Cambio de Tercio is the flagship of a small group of Spanish restaurants in west London. The others are the next-door sherry and tapas bar Capote Y Toros, the simpler Tendido Cero directly opposite, and nearby Tendido Cuatro. Cambio de Tercio cooks the most ambitious food of the group, with a mix of traditional and inventive Spanish dishes. At my most recent meal some interesting dishes included a tomato slow-cooked for eight hours which had developed intense flavour. the excellent take on patatas bravas popularised at Sergi Arola, carefully cooked hake with padron peppers, and lovely pluma. The dining room at Cambio is now a little larger, as they have taken over the next door premises, added a section to the dining room and greatly expanded the kitchen. I have eaten numerous meals at Cambio and for me this is the best Spanish cooking in London.
A July 2012 meal started with gazpacho with olive oil lobster and cherry ice cream. The gazpacho was excellent, carefully seasoned, the tomatoes from Andalucía. The chilled soup was so nice; its flavour so full, that the ice cream and lobster seemed almost unnecessary, pleasant though they were (6/10). Marinated sardines in apple vinegar, red grapes and Campari jelly is a long-standing Cambio dish. The balance of the oiliness of the sardines, the acidity of the grapes and the Campari is carefully judged: a fine dish (6/10). New on the menu is a beetroot salad, the beetroot baked in clay, served with goat cheese, beetroot gelee and sea lettuce. The dressing on the lettuce, which tasted to me of honey, was lovely, and the dish was prettily arranged. It was quite a large dish and I wondered whether the use of golden beetroot might add another interesting element – anyway, an inventive and enjoyable salad (5/10). Patatas bravas are another long-time favourite dish, a clever and attractive take on the classic Spanish dish (easily 6/10).
Griddled John Dory with Catalonian baby squid and aioli was the only misstep of the evening, the squid tender but the fish cooked for too long and rather dried out (3/10). By contrast the red mullet cooked a la plancha was terrific, served on a bed of bomba rice, nuts and Romesco sauce (easily 6/10). My main course of fillet of beef with braised bone marrow and potato and apple millefeuille was served with a lovely, rich Oloroso sauce. The beef was very tender, the sauce unctuous, balanced by the potato and apple (strong 6/10). On the side, both asparagus and pardon peppers were excellent.
Dessert was a bit of chef trickery: “fried eggs, chips and ketchup” looked like breakfast but was actually mango strips with “eggs” of coconut filled with mango puree, with strawberry sauce in the place of ketchup. The sheer quality of the mango carried the dish (6/10). We drank the lovely Torres Mas la Plana 2007 at £55 for a wine that costs £27 retail. Service was excellent throughout the evening, and the bill came to £73 a head. Bear in mind that the full tasting menu here costs just £39, which to me seems a real bargain by any standards.
The all Spanish wine list has great depth, with 300 wines on offer, ranging in price from £23 to £990, with a median price of £64. The average mark-up level is 2.7 times retail price, which is moderate by London standards. Examples include Bodegas Nauta 2003 at £31.50 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £11, and As Sortes 2009 Bodegas Rafael Palacios at £51 for a wine that retails at £25. There are much grander wines too, such as Alba de Breton 2003from Bodegas Breton at £84.50 for a wine that costs £44 to buy, or Pingus 2003 at £740 for a wine that will set you back £423 to purchase in a shop.
The notes below are from previous meals.
Tonight we had a special tasting menu. Grilled thin strips of Manchega cheese with tomato powder was an enjoyable nibble, as were crisp pieces of cod skin with aioli and salsa; the latter added a useful balance to the quite strong cod flavour. Sardines with Muscat jelly and a few grapes were excellent, the sardines being of high quality (vastly better than the ones I had at Odette’s a week ago, for example) and the grapes providing just enough acidity to cut through the inherent oiliness of the sardines, but no more than that.
A salad of eel and excellent Spanish tomatoes also featured superb razor clams that were very tender, while the salad leaves were fresh and had a good dressing. The best dish of the night was a simple one: wild sea bass cooked a la plancha: it was a particularly lovely piece of fish, with superb flavour, and had been cooked just right, with a hint of smokiness from the grill. An interesting take on a tortilla was provided with a glass in which there were caramelized onions, on top of which was egg yolk, and above this a layer of potato foam; this is a dish that was, I believe, invented at El Bulli, and worked well.
Foie gras with coca cola and lemon foam was a playful concoction, but one which worked out quite well, the lemon in particular giving balance to the rich foie gras. Partridge “ravioli” did not use pasta but instead had strips of pata negra; this was served with chestnut mousse, and was a lovely dish. This was a terrific meal, showing the versatility of the chef at the moment.
Notes follow from July 2009.
The last three meals I have eaten here have been very impressive, with a series of superbly executed dishes. The cooking just seems to get better and better, and I have adjusted the score accordingly. In the last meal skate was remarkably well cooked, as was a sweetbread dish and one of rabbit, demonstrating real skill with essentially peasant ingredients. For me this is impressive; it is relatively easy to make a nice meal from scallops, langoustines and fillet of beef, but to do the same with rabbit and skate takes talent.
It is hard to resist a haunch of top quality pata negra, so I began with well cut slices of the superb Jabugo Gran Reserva pata negra, one of the very best out there. There followed an interesting dish of foie gras with Manchego cheese "air", sweetcorn and a Pedro Ximines reduction, a smart combination as the Pedro Ximines worked well with the foie gras, a variation on the classic Sauternes accompaniment (5/10).
Next was possibly the least good dish of the meal, sardines marinaded in raspberry vinegar, with Spanish olives and some tomatoes. The problem for me was that the dressing was too acidic, and the effect of the marinade was to render the sardines a little soft; better grilled I think (3/10). Next were slices of roast grouse, cooked pink, with a salad of almonds and peach with aged sherry vinegar and peach dressing. The salad was pleasant and the dressing worked well, the grouse had good flavour (4/10).
Next was a rustic soup poured over an egg yolk, cod and chickpeas. This was rich, robust and well seasoned (5/10). The next dish was flame-grilled Galician octopus, served with potatoes puree and paprika oil, with asparagus on the side. The octopus was genuinely good, without a hint of chewiness, and the paprika oil was a clever match to the slight smokiness of the flame-grilled octopus (6/10). Next was monkfish with salsa verde with white asparagus and clam juice. The fish was fine but I found the sauce had a rather thicker texture than I would have liked (4/10),
Finally on the savoury courses came roast suckling pig (from Salamanca), which was very nicely cooked and had excellent crackling with perfect texture; this was served with some pleasant rosemary potatoes (6/10). Finally, ganache of white chocolate and yoghurt was served with pistachio powder, passion fruit coulis and ginger ice cream. This was a clever dish, the richness of the ganache balanced in texture by the pistachio powder and in taste by the gentle heat of the ginger (6/10). Espresso coffee was pleasant (4/10). Service, under restaurant owner Abel Lusa, was very good.
Below are notes from a meal in June 2008.
Another remarkably good meal here. Pata negra (£16.95) was cut to just the right level of thickness, and had no hint of hardness as can happen sometimes; just stunning flavour. I don’t really know how to score a piece of ham, however perfect, but pata negra is one of life’s joys. Patatas bravas (£6.75) is a modern take on the old classic, little cylinders of potato with a spicy tomato filling served attractively on a slate; it is remarkable how something so simple can taste so good, always the sign of a good restaurant (6/10). Baby squid (£8.50) was deep fried and was of the non-chewy variety, served with a good aioli (4/10). Roasted vegetables (£7.50) appeared as three little towers with vegetables at the bottom, then caramelised goat cheese, topped with a slice of chorizo, each having a little piquillo pepper jus poured over it – this unusual combination worked well, with a nice contrast of textures (4/10).
Garlic prawns were superbly cooked, served simply with chillies and a little lemon oil; the prawns had excellent flavour (5/10). Gilt-head bream was served with a few vegetables and cured Manchego cheese; the fish was nicely cooked but this dish was merely pleasant for me (3/10). Valenician rice (£12) was slow cooked with cockles, baby squid and cuttlefish ink; the shellfish was tender and the rice had absorbed the cooking juices, having wonderful depth of flavour (6/10). Partridge (£10.50) was served with a little vegetable risotto and also had good flavour (5/10). Ox tail (£9) was caramelised for 12 hours in red wine and had great concentration of flavour, served with a soft celeriac puree and a few carrots and glazed cherry tomatoes (5/10). Finally the asparagus was again quite stunning, simply grilled yet wonderfully tender (6/10).
A chocolate fondant with ginger ice cream had a nice liquid centre and enjoyable ice cream that tasted properly of ginger (5/10). My companion’s “Pineapple cocktail” deconstruction of a Piña Colada had coconut ice cream, rum foam and caramelised fruit, an unusual but successfully refreshing combination (5/10) while a cheese cake made from Manchega and arzúa also tasted good. Service was friendly and relaxed but competent.
Below are notes from a meal in November 2007, by way of comparison.
I have had two prior meals at Cambio de Tercio some years ago, which were fine but unexceptional, perhaps 2/10 or 3/10 territory. I was alerted to a change in recent standards by gourmet Alex Chambers, whom I have learned to trust on such matters. Despite the head chef (who trained at two star Michelin La Broche in Madrid) being the same as on prior visits there has indeed been a sharp jump in cooking level. Bread is just simple white mini-rolls, which were pleasant if unexciting (3/10). The room has red walls and ceiling and has a warm, cosy feel to it.
We went the tapas route (you can also select many of the same dishes as main courses) and began with tartar of tuna, two little piles of minced tuna with pistachio mustard, each topped with a little salmon caviar. The garnish was an intensely flavoured tomato and tiny matchsticks of fried asparagus in olive oil, the tuna topped with a sprig of watermelon sprout leaves. The tuna was fine and the tomato excellent, though the asparagus was so finely chopped that it had little distinct taste (3/10).
Grilled asparagus with Maldon salt and an asparagus flavoured mayonnaise was a revelation. So often asparagus is pleasant but dull, yet here it had excellent taste and texture, cooked through very well, with the mayonnaise carefully judged, the seasoning excellent (6/10). Pata negra ham from Jabugo was superb; this is perhaps the finest ham on the planet, and what impressed me here was that the thin slices of ham had no element of hardness that can often creep into less than perfect pata negra. This is hard to mark as the kitchen has done nothing but find a very good source, but that in itself is no bad thing.
Garlic prawns with chilli and lemon oil were cooked in their shells and very tender, the garlic and chilli enjoyable but in control (5/10). The only off note of the evening was char-grilled salmon, served with sea asparagus and smooth cream of leeks. The farmed salmon was cooked lightly but had the tastelessness that seems hard to avoid with farmed salmon, with the other elements of the dish insufficient to disguise how ordinary the salmon really was (2/10).
Much better was fillet of acorn-fed Iberico pork, marinated and roasted with a layer of Burgos morcilla (a spicy black pudding) and little cubes of pineapple chutney, decorated with filaments of crispy rice. The pork was beautifully tender, the blood pudding adding a rich but interesting extra taste dimension, balanced by the clever use of the pineapple to give acidity. I’m not sure what the crispy rice really added but this was a fine dish (7/10).
A special was a modern take on patatas bravas (pictured). Instead of being served as a single slab of potato cake, the dish was served as a dozen little potato cake encasing a creamy, slightly spicy filling topped with herbs. The potato was lovely and this was a genuinely original and successful take on a traditional dish (6/10). For dessert, Spanish rice pudding ice cream was served with a gel of orange and lemon, pumpkin seeds and cinnamon (4/10). I had ganache of smooth white chocolate and passion fruit, topped with a layer of pistachio and ginger ice cream in which the ginger flavour came through well (5/10). Coffee was rather ordinary (3/10).
A positive feature is the wine list, which draws on some of the finest Spanish producers. Alion 2003 (retail price varies from around £34 up to £43 depending on where you can find it) was listed at £74, while Mas La Plana 2003 was at £50.50 (retail around £21 or so). There is also excellent Pedro Ximines sherry for dessert. Service was capable and swift, but we did not feel rushed. Topping up was excellent, and the waiter was very friendly. I was genuinely impressed with this meal, as despite some elements of the mundane the best dishes were truly excellent.