Bilbao Berria: Spanish success (August 2014)

The construction work blighting Regent Street meant that we missed the entrance to Bilbao Berria on our recent visit. It took two phone calls to the front desk to establish the exact location, and even then, the exterior is somewhat nondescript, located incongruously next to a branch of the ubiquitous Pret a Manger. As inauspicious as this start may have been, it is really the food that does the talking here and Bilbao is a welcome addition to the already-substantial range of Spanish dining options in London. The venue is large and furnished in a modern style, with the chefs on display for more curious diners. Perhaps the place livens up in the evening (or will become more enticing to passers-by when the construction work is over), but the spaciousness and relative lack of people meant that the atmosphere was far from lively, although the staff mostly tried their best to compensate. In terms of food, as the name would suggest, Bilbao Berria takes its culinary influences from northern Spain. However trendy this scene may be, what you basically get is posh tapas, albeit done to a very high standard. Our group of three selected nine dishes to share and so we were able to experience a broad spectrum of the restaurant’s offerings. To start, the pimento papers were juicy and pitched at just the right level of salty spiciness, while we all agreed that the quality of the ham was as good as could be found anywhere in either London or Spain. Among the mains, the octopus and the pork-belly were both superlative, rich and intense while the asparagus was also first-class, fresh and crisp. The wine list was also excellent, extensive with a strong emphasis on lesser-known regions. Our Priorat blend produced by Alvaro Palacio was an elegant and refreshing food match. Overall, there is every reason to return, especially since Bilbao Berria is priced fairly, and I am sure that when word spreads, the place will liven up. There is work to be done though: service, while good, was not excellent; some of the dishes (particularly the tomato bread) were a little dull and compared poorly against the better ones; and, maybe the restaurant should consider not playing cover versions of songs from the Bee Gees – it just ain’t cool.