If you are visiting Tarragona within the next two weeks you will notice an explosion in tapas offering which is due to a tapas war that is taking place between the two main organisers.
Let me explain: once upon a time there was dtapes a tapas concept which can be shortened to a beautifully organised tapas route, 40+ restaurants taking part and a treasured tapodron, a passport like brochure where every tapas eaten was stamped and noted. For every full stamped tapodrom one would collect a generous price, usually consisting of a bottle of cava, a bottle of wine and several more giveaways.
This year it’s tapageddom after the originally organisers of dtapes swapped sponsors. For reason not entirely clear out goes Estrella (and, sadly, the tapodrom passport, now replaced by a bland foldout) and in comes Moritz – Estrella takes revenge by organising a parallel tapas festival (Tarraco Tapes) featuring a fat booklet (sadly missing from dtapes) even more restaurants than the original, and each tapa (inc. drink) priced at 2.40€, ten cents less than its counterpart
Of course who wins is the gastro enthusiasts of this city which now have a veritable gourmet tapas bonanza of 100+ for the next two and half weeks of epicurean strolling.
The big change this year is the availability times. In the good old dtapes days tapas were only available to order during limited hours of the day with a pre lunch or pre dinner slot; this has changed for the better as they are now available in most places around the clock. No more rush, less queue, and more time to enjoy those little savoury creations.
We did a first round of tapas last night in an indiscriminate way, regardless of the sponsor. A clear favourite so far is a little über crunchy number called Eby Fry Suchi TGN (dtapes no. 31) which is a hot from the pan, breaded, deep fried langoustine served with fresh mayonnaise, which just goes to show that you don’t need a complicated set of ingredients to create a great little dish! Another favourite was to be found at Pizzeria da Nicola with their ravioli farcit de calçots, hand made ravioli stuffed with a sweet, savoury, smoky mousse of calçots and dished out with a romesco sauce.
The Serrallo has, predictably, set its tapas mind to fish and we tried several including the rather delicious “Ey chipirón” by RESTAURANT MANOLO, deep fried baby squid served with caramelised onions. romesco sauce on a bed of bean stew.
The standards for dtapes have always been quite high and so far there is little disappointment, in fact dtapes wins the first round vs Tarraco Tapes with some fantastic stuff. Amongst the unmissable are the Angus burger xdf served at XAMFRÀ DEL FÒRUM (dtapes winner last year), an elaborate spoonful made of thirty ingredients and delivering a heavenly explosion of flavours all in one go. Equally as good is the more traditional approach delivered by RESTAURANT LES COQUES with a classic Rap a l’all cremat, monkfish in a rich sauce with a soft garlic that melts in your mouth. Another find came from the tiny EL GRANER with their El confit d’ànec, a leg of duck slow cooked to a soft smoothness for 12 hours overnight and the crunchy Passió Tarragonina, by ELS 5 SENTIS, a hot from the pan parcel with a tasty chicken filling served with truffle puree.
Tapas hopping is incredibly addictive and is also a great way to discover new restaurants in town. In between you walk which is the perfect excuse stop in your tracks for another bite.
Ah, the regret of not finding the time to go for a veritable tapas binge, but there is always another year.
The great thing about this event is that its a real showcase for local talent and works a bit like a a gastronomic business card, you keep the memory of something really authentic and well made and make a point of going back for a proper meal, which is what happened when we tried “Fideues negres am allioli d’ametlla” at RESTAURANT A BORDO in the Serrallo. Being part Italian my grudge with fideua has always been that the pasta used feel like stodgy overcooked bits of vermicelli but not this time: cooked in an ink fish sauces and topped with seafood and a garlicky, almond infused oil this was by far the best fideua I have ever come across and one of the best tapas on this year’s list. We will be back to take a closer inspection on the other items on its menu.
Overall it has been a roaring success, not at all hampered by the fact that there was so much on offer. It actually meant less queuing and being a bit more discerning about where to go next. And we are already working out an appetite for next year’s edition.