Restaurant review: Tapas Revolution, Bluewater

For a taste of truly authentic Spain in the UK, head for Bluewater and experience the vision that is Omar Allibhoy's Tapas Revolution

Viva la Revolution!

For a taste of truly authentic Spain in the UK, head for Bluewater and experience the vision that is Omar Allibhoy’s Tapas Revolution

Omar Allibhoy is a man on a mission. While an early interest in food and cooking at home in Madrid with his mother led to his career as a chef, since moving to the UK seven years ago Omar, 28, has become a passionate spokesman for Spanish cuisine.

“I love good Spanish food, cooking it and giving it to people so they can enjoy it too,” he says. “But what I enjoy the most is showing people how to cook great Spanish tapas at home. Today all my efforts are in spreading this word as I believe Spanish food has being misrepresented and undervalued and it’s far in popularity from other cuisines, but it shouldn’t be.”

And if you’re shopping in Kent’s Bluewater and fancy a quick lunch that isn’t your average coffee and sandwich on the go, or have a bit more time on an evening out or are perhaps visiting neighbour Glow for the BBC Good Food Show (see page xxx) – then head for Tapas Revolution and check out Omar’s claims. I did.

I decided the perfect lunch companion would be my photographer Manu Palomeque who, as you can probably gather from the name, knows a thing or two about Spanish cuisine – and he and Omar are old mates anyway.

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Back in July 2010, wearing his Pepper Films hat, Manu got to film Omar and his best friend Dani on a 15-day ‘conversion to tapas mission’ – they drew a ‘T’ for tapas on a map of the UK and duly set off on their scooters with just a couple of pots and pans literally wherever the points on that letter took them.

From floods in Liverpool, to cooking on board a punt in Oxford, taking over a chippie in Grimsby, getting their bike stolen in Sheffield and making bocadillos for sailors in Cowes, it certainly proved a trip to remember – but they won fans and converts wherever they went.

Now Tapas Revolution is busily converting diners in Westfield London shopping centre (opened November 2010) and, since November 2011, Kent’s Bluewater.

The aim is to create the authentic, convivial all-day neighbourhood tapas restaurant of any barrio in Omar’s home town, from the aged jamon de bellota with a glass of Rioja to a simple bocadillo de calamares fritos: and it works.

Forget any preconceptions about Spanish cuisine – the tastes, flavours and sheer variety are enticing and the atmosphere manages to be both exciting and laid-back. The open kitchen and shiny chrome bar encircling it are at the heart of the whole operation but as well as sitting up at stools, where you can watch the chefs and waiters at work, there are a couple of seating .

Here the specially designed table tops bear images of icons from Penelope Cruz to Real Madrid and the vivid colours are those of Spain. Real olive trees grow in the bar area and there are piles of crates (stamped with ‘Tovil’ for a lovely local touch on the sides) and modern industrial-looking stands bearing giant hams and bunches of dried chillies.

The food is tremendous – how on earth simple toasted soda bread layered with garlic, tomato and olive oil could taste so good beats me – and of course the idea is to have lots of little plates and share them with your friends, so you get to have a bit of everything without having to stick to one or two main dishes.

At Omar’s recommendation, I drank fruity red Ribero del Duerro (Manu had an Estrella), then went on to Mosto (grape juice), just like real Spaniards.

Star of the show was undoubtedly pork cheeks in red wine – apparently it’s so meltingly tender because Iberian pigs roam freely in the woodlands eating acorns, which means the fat acquires an incredible nutty taste: when slow cooked with vegetables and a good Spanish red wine, the gravy it creates is heavenly.

Other highlights included tortilla with the best-ever garlicky mayonnaise, delicious wild button mushrooms, exceptionally tasty octopus with potatoes and paprika and really flavoursome marinated beef on skewers.

There is only one way to end a feast like this – forget the calories and embrace your inner child with the Spanish favourite – cinnamon-tossed doughnuts (churros) served with hot dipping chocolate: it’s the biggest seller from breakfast onwards, and you can’t not adore them.

And if you’re lucky, Che Guevara himself, I mean the lovely Omar, will be around too. Revolution? Sign me up now.

MEET THE CHEF

Omar Allibhoy, chef-owner

What’s your signature dish?

Slow-braised Iberian pork cheeks in red wine.

Your top cookery tip for our readers?

Check out our website and you will find more than one, but if I need to choose one, it’s to stock up your cupboard with some Spanish ingredients so you have no excuse not to prepare a good tapas feast! We sell products here like white asparagus, Spanish olive oil and quince jelly.

Who has influenced you most?

I have been very lucky of working with some of the best chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jason Atherton, from whom I have learnt a lot, but the one who has influenced me the most is Ferran Adria, who has been named best chef  in the world many times and with whom I had the pleasure of working with for more than two years. From Ferran I learnt techniques which I am now using at Tapas Revolution.

Your must-have kitchen gadget?

No fancy stuff - a proper knife, pan and chopping board, and if I’m at home, a good glass of wine.

Who would you like to cook for?

No one person in particular, the more people I can cook for, and make them love Spanish food, the better.

THE ESSENTIALS

Where: Unit SVU06, Upper Mall

Bluewater, Greenhithe DA9 9ST

What: Friendly neighbourhood-style Spanish tapas restaurant and bar

What’s the damage: Set menu for two �11.50 each, small plates �4.95-�6.75

When: Mon-Fri 10am-9pm, Sat 9am-9pm, Sun 11am-5pm

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