BY PALOMA LACY
Thornton Heath is not known for its quantity of good restaurants.
In the past 15 years, the few crowd-pleasers based there have quietly slipped away, leaving locals with little choice but to head to Norbury (and its slim pickings – thank goodness for Capadoccia, Sorrento In and Karachi Cuisine) or Croydon and Streatham.
So it was with great anticipation that new Spanish eatery, Taperia, opened its doors a few days ago.
Taking the place of Malaysian restaurant and karaoke bar, Bunga Raya, that had operated on the spot just shy of Thornton Heath Pond for what must have been 20 years, the excitement of locals was palpable.
I popped along with a friend last weekend to find a packed house and several familiar faces from the locale, merrily tucking into tapas.
It looks the part, like we’d stepped into a Barcelona side street; the staff are welcoming and attentive; and the food is to die for.
I’d be lying if I said that the complimentary glass of sangria we, and every diner, was presented with wasn’t a lovely touch.
Whether this is an initiative wheeled out in honour of the opening, or one they will continue with, I don’t know, but very nice all the same.
Our waiter Carlos, an industry veteran of some 35 years standing, and ex-pat from Barcelona, wouldn’t share the secret recipe with us but then rattled off a list of spirits he’d added to red wine and lemonade to make the most surprisingly light and refreshing aperitif.
Tapas is the main event here so we ordered four to get us started.
Our hunger was such that we didn’t fancy waiting 40 minutes for paella but completely understood the time it takes to produce a dish fresh to every order.
We went for a couple of tapas staples – croquets de jamon (£5.00) – golden balls stuffed with sweet onion béchamel and chunks of ham – Gambas Al Ajillo (£6.50) – sizzling prawns in olive oil, garlic and chilli, which were exemplary.
The best bit about the prawn dish was the never-ending garlic infused oil, which we mopped up with hunks of rustic bread.
It was a pleasant surprise to find dates and nuts wrapped in bacon, served in sherry sauce (£5.00), a dish I’ve had just once before in Spain and proof of Taperia’s authenticity.
Next it was time to try calamari, the freshness of which I enquired after – and assured it had been nowhere a freezer, quickly placed an order. I’m so glad I did, the squid was fresh, the batter light and the accompanying alioli home-made, pungent with garlic and zesty with lemon. Probably my favourite tapas of the night but they were all very good.
The only disappointment was the grilled Portobello mushrooms, which could have done with being cooked for a few minutes longer. With 25 tapas dishes to choose from, salads and of course, paella.
Taperia has plenty to keep diners coming back for.
And the restaurant is showing the love this Valentine’s Day with two deals. Paella, two tapas and a bottle of house wine or jug of sangria (£35) or four tapas, a bottle of house wine or jug of sangria (£33).
Paloma was not a guest of Taperia, 785-787 London Road, Thornton Heath, CR7 6AW.
Call 0203 935 5928.