Anyway, surely it's nicer to start the year with a restaurant I love - not one I mildly despise (sorry, CC). Neon Jamon had been recommended a little while ago by Pedro, a beer and food lover we met at Liverpool Food and Drink festival. Regularly pining for the little dishes I've enjoyed on several trips to Barcelona, a day trip to the 'Pool to dissipate January blues seemed the perfect excuse to visit.
A little way from the city centre, a black cab journey took about 15 minutes and was under a tenner. We arrived early, around half 6, as there's a no bookings policy - except for larger parties (I'd like to think in a very Spanish way, rather than in a 'that London' way). It's a narrow space, with tables over two floors. A convivial atmosphere, complemented by an excellent playlist (Joy Division, Elvis Costello, the Black Keys), if tables weren't so in demand, I'd have happily stayed there all night - I know: I'm selfless, right?
In true Spanish style, all four Cavas are served by the glass - not a one over four quid. A lovely aperitif - accompanied by a generous portion of plump boquerones nardin (anchovies in olive oil, garlic and parsley). Seeing huge plates of pan con tomate drift past made it hard to resist the beloved staple - but I knew I'd be hard pushed to eat everything I wanted to if I filled up on dough first.
We could easily have spent the evening devouring the charcuterie and cheese platters - and I'm fairly certain we'll be back to do just that - though on this occasion we chose a small plate of the Trevelez IGP jamon. The menu explains the meat is cured at altitudes of over 1,200m; I'm no curing - or altitude - expert, so can't quite tell you why this is done - but it has a sweet depth of flavour which left Jamie and I fighting over the last pieces.
Padron peppers and patatas bravas practically order themselves as soon as we step foot in a Spanish restaurant - and the latter are usually a good judge of the kitchen's standards. For the first time in my life, we both finally experienced a flippin' spicy Padron. They say eating these fried capsicums is a bit like Russian roulette, as supposedly around 1 in 5 should blow your head off. On this ratio, I feel sorry for the folks who've been eating my mouth-burning share, as the meal at Neon Jamon was the first time I'd ever tried a truly hot one. I think I preferred life mild.
Patatas bravas were crisp and salty, topped with a rich, smokey tomato sauce. Lemon alioli was served on the side and eaten so indulgently one would have thought we'd been starved of decadence over the Christmas period. The Malaga style little squids were perfect little fishy bites, used to mop up the garlicky mayonnaise as if gravy at the end of a roast.
|Malaga style little squids with lemon alioli|
The only dud dish was the left-field ordering of Iberico pork ribs in membrillo & sherry vinegar. Though not unpleasant, some proved tough to eat and the sauce tasted too heavy on rosemary for my liking. A slower cooking time and using smoked ribs could improve the dish tenfold, I reckon.
There was also a specials menu, which we were saving for the end. I tried to persuade Jamie to share the cheese platter (I'm tempted to resort to veganism as an escape route for my affair with dairy), but he sensibly suggested choosing only the semi-hard goats cheese (name forgotten, possibly La Flor de la Hiniesta), accompanied by a Moorish chutney (raisins, apricots, spices, you know the score). Possibly the star of the meal, the waitress's suggestion of a Manzanilla La Goya, a dry, light and nutty sherry complimented the cheese wonderfully and served to ensure the meal ended as perfectly as it begun.
The service at Neon Jamon is friendly and knowledgeable. Despite our visit taking place on the first weekend in January the restaurant was heaving, demonstrating the popularity of this place. Prices are reasonable - though certainly not as inexpensive as tapas bars in Spain - and their wine list shows real attention to detail. I drank a beautiful Catalunyan white with my meal, which I'm desperate to seek out again! From my sole dining experience here, I'd suggest Neon Jamon is as authentic as they come in the UK. If you're used to the tapas of La Tasca or - at the other end of the spectrum - Tickets, this place might not be for you, but if simple and well executed floats your boat, then get eating.