Friday, 14 May 2010

Meson Los Barriles - A Taste of Spain?

For the past 6 years, every summer I have spent one or two glorious weeks on the infamous Spanish party island of Ibiza.

Naturally the bars, clubs and generally hedonistic party lifestyle has been the main reason for returning year after year. However in recent summers, as I moved further and further away from my student days, I began to really appreciate the food.

Ibiza may not be known for it’s culinary greatness, but I think there are some true gems to be found across the island. From the many harbour-front restaurants in Ibiza Town serving traditional dishes such as fresh seafood stews or lobster paellas to some of the simple residential bars dotted in every area of the island where slices of divine cured jamon straight from a big hunk of meat, are served with bowls of plump, juicy Spanish olives, all washed down with rich, fruity sangria.

I love food from the Mediterranean and can honestly say some of my favourite memories of Ibiza come from eating a good meal, with lots of wine and indulging in that age-old sport of people watching - and nowhere else have I ever seen such an eclectic mix of young and old. Some truly happy, relaxed memories.

In a sad nod to my growing years, this year the fantastic White Isle does not look likely to be graced with my presence. Instead I have a few other little trips lined up, beginning on the mainland of Spain - and there will be more on that and my other trips very shortly.

As the summer months have crept up and holidays and weekends away have started getting booked up, the sad truth had to present itself. Although I have some fantastic holidays to look forward to, I’m not heading to Ibiza any time soon. So in a quest to relive Ibizan sunset meals, my White Isle party friend Jenni and I took a few steps East to check out Spanish restaurant Meson Los Barriles in Lamb Street, in Spitalfields Market.

We’d booked ahead and on arrival were greeted like old friends, in a typically Spanish display of hospitality. Our waiter was a very jovial Senor who was happy to make some menu recommendations and was very efficient with bringing us our Rioja, bread and olives. So far, so good. The d├ęcor immediately put us in mind of Spain, it was all dark wood, with jamon and red wines on display and even the odd barrel. Once we started on the olives our hopes were getting incredibly high.

Jenni is a vegetarian and as we were having tapas, or finger foods, we opted for a range of veggie dishes.

Firstly we got some Manchego Cheese which came with a quince jelly. I was surprised to find that I really liked the taste of the cheese - I was under the impression that it would be a rubbery, flavourless cheese. I was gad to have this myth shattered. What I found instead was a delicate, creamy yet mild taste which was actually very pleasant. I wasn’t keen on the quince, it was very sweet, and I think it would have better complemented a stronger taste.

We also had an aubergine gratin, which had a cheesy, breadcrumb and herb mix on top. This was a very rich dish, which I enjoyed immensely, the sauce was thick and creamy and had a garlicy flavour running through - it appealed to my greedy nature and I thought it would be a great comfort food. Jen didn’t agree with me though, she found it much too rich, and said she’d have preferred it with about half of the sauce that was used.

Jen has only recently started incorporating fish into diet and after first trying them in Ibiza town a few years ago, now adores prawns (although she does make me peel them for her if they arrive with their shell on). So she’d ordered the Garlic Prawns, which smelt sensational when they reached the table. Jen liked them, but I have to say I found that they were seriously overcooked with the result being garlic-tasting rounds of prawny rubber - I wasn’t impressed and I’d be reluctant to order this dish again.

Finally I couldn’t resist ordering something meaty, so I opted for a classic dish of allubias. This is a white bean stew, cooked very slowly with your choice of meat - I went for the staple Chorizo. The beans had been stewed with garlic and saffron, so they had turned a gorgeous yellow colour, and the whole dish was packed with rich, Spanish flavours. The spicy Chorizo added a depth to the dish and overall this was my favourite dish by far - it was simply mouth-watering. So much so that when the beans and spicy sausage were gone, I mopped up the remaining sauce with some bread. Amazing.

We paid around £45 for our meal including wine and a service charge and the portion size was so good that we both left feeling full, warm and content. Aside from the rubbery prawns which I obviously wouldn’t recommend, the meal was very pleasant. We ended the evening with yet more wine….until next time!

To book a table at Meson Los Barriles, 8 Lamb Street, Spitalfields Market, E1 6AA call 020 7375 3136.

I’m still on a search to find places that bring me a small plate of Spanish sunshine and would appreciate any London or Essex based gems that you may know of.

As to Ibiza - the summer is still young, so I may get there yet!

Meson Los Barrilles on Urbanspoon