Forget the pale imitations. There’s real tapas in Melbourne if you know where to look
We’ve had patchy luck trying to import European dining traditions down under, especially when it comes to the art of tapas. But your holiday memories are in safe hands with Javier Pardo-Vinals (ex-front of house at France-Soir), who migrated from Barcelona to Melbourne in 2001, and brought with him the true spirit of a tapas bar. He has carved out a little slice of home with his St Kilda East eatery, Las Tapas, whose bright yellow façade and dimly lit, intimate interior can transport you to the cobblestone plazas of Barcelona faster than you can say ‘jamon’.
He’s onto a good thing because four years on, the place is still heaving. Just like his counterparts in Spain, Javier visits markets every morning to buy produce for that day’s offerings (the kitchen is tiny and there’s no cool room so everything has to go). The food is seasonal, with most ingredients from Victorian soil or sea.
Historically tapas were thin slices of bread or meat that tavern-goers in Andalusia used to cover (tapa means ‘cover’ or ‘lid’) their glasses of sherry between taking sips to ward off fruit flies. With bread being the cornerstone of this type of eating, you’d want to get it right: and Las Tapas has. Their rye sourdough is baked by the 91-year-old owner of Russian institution, Baker in the Rye in Balaclava, to a recipe from Javier’s hometown. Dense and chewy slices are toasted and then rubbed with fresh garlic and fresh tomato and finished with olive oil to create Catalan bread. Pile it with lashings of 18-month-cured Gran Reserva Serrano jamon or white anchovies, sour’n’salty flavour bombs pickled first in white wine, garlic and lemon and then cooked a la escabeche in a reduction of shallots, tomatoes and paprika. Delicioso!
There are over 40 tapas on the daily menu scrawled on blackboards. Manchego cheese flecked with Serrano ham curls oozes out of the scorching croquettes; the punchy gambas pil pil which hail from Saville see prawns sizzling in garlic, oil and small, fiery chillies; chorizo made in-house (using free-range pork from Western Plains Pork in Gippsland) is pepped up with fruity, earthy smoked paprika. More classics come as mussels a la Diablo, fragrant with tomato, wine, chilli and parsley; patatas bravas are twice-steamed, twice-fried potatoes that are a symphony of crispy and fluffy with salsa brava and a halo of aioli; and the cherry tomato salad with fresh herbs doused in a multi-vinegar dressing, truffle oil and small jalapenos fermented by Javier will raise the hairs on your arms.
In Barcelona, tapas bars aren’t necessarily where you go for a full meal, and this sentiment is well mirrored at Las Tapas. You’ll need a booking for a table (especially on weekends), but at most times, even without one, you’d be able to perch at the bar and feel like a real Catalonian accompanied by mostly Spanish wines, a handful of Aussies, and a daily made sangria in a jar atop the bar.
On Sundays, they also open for lunch and make paella to order so that you won’t be able to swear you haven’t teleported to Spain on a cloud of saffron and rice.
|Venue name:||Las Tapas|
100 Chapel St
|Opening hours:||Wed-Sat 5-10.30pm; Sun noon-10.30pm|