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Yet another addition to London’s burgeoning Spanish gastronomy scene is alive and kicking in Lower Regent St. Ah yes, that WAS Lower Regent St, but a few days ago it somehow morphed into “St James – Regent St“. Could this be connected to the vast new upmarket development (St James Market) taking shape just south of Piccadilly Circus? Of course!

Bilbao+Berria+London+jamon

Anyway, Bilbao Berria, a tapas and pintxo restaurant, has taken on a courageous battle with the Crown Estate which owns said land and likes to boss its tenants around. For the moment, the shadowy restaurant façade is so discreet that you walk right past it – put the absence of projecting signage down to bureaucratic entanglements. The huge pavement outside could easily accommodate a few tables – but that request also awaits more positive thinking from the authorities.

Bilbao+Berria+London+tavern

Bilbao Berria makes up for it inside, with sleek and welcoming design in the same vein as its siblings in Bilbao and Barcelona (the 1999 founders were Basque and Catalan). It plays with plentiful wood, ceiling squiggles of rusted steel wire, copper-toned walls, openwork metal ‘cages’ and of course those old perennials – wine-bottles and barrels, but as this is conceived by a Catalan designer, it is hardly rustic, more 1960s nostalgia.

A friend and I had our late lunch in the ground floor tavern (above) – informal, with trays of pintxos on the counter, and a choice of tables with stools, or squishy banquettes for more prolonged degustacion. By the time we left we were the last clients, but in the evenings it should be hopping – location location! Bilbao Berria also strikes a good balance between upmarket and affordable – plus there’s a mouthwatering choice of Spanish regional wines. And you can add to that the ambitions of a new executive chef, Juanjo Rodriguez.

Bilbao+Berria+London+lights

 

Bilbao+Berria+London+stairs

In contrast, down the illuminated stairs, it’s club time where clusters of suspended lights speckle the penumbra in front of a state-of-the-art open kitchen. Labyrinthine loos, all in copper and bronze hues, are faced by dozens of bewildering mirrors – easy to get lost after a sherry or two.

And the food? Pretty damned good, with one or two minor caveats. We opted for a few old classics, a couple of more unusual dishes – plus a modest glass of sherry each (it was lunch after all). Our Galician waiter did his cheerful best, but didn’t seem to know much about Amontillado (far too Andalucian I suppose) – it made a perfectly fragrant and mellow tipple however. The main negative came in the form of pasty croquetas – yes, those timeless cylinders that should be a delicate balance between crunch and creaminess with hits of jamon. In this case they were mainly crunch.

Bilbao+Berria+London+pimientos+de+Padron

Still, a bowl of pimientos de Padron (another classic, above) were wrinkled to perfection, liberally salted and with just the right texture and bite. Then followed a real piece de resistance – a sublime ajoblanco, chilled, granular in its almondy texture and pretty to look at thanks to the snake of tapenade olive oil and generous curls of jamon. Two spoons please.

Bilbao+Berria+London+ajoblanco

Bilbao+Berria+Pulpo+octopus

Then our eyes rested greedily on a plate of octopus, yep, my old favourite, pulpo a la Gallega, bedded in a slick of creamy potato. Temptingly tender, it lasted a split second – then was gone, gratefully. But the arroz con conejo, rabbit risotto, lasted far longer; scrape scrape went our forks on the bottom of the paella pan to dig up divinely crunchy rice, baked in their charcoal oven. The creamy-crunchy grains enveloped two delicate bunny legs which nestled happily beside seasonal mushrooms and sprigs of rosemary, all fused together magnificently – a triumph.

Rabbit+rice+Bilbao+Berria+London

Enough. We passed on other intriguing-sounding dishes – hog roast with pumpkin and vanilla puree, honey and soya sauce, or beef cheeks stewed in red wine with smoked potato puree, as well as some tempting desserts. With Bilbao Berria’s strategic SoPic (South of Piccadilly) location near theatres and galleries, another visit is definitely on the cards. Ah, life in Spanish London is sweet indeed.

Bilbao Berria, 2 Lower Regent Street, London SW1Y 4LR 020 7930 8408. Count on £30 – 40 per person for a copious lunch or dinner, including wine.


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