Any restaurant that bills itself as a ‘gastronomic and cultural space’ would normally have me bolting for the nearest Nando’s. Even by Hackney gold medal standards of hipness, it is a majestically pretentious statement.
Surely the food at any establishment advertising itself thus will be disappointing? The atmosphere painfully self-conscious? Well, no. Unfortunately for my prejudices, none of the above is true of Trangallán, a charming tapas bar on Newington Green.
Ambiance isn’t normally the first thing that strikes me about a venue, but the atmosphere here on a Saturday night was disconcertingly authentic. Maybe it’s the fact that the four principal proprietors are friends. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they’re Spanish.
And seeing chefs jostle from table to table, cadging a cheeky glass of wine from the regulars in the shadow of an oversized leg of Iberian ham certainly warmed this reviewer’s anarchic heart. Service is charming and helpful, but relaxed. Crucially, the food is exquisite in an uncomplicated way.
The shellfish in the scallop sashimi was sweet and delicate, the accompanying fennel puree giving it oomph without undermining the dish’s essential simplicity. Grilled sardines with a cherry tomato gazpacho – another unassuming stunner. The sardines were rich, oily, and moist and the soup was the kind of substantial, thick puree rarely found outside Spain.
A plate of gently sweet and aromatic guijuelo ham was massive. The smoked anchovy and tomato salad was a masterclass in minimalism – top quality fruits dressed simply in some basil and olive oil, enlivened by the saline-bomb impact of the anchovies.
A final savoury highlight was the main course of carne caldo – a plate that translates literally as ‘hot meat.’ In this instance, it was a generous slab of beef brisket, meltingly tender but maintaining that vital understated chew.
Pudding was a ‘sweet tapas’ melange. Consisting of a baked apple with crème Catalan and accompanied by freshly macerated fruit, it may not have reached the heights of the savoury dishes, but still provided a very acceptable conclusion to the meal.
Tapas-style restaurants can be a bit tricky sometimes, with unwary diners liable to clock up quite sizeable tabs. My meal at Trangallán came to a grand total around £60 before service, including a couple of drinks.
Hackneyites (and any international visitors) should beat a path to this particular restaurant’s door. Just don’t take my table.
61 Newington Green