This is the third restaurant in the small but growing empire of chef and restaurateur Victor Garvey, who also owns Encant and Sibarita in Maiden Lane. Rambla, named after the famous street in Barcelona, is larger than its siblings, seating up to 60 diners at one time, and is in the heart of Soho. There is an open kitchen and quite tightly packed tables, with a buzzy feel to the place even though it had only been opened a few days when I first visited.
The menu offered a selection of tapas dishes at moderate prices, with everything on the menu except the Iberico Bellotta ham being below £10. The wine list was quite compact, with just 17 offerings including three sherries, ranging in price from £19 to £82, and a median price of £32, with an average mark-up of 3.6 times retail price. Sample labels included El Tesoro Vedejo Castilla Leon at £19 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £7, Mas Macia Supreme Blanc at £32 compared to its retail price of £8, and ArdilesMerum Prioarati Priorat at £46 for a wine that will set you back £18 in a shop.
Spinach croquettas (£4) were top notch, just as they are at Sibarita. The coating was crisp and the filling excellent (14/20). Padron peppers came with a yellow pepper and garlic dip and the gran reserva Iberico ham arrived with toasted sourdough topped with tomatoes. I avoid scoring things that are sourced rather than created on site, but they were certainly very enjoyable indeed. A bowl of gazpacho with pipirrana diced vegetable salad did not have the intensity of flavour of a really top quality gazpacho (13/20) but then it was only £4. Quail drumsticks (£6) with pancetta came with a sauce made with Pansal sweet wine. The quail was nicely cooked, the sauce pleasant (13/20).
Sea bass (£7) was the dish of the meal, the fish from a large 6kg specimen which had excellent flavour, served on a bed of port-braised salsify and Jerusalem artichoke soubise (onion sauce). The Jerusalem artichokes went really well with the fish, and the bass was very accurately cooked (15/20). I have eaten worse sea bass dishes than this in much more ambitious restaurants, and certainly not for £7. Dessert was an almond cake filled with apricot syrup, the acidity of the fruit in the liquid centre balancing the richness of the cake (14/20).
Service was friendly and capable. The bill with lots of wine came to £67 a head but if you ordered three tapas dishes plus dessert and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical all-in price per head might here be around £38. This seems to me very good value for the standard of food that is emerging from the kitchen.
At a second meal, one or two prices had been adjusted but everything was still below £10 except the plate of pata negra ham. Toasted sourdough bread from Hedone came with aioli that was ground fresh at the table with a pestle and mortar. The table theatre was a nice touch, and given that Hedone make the best bread in London, the sourcing was impeccable. A salad of fennel and baby Raf tomatoes, a variety from Ameria in Andalusia, was accompanied by roast hazelnuts (priced at £5.50). This was very pleasant, the tomatoes actually tasting of tomatoes and the fennel bringing its bright flavour with a hint of liquorice. The hazelnuts went well with the other elements and brought an additional texture (between 13/20 and 14/20).
Even better was salmon (£6) that had been cured in house, shaped into cylinders filled with fried sweet potato, red onion escabeche and horseradish, topped with slices of radish. The combination of the pickling juices of the onion and the sharpness of the horseradish cut through the richness of the salmon, the sweet potato bringing an extra flavour dimension. This was a lovely dish, cleverly thought out and well balanced (15/20).
I could not resist repeating the sea bass (now £9 and still a bargain) cooked a la plancha with Jerusalem artichoke soubise, which is a creamy onion sauce made by pureeing the vegetables with béchamel, and salsify poached in port. Again this was terrific, the fish having good flavour and being precisely cooked, the soubise nicely complementing the bass (15/20).
For dessert, torrija (£5) was a Catalan take on pain perdu. This consists of slices of bread soaked in milk with pistachios, served warm and topped with a scoop of raspberry ice cream. This was a very enjoyable, comforting dish, the ice cream excellent and its fruit just what was needed to cut through the richness of the rest of the dish (14/20). Coffee was a brand called Segafredo, which originated in Italy. Service was friendly and the bill came to just £24.75 with water to drink, for three dishes, dessert and coffee. This seems to me very good value indeed, especially these days in central London. There are plenty of tapas places in the capital these days, but Ramblas manages to be both high quality and great value.