Just a stone's throw from the river at Putney Bridge is an interesting Spanish Restaurant and Tapas Bar called La Mancha. It's one of those versatile places where there is a good choice of things you can do. You can treat it as a bar, and just pop in for a glass of wine or beer, nibble a few nuts and olives and depart. Or you can snack on the odd tapas, which are those super Spanish hors d'oeuvres. In the evening you can go upstairs to the rather more elegant conservatory restaurant to enjoy a three course dinner which looked very promising indeed for 15.55 (two courses 13.95).
Seated at one of the marble topped tables downstairs, four of us had a complete pig out on lots of different tapas. This is my wife's favourite kind of eating: bring her lots of lovely little things and she'd follow you to a corner table anywhere in the world! It's a mediterranean style of eating that has been largely popularised in the UK through the meze in Greek restaurants, although it is fairly universal in the Balkans and the Levant. Perhaps the Arabs took that style with them to Spain.
Tapas bars were opening up all over London a few years ago, but the market has now shaken down to the good ones. La Mancha offers a vast choice of tapas, there must have been over thirty different ones, both hot and cold. We began with some super fillets of anchovy marinated in olive oil - forget the salty ones in the little tins that always cut your fingers to ribbons - these are big white fleshy jobs. The Tabla Castellana is also good, it's rather like an Italian antipasto, with Manchego cheese, two kinds of cured ham and chorizo sausage.
Hot food served in rustic, flat earthenware dishes soon started to arrive thick and fast. Rings of calamari in a crispy light dry batter were tender and far removed from that awful rubbery texture that is so common. Two prawn dishes had well differentiated herbs and flavours: one was beautifully done in crisp filo pastry with a hot salsa type sauce, the other in a juicy garlic sauce.
The Tortilla (Spanish omelette) had a good firm texture and a creamy inside, but the Paella was rather disappointing. I don't think you can expect a sort of mini "tapas paella" to be the definitive paella, and I believe the one you get in the restaurant, cooked to order, is altogether a different animal!
We also had stuffed peppers and Berenjenas de Verano which turned out to be aubergines interleaved with slices of giant tomato and cheese. The sauce may have looked suspiciously like that on one of the other dishes, but it tasted completely different. A good sign!
Tapas are priced in the range 1.70 for garlic bread (which is seriously good, by the way), to 4.65 for skewered salmon, cod, halibut and other things served on rice. At lunchtime, between noon and 3 pm, you can have any two tapas and garlic bread for an inclusive price of Stg 5.15.
The Dessert Menu is rather conventional: profiteroles, tiramisu, creme brulee etc, so we tried all four of the specially imported Spanish ice creams. They were all nice, but our favourites were the Trufito de Chocolate, with a super brittle dark chocolate coating (2.40), and the Elado de Turron, which is a very sophisticated nougat ice served in a raspbery coulis (3.25).
The bar at the front has a high ceiling, the walls are hung with Spanish fans, hats, flags, pictures of Lippizzaner high school horses but positively no bulls or torreadors. Behind the bar is a vast display of just about every alcoholic beverage known to man. The wine list has a wide selection of Spanish wines from lots of good makers: Torres, Marques de Riscal, Caceras, Faustino and others. You can drink well for 10 to 15 pounds a bottle, but there are house wines for under a tenner. We ended our meal with a lovely glass each of Torres Muscatel de Oro - perfect with the ice cream.
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La Mancha Restaurant and Tapas Bar
32 Putney High Street
London SW15, Tel: 020 8780 1022
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