By Nikki Griffiths
Having thoroughly enjoyed reviewing Brindisa’s Food Rooms in the last issue, my tapas tastebuds were asking for more. Luckily, I could turn to Gremio de Brixton. Set in the crypt of St. Matthew’s Church, I had wondered if the location was too good to be true and that in fact they would be serving up no more than novelty nibbles and regular Rioja. Well – gracias Gremio, you are so much more.
Sure, it might not be perfect. But who cares? It’s an amazing space, romantic, relaxed and down to earth and isn’t going to break your bank. Gremio de Brixton, translated to mean the guild, or union of Brixton, opened two years ago and for many locals has since been a reliable and consistent go-to. That said, this was my first time.
My favourite thing about eating Spanish food is that you get to choose so many things off the menu. Of course, we started with the obligatory meat and cheese. To be precise, we ate the jamon serrano and the most famous Spanish sheep’s cheese, manchego. The servings were generous and the ham had a similar creamy and nutty taste I remember so well from Brindisa, and which I now benchmark all thinly sliced Spanish hams against.
The couple of choices we had from the starter menu did let the side down a bit and could do with a little refining. But they’re good staples to have on the menu. The calamari was a bit pot luck, with half of it being delicious and the other half really tough. That said, the batter was lovely and crisp and the lemon mayo was spot on. We also tried the chorizo bites which came served with an apple mayonnaise. They were a bit overpowering and could have used a fresh herby flavour injection.
Onto the good stuff. I notice quite a lot of people aren’t sold on Spanish food and see it as bland and unimaginative. This menu however, with the inclusion of a parrilla (meaning grill) section, makes Gremio not just another generic tapas joint. The chefs have taken crowd pleasing succulent cuts of meat and fresh fish and cooked them in their own style.
From the grill, we decided to try the grilled scallops wrapped in crispy pancetta with white bean mash and baby spinach. To my delight, the scallops were cooked perfectly and the classic pairing with crisp pancetta was as pleasing as it usually is. The white bean mash gave a great texture and allowed the scallops to really show off.
Next up my boyfriend had chosen, purely at the sight of the word ‘oxtail’, the piquillo peppers stuffed with confit oxtail in Rioja wine. These little guys were one of the stars of the night. A dark gravy, which at first I expected to be more red wine flavoured, was a real surprise on the tongue. It felt like a little nod to my Yorkshire homeland amongst a table of Spanish exoticism and it was delightful and comforting. The oxtail, inside the sweet pepper, was melt-in-the-mouth – a triumph of a dish.
Finally, the confit of suckling pig, served with swede and apple mash and onion marmalade. Any slow cooked pig, in my opinion, is a winner. In this case, the flavour was great and the crispy top was exactly what I’d hoped for. Again, the chefs did an excellent job with this super juicy and succulent offering.
Despite best intentions, we even gave in to desert, opting for the white chocolate mousse. Actually, when it arrived, it was much thicker than expected and was more like a panna cotta. That aside, it was sweet and indulgent and I wouldn’t have changed it. But it’s definitely one to share between two.
To accompany your Spanish supper, I’d recommend the Val de los Frailes – a tempranillo red wine from Cigales. It’s dark and full bodied and complimented our food perfectly.
Also worthy of kudos are the wonderful staff at Gremio. From the moment we arrived, it felt like we were amongst friends. Our waiter, Sean, was a gentleman. He clearly cares a lot about the food he’s serving up, was interested to know what we thought of it and was working very closely with the chefs to continue to refine their menu. His sense of pride made me like the place even more.
Gremio gets a bit louder later on at weekends so if I were you, I’d book an earlier table and then stay behind to sample their cocktail menu later into the evening.
Dinner for two including drinks: £60