A few yards from the Bank of England is Hispania, an ambitious opening that at this stage is a tapas bar and shop, but later in 2013 will feature a 35-seat fine dining restaurant. The executive chef of the future restaurant will be Michelin starred Marcos Moran (of Casa Gerardo in Asturias), but this review is of the tapas bar.
The premises are very smart, with floor tiles and marble from Spain, bronze light fittings and a high ceiling. Downstairs is a tapas bar and small deli, upstairs a sherry bar and private dining room. The fine dining restaurant will be upstairs, next to the open kitchen. The tapas were £5.50 to £9.50, main courses £10 to £17, desserts at £4.50.
The short wine list started at £21 and had selections such as Cuatro Rayas Verdejo at £28 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £6, Mar de Frades sparkling Albarino NV at £55 for a wine that retails at around £18, and Merto Tempranillo at £82 for a wine that varies in price substantially by vintage, but where a recent vintage was around £57 in one shop. Given that one wine was £120, it seems bizarre to me to not list vintages. To be sure, Spanish wines do not have quite the same level of vintage variation as more northerly wine-growing areas, but there is certainly variation, and anyone interested in wine will want to know the vintage that they are about to order.
Salmorejo (£7) is an Anadalusian cold tomato soup with vegetables, vinegar and olive oil, in this case garnished with hard-boiled egg and a little Iberico ham. Slightly creamier in texture than a classic gazpacho, this had deep tomato flavour, and just the right amount of olive oil, with enough of a vinegar kick to balance the oil (14/20).
Garlic prawns (£9) featured prawns that were of better quality than one often encounters in London, carefully cooked and with good garlic crisps (14/20). Ham croquetas (£5.50) were fried golden brown and had a well-judged filling, definitely a step up from the norm (14/20). Chorizo and potato tortilla (£6.50) was very good, the texture as it should be, the chorizo adding a useful extra flavour to the classic potato filling (14/20). Apple three ways (£4.50) had apples poached in an apple and orange syrup, apple sorbet and apple crisps. Each element was nicely made, and the contrast of textures worked well (14/20).
Service was friendly, and the waiter able to answer questions about the food without reference to the kitchen. Portion sizes were quite generous, and three tapas would be plenty for a satisfying meal. With a modest wine and coffee, a typical bill would come to around £50 a head. Overall I liked Hispania. The cooking felt more authentically Spanish than many of the mainstream tapas bars in London (many of which are run by non-Spaniards). Certainly the dishes that I tried had more care and attention lavished on them than at many London restaurants. I would happily return, and am intrigued to sample the fine dining restaurant as and when it opens.