Sunday, 19 June 2011


A Spanish SensationAfter an incredibly glutinous week of celebrating my own birthday, it was time to pass the birthday baton over to someone else - my wonderful Dad. He's long been a fan of Spanish fare since his and my Mum's very first trip abroad together to Majorca nearly 30 years ago and has even gone to the trouble of purchasing an authentic and very large paella pan from a catering supplier. He has perfected a mixed meat and seafood paella which is only for special occasions and which I can vouch is quite sensational.
Fino on Charlotte Street was the allotted venue for our celebratory meal and we were booked in early last Saturday evening, 630, the earliest and in fact the only table we could get.
We were led down to the smart basement restaurant and invited to begin with a drink in the bar. We ordered a jug of their Cava Sangria and this was a refreshingly fruity and colourful affair, very pretty to look at and the kind of drink that would go down well all evening.
We were also brought over two little ramekins of plump, firm and very tasty green olives. They were divine and as two amongst our 6 detest olives, I'm slightly embarrassed to admit the other four of us demolished these in a couple of minutes flat. Happily these were soon replenished by the friendly Spanish barman.
We had ordered one of the specials, half a suckling piglet, prior to our visit, so our plan was to get a few little dishes or tapas to whet our appetite for the main event. However we found it difficult to resist ordering a lot of dishes, so many sounded great.
We began with a platter of cold Spanish meats, prawn croquettas and red pepper croquettas with bread and oil. The meats were all tasty, particularly the Serano and chorizo. Both croquettes were good but the red pepper ones won my flavour vote by a margin, these were sweet, hot and extremely moreish, I could have easily eaten a whole portion.

Vanessa, our impeccable waitress, was an excellent source of knowledge, she gladly advised us on the specials, her favourites, and explained what certain things were on the menu that we hadn't before experienced. Also when the bread arrived and we requested some aioli as well as the oils, she obliged quickly and approvingly.
Our next course was a medley of seafood, and if the first course was good, this was incredible. My family are real fish and seafood fans and this did not disappoint. We had clams, razor clams, sardines and squid and it is fair to say that when they arrived our mouths were collectively watering, not only did it look great, the smells were enticing too.

The clams were frankly the best I've ever had. They were slightly salty, but this was complemented by the rich and creamy garlicy butter that they'd been cooked and served in, it was an amazing taste and I'm not ashamed to admit I dipped bread straight into that sauce as if I were eating in the comfort of my own home, it was too good not to.
The squid was also good, it was crispy in a light batter and we agreed we thought it was very similar to the way squid is often prepared in Chinese cookery - with salt and pepper and a little chilli heat. These also had the hint of paprika which gave a lovely smokiness. They were great dipped in the aioli too.
I must confess sardines are one of my Dad's favourites, however I've generally found them to be far too bony and fiddly, with not very much meat on them to bother with, and never carrying much flavour. I've decided they deserve a second chance after tasting the juicy, garlicy wonders we were presented with. They were very easy to de-bone and quite big compared to others I've had - to be honest even if they were tiny the flavour of them would have been well worth the effort. As well as garlic there was a little parsley and some citrussy lemon and lime to. The simple flavour combination worked perfectly and this was yet another dish that didn't last very long at all.
Finally on the sea-front, we had razor clams. I'm afraid these were not for me, but I've never enjoyed these whenever I've had them before, despite them being a bit of a favourite in my family, especially in Chinese food. I find them too rubbery a texture to enjoy. General agreement around the table was that they were in fact excellent, so don't be deterred if you're a fan, its more personal preference than anything else.

Next up was our piece de resistance, the star attraction of the meal, our suckling piglet. At risk of sounding like an advert for the restaurant, this too was just fantastic. The crackling was gorgeously crispy - I always feel crackling's such a naughty indulgence anyway it almost adds to the enjoyment, like a guilty pleasure. The meat was pierced with sprigs of rosemary and there was mint and parsley present too which gave the tender meat and the beautiful juices it was cooked in some truly wonderful taste sensations. The mint was subtle enough to just enhance the flavour without overpowering as it can easily do.
Alongside the meat we had some olive oil mash - creamy and delicious if a little cooler in temperature than we'd have liked, some 'Fino Chips' which turned out to be just chips, nothing to write home about, a mixed green leaf salad which had a fabulously simple citrussy dressing on and some kale, which like the chips was a bit of a non-event. It was a good main course, although the half (£75), recommended for up to 6 people, was still quite large, and it's probable we'd have enjoyed more of it had we not had quite so many dishes leading up to it.

Only the ladies managed dessert and between us we had a crema catalina, a chocolate shot and chocolate soup. Mum had the crema catalina, and it was large enough for two people, which was good as we all got to try some. It was lovely with an orangey, Grand Marnier flavour. The chocolate soup was just that; dark chocolate, warm, runny and heavenly with a good dollop of vanilla chantilly cream for good measure. I'd opted for the white and dark chocolate shot, and while it was a taste treat to say the least, it was a mere mouthful and greedy me was left slightly disappointed and wanting more - nothing new there.

Some deliciously dry Spanish Moscatel sherry completed the superb meal for the men.
Fino is the rare London gem, a restaurant that is expert in one area and doesn't deviate or try to juggle too many balls. The food throughout was exceptional, and as I mentioned our waitress was a dream compared to many of her clueless contemporaries I have encountered in the capital.
The meal came in at just under the £300 mark, including a £31 service charge, so isn't cheap at around £50 per head, but we did order in excess of what was essential, after all this was a celebration. And Daddy picked up the bill - as I stated at the beginning of this post, he is wonderful!
Fino, 33 Charlotte St, London, W1T 1RR. 0207 813 8010

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