“Thank goodness it’s a quiet day today” murmurs Joel, the head waiter at Brindisa in Southwark Street. The rain is pelting noisily against the tarmac, and every seat in the house is taken. The air is warm, close and dank.
A couple have just come to remove the two chairs that were round my table, and here I am left, perching alone at my little round table.
“You should have seen it last Saturday, there were queues stretching round the corner”, he points into the bowels of Borough Market.
I am focussing on my menu and am deciding between the more sinful mixed Iberico de cebo, salchichon and chorizo platter, or the more virtuous Ortiz anchovy salad with piquillo peppers and manchego cheese. Or both?
The pace is relentless. From my seat I can see the opened kitchen hatch, and Roberto and Giuseppe, the Head Chefs, are preparing plate after plate after plate. Tapas. Small bites. As soon as five or six plates are whisked from the pass, five or six more reappear.
The whole of the bar area is now full, and the table behind me have ordered one of everything, in every colour. On the front wall is a large photograph of Pata Negra, black hoofed, pigs foraging through a wood.
The staff are dressed in black uniforms, and they all look Spanish, but Joel informs me they are Hungarian, Latvian, Portuguese, French. A United Nations of slick, dark, young people, moving like tango dancers with trays of cerveza, wine, bread and cheese. He is from Uruguay, but has been in London a long time. He rides to work on his bicycle and leaves it parked outside. He has had enough of the rain.
The bread is very good: a thick, earthy crust hides a soft, airy middle that tastes like the loaves of old. The ham is nutty, buttery and fragrant. The green salad is herby, dotted with chervil, mint and rocket, anointed with a moscatel vinaigrette. The saltiness of the cheese and anchovies is foiled by the sweet softness of the red peppers. Small but perfectly formed.
These are the very best ingredients imaginable, sliced so finely and straight, prepared so simply, placed so daintily, right in the centre of plain white plates. They even run ham slicing courses, it’s all perfected to a fine art.
The chef is shouting out the orders, and still they keep on coming.
“How is everything? Is everything alright? Do you like it?” I am asked at least four times. When you tell them you love it they smile as if they made it themselves “Oh good!” and off they go to serve another table.
Blackboards point you towards the top wine choices of the day. “A nutty oak on the nose followed by a dark, cherry flavour. Mestizaje 2009 Utiel Requena £6.95” Much of the wine is sold by the glass to accompany the plates of picoteo, cocina de mercado, tapa and charcuteria.
The customers are office workers from nearby, many are suited, most are in a hurry.
“We are always full because everybody knows that Brindisa does the best food and we do it fast. We serve people who do not want to wait a long time for their plates. So there are three chefs. But even when it’s a Saturday night, and we have double the customers, it’s still only three chefs. They all have to learn every stage of the kitchen, from the starters to the grill to patisserie. They are very young, you know, in the kitchen, but they don’t panic” says Joel.
Well if you were a chef prone to panicking when speed and alacrity were required in volume, then do not send your Curriculum Vitae here.
My Galician torta di Santiago is delicious: crunchy almond pieces in soft, eggy cake, accompanied by a first class vanilla ice cream, dotted with tiny black vanilla seeds.
As soon as I leave my table is cleared, wiped, relaid and refilled. It’s really quite extraordinary how fast the Brindisa machine moves.
When I step inside the Floral Hall, Borough Market Brindisa shop the opposite is true. Here, amidst hanging Serrano, iberico, chorizo and row upon row of Ortiz tuna and El Navarrico beans calm, peace and order ensues.
A few customers are tasting cheeses. Others are filling their shopping basket with olives, almonds, olive oil, rice and crackers. Thank goodness I have already eaten, the smell is divine. I am left to wander, to look, to pick up read and stock up. This shop is an education.
I leave with far more than I needed, but all of which I know I will use. Next time I am going in with my trusted wheelie trolley. Now that is what a real Spanish housewife would do, a headscarf knotted under her chin. Mundo Brindisa. Where even monsoon rain cannot stop your pleasure.
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