with slivers of juicy red peppers and, somewhat predictably, shone for me both literally and metaphorically.
55 day hung Longhorn beef steak was served sliced on black bean stew topped with a fried quails egg. At £9 a dish it isn’t the cheapest as it is essentially five small slices of steak however it is excellent quality meat cooked perfectly. The bean stew didn't rock my world but fleshed out the dish. A pleasant surprise was the horseradish aioli that came with the beef, not mayonnaise based as you would expect from an aioli, but just the right level of piquant heat from the horseradish.
Pork belly was very tasty with a good crackling on the top. Not the best nor the worst that Ive encountered but the plum jam served with it was a thing of beauty.
All A&G tortillas are made freshly to order so take a little longer than other dishes but this one was worth the wait. In many tapas bars the tortillas feel pre-made and reheated resulting  in tight layers of starchy potato bound by rubbery egginess however this specimen was a soft springy delight with an unctuous oozing centre.
The highlight of the meal for me was definitely one of the specials; prawn croquetas. The croqueta filling was very smooth  with a prominent seafood flavour and a spicy kick which was further enhanced by the accompanying habanero salsa.
The ham croquetas were also excellent with a nice crisp outer countered by a gooey inside although not as flavoursome as their prawn brethren.
Patatas pobres were a bit of a surprise, more I think due to my appalling grasp of the Spanish language than anything else! I hadn't realised that they would essentially be not quite crisp potato crisps and were rather greasy but one slightly less pleasing dish out of ten isn't bad.
Slow cooked aubergine and coriander stew was a welcome vegetable addition to an otherwise predominantly carnivorous order. Usually I view vegetable dishes as something of a necessary evil but found myself picking at the rich, soft aubergines more than I would have expected. A&G offer plenty of other really delicius sounding vegetable dishes so would be a good place to take a vegetarian if such a pain is inflicted upon you!
Whilst the dessert menu is quite limited in comparison with the ceaseless savoury tapas onslaught there should be something for everyone.  For example,  there are the churros. With thick chocolatey dipping sauce.  The squidgy, doughnutty sticks have a crispy, golden exterior rolled in cinnamon sugar and are essentially heaven on a plate (for anyone who has watched those lovely Fabulous Baker Boys recently, the churros were basically the chocolate sticky sticks). The chocolate sauce was made with good, dark chocolate and I'm ashamed to say resulted in me cleaning the coffee cup right out in probably not the most attractive fashion. It was just too good to leave a drop behind!
A very welcome surprise at the end of the meal was the hugely extensive rum menu serving a variety of unusual rums from round the globe. I am now an absolute convert to the joys of Pyrat. Not massively Spanish but lovely nonetheless.

I find it very hard to criticise Angels & Gypsies. It is never going to be a fine dining experience but that is not what they are trying to achieve. Service and ambience were both excellent and we all left pleasantly full without being stuffed and more than a little tipsy for our £50 a head.  I look forward to going back and that tortilla is going to be the first thing I order.

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