“Tapas” is a noun being bandied about with worrying frequency in the UAE. Last weekend I went to an “Asian tapas supper” at a hotel in Dubai; this was followed the next day by a “tapas brunch.”
Neither fitted the traditional definition of tapas as being a “small, savoury dish typically served with drinks at a bar.” The tapas supper was a set menu of around 10 mostly substantial items, with no element of choice permitted; the second was a bacchanalian smorgasbord of, granted, small dishes, but quality was variable and very few of the hundreds of items available at the buffet were even vaguely Spanish.
So it was with excitement that I was invited to try Barcelona Street Foods, a new (and temporary) menu at Catalan, a Spanish restaurant at the Rosewood Abu Dhabi. While the Guadi-inspired interior is a far cry from a bustling Barcelona eatery, and chef Antonio Saez known for his two Michelin stars, I was tempted primarily by the first item on the menu, patatas bravas (“fried potatoes in extra virgin olive oil with spicy sauce”).
With 10 items on the menu, a friend and I ordered eight to share. It was a while, though, before the potatoes arrived. First there was an olive-based amuse bouche, which I didn’t try because I don’t like olives; my friend described it as “smooth, with a tiny piece of crunchy fruit.” A token piece of pan con tomate was so laughably small (one tiny strip between two?) I had to order more (the crusty bread served with Catalonian olive oil was also a highlight). The green gazpacho, based primarily on cucumber and apple and served in a tiny bottle, was much more successful and balanced, as was the vegetable gazpacho which followed immediately after.
Small sardines, which were not on the street food menu and had to be ordered from the main menu, were served attractively on a piece of slate, and there was a decent number of them (6), though in all honesty I prefer them with oil and vinegar. The crispy oysters (Dh60 for two) were pleasantly substantial and sea-smelling, though the octopus (Dh65) didn’t seem to absorb enough of the paprika it was served with and came out rather bland. The languoustines, deliciously cooked in lemon and garlic (Dh215 per kilo) were a delight, as the meat came effortlessly out of the bisected shell. A relatively large slice of foie gras terrine was devoured quickly once extra bread arrived.
Unfortunately, not all the dishes were served at once, so we’d filled up on bread by the time the air dried beef, mozzarella and black truffle sandwich (Dh75) arrived, though it was light and tasty. Nothing could have stopped us from finishing the six perfectly bite-sized patatas bravas, which lived up to expectations. The skins were enviably crispy and the insides floury without being crumbly, and each piece was topped with a fiery dollop of garlic aioli. Also moreish was the fried egg with chips and foie gras steak (Dh65) - though by that point we’d had enough fois gras.
Dessert was a decadent “pa, sal i xocolata” - bread, salt and chocolate (Dh42) - and a traditional crema catalana (Dh42); though the second was done in exemplary fashion, we preferred the first.
It isn’t Spain, there’s no bar and the food is a little fussily presented to be shared easily, but if you were to order just a small handful of items, even on your own, you’d probably be hard pressed to find better in the UAE. And the pan con tomate is great - and free.
Barcelona Street Foods is on offer at Catalan at the Rosewood Abu Dhabi (www.rosewoodhotels.com) until March 27th. For reservations call 02 813 5552.