Fitzrovia tapas and sherry
Fitzrovia, that weird part of London north of Oxford Street, south of Euston, west of Bloomsbury and east of Marylebone, is overflowing with tapas restaurants. Barrica, The Salt Yard and Fino are well established, each with their own dedicated following. That hasn’t stopped Drakes Tabanco from setting up shop, with an odd menu combining Spanish and British influences and an extensive selection of cherry.
It can be slightly tricky to find Drakes Tabanco. It’s hardly out of the way, but the cursive font of its small signage camouflages it quite effectively. This may explain why the skylit, high ceilinged dining room was almost empty on both of my visits, although the draughtiness probably doesn’t help either.
First things first – tapas for vegetarians?
The menu at Drakes Tabanco isn’t overflowing with vegetarian options, but there was enough for The Flame Haired Squelchie to get stuck into. A slight acidic zing brought out the taste of ripe, buttery avocado in a salad where it was combined with walnut, apple and baby gem lettuce. It was a competent, if unexciting salad.
[Ooops, forgot to take a photo of this one.]
The Squelchie was more taken with the roasted artichoke and hazelnuts. The dense, sweet, slightly caramelised and chewy artichoke pieces went very well with the sharp, earthy leaves and the nutty, chewy hazelnuts.
The white bean and mushroom stew was certainly wintery and had a very warming feel to it. The large beans and mushrooms were satisfyingly meaty, but the stew tasted a tad overseasoned and oversalted, to the detriment of the fine ingredients.
Out of the surprisingly small charcuterie selection, the cured iberico pork tongue caught my eye. The small thin slices were a little tougher than other cuts of iberico pig, but the waxy, meaty, surprisingly fatty slices had a pleasingly sweet and nutty flavour.
The larger dish of braised pig cheeks had a more Anglo feel to it and it was a very satisfying one too. The dense and hearty yet tender strands of pork went down a treat when taken with a mouthful of thick, unctuous mash, while the crunchy hazelnuts added contrast both in texture and taste.
It’s not all about the pig though – there’s a reasonable selection of seafood dishes to go around too. The thin slices of smoked scallop were surprisingly dense and meaty which was emphasised by the distinct smokiness. The smooth avocado puree added little though.
The cured sardines were just as a meaty and smooth as the smoked scallops, although the pickled shallots and shallot mayo added little. The deboned fillets were satisfyingly salty, although this inevitably invites comparisons to Cantabrian anchovies, sometimes available at Terroirs. This is unfortunate, as those fishy little beauties are even more salty and moreish – so much so that there’s no comparison. Still, the sardines are delectable in their own right.
The Squelchie and I managed to find enough room for the cheese board, although the selection left us underwhelmed. We lost track of which cheese was what, but both the soft and hard cow’s cheeses were instantly forgettable. The occasionally salty tanginess of the soft goat’s cheese and the blue cheese were better, but hardly remarkable. Sadly though, the Squelchie wasn’t in the mood for sherry and I don’t drink.
Going back for seconds
The meaty menu at Drakes Tabanco is relatively lengthy, so I had to return to try out some of the other dishes that caught my eye. I started off with the cecina, a cured cut of beef that was dense and meaty despite the thinness of the slices. The pepperiness and slight nuttiness was enhanced by the grassy olive oil served on the side.
Presa, a cut of pork from the loin area of the pig, is an increasingly common sight on the menus of the capital’s restaurants. Here, it was lightly dusted with paprika and served with a lightly spicy sauce although neither really suited the pork. The meat itself left me unmoved, even though some slices were quiveringly rare. It just doesn’t compare to the similar cuts of pork sometimes available at Foxlow, Ember Yard, Jose and Pizarro, among others.
The beef short rib was served off the bone and was tender and waxy, but also a little dry if eaten without the herby jus. However, the distinctively sweet parsnip mash tended to overpower and overwhelm the beef.
A similar problem affected the leeks. Although the tender leeks were moist and grassy, they were overpowered by the nutty, slightly garlicky romesco sauce.
At least the chunky slice of bakewell tart was a winner. The dense yet soft and moist crumb had a distinctive almond flavour with a hint of strawberry here and there.
Drakes Tabanco’s attempts at setting itself apart from the tapas throngs with a menu mixing British and Spanish influences isn’t a bad idea and there are some good, well-crafted dishes here. The problem is that the competition is just so strong – I’d happily eat here again, but only if I couldn’t get a table at Ember Yard or Salt Yard. To put it another way, Drake Tabanco is a nice-to-have, not a must have.
Name: Drakes Tabanco
Address: 3 Windmill Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2HY
Phone: 020 7637 9388
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday noon–23:00; Saturday 12:30-23:00. Closed Sundays.
Reservations: yeah, if you want.
Average cost for one person including service and coffee: £50 approx.