By Susan Low
Hispania's imminent opening in the heart of the City has been trumpeted for months, but at last it’s flung open its rather grand doors. The décor is reminiscent of a Spanish parador, with high ceilings and a huge sweeping central staircase that would have done Scarlett O’Hara proud. The downstairs comprises a wine bar to one side and a dining area to the other, the latter with tasteful sideboards laid out picturesquely with fresh bread and preserved goods in jars. Less coherently, antlers adorn the back walls and guests are treated to a soundtrack that veers erratically from C&W to R&B (we didn’t know whether to whinge or weep).
On our visit the upstairs restaurant was still making its slow journey to fruition – we had been told the new chef had arrived (weeks after Hispania opened), but the restaurant was still not open. Tapas was the only option. The menu played it safe with dishes that aren’t likely to surprise or frighten the City clientele, such as meatballs with mashed potato, or lentils with duck confit – neither of them very Spanish. More typical were the platters of Spanish cheeses and hams; the jamón Iberica, served with country bread rubbed with tomato was great. From the daily specials menu, a big crusty wedge of tuna empanada was just the way we’d enjoyed it in Spain; but a goat’s cheese and orange salad, with its insipid salad leaves, was bland.
For a wine bar, the wine list earns only a ‘could try harder’. There are only 15 wines, all Spanish, and a mere two sherries by the glass. The wines are decent enough, but the descriptions baffling, including a light, zippy white Txacolí described as ‘syrupy’ (it’s anything but) and a glass of rather good full red Ribera del Duero described as ‘bloshy’.
The intention is good, but on our visit, it clearly had a long way to go before it can become a notable a destination for food or drink.