For a culture that’s already ingrained in local society, Manila has perhaps one of the best selection of Spanish cuisine among all the major cities of Asia. Several chains have made their mark in the Philippine capital, including Gaudi which prides itself with an interpretation that is as close as possible to the delights of the Iberian peninsula.
I remember first eating in Gaudi at Serendra some seven years back and being wow-ed by their angus prime ribs which were cooked on our dinner table. Gaudi eventually diversified their Castillan offerings through Tapella in Greenbelt 5. Last weekend, I managed to try this cozy restaurant at the end of the mall, close to Greenbelt 1.
While Gaudi looked and felt like a fine dining establishment from the moment one stepped in, Tapella carried a more contemporary and casual look. Helmed by a diverse wine list, Tapella’s resto-bar concept is a counterpoint to Gaudi’s. But the food menu is just as extensive.
chorizo al vino
In true tapas style, we started off with five small dishes – Gambas al Ajillo (Php 325), Pulpo a la Gallega (Php 525), Calamares el Bulli (Php 385), Chistorra Vasca (Php 235) and Chorizo al Vino (Php 235). As with sushi and dimsum, the concept of having tapas before a proper meal is one of the best light snack traditions in the world. In Spain, this would mean people gathering around long tables, with toothpick in hand and chatting away well until 9 in the evening.
pulpo a la gallega
There are easily thousands of variants of tapas in Spain but the five I had for my meal represented more or less the staples. I loved the Pulpo a la Gallega. I would order it whenever I see it available and the one offered in Tapella is without a doubt authentic and tasty without being complicated. With dabs of sea salt, paprika and extra virgin olive oil, the octopus had a mild flavor which contrasted nicely with the Chorizo al Vino and Chistorra Vasca which are salty by nature and best eaten with some bread.
calamari el bulli
To the untrained eye, the Calamari el Bulli may deceptively look charred but that’s only because of the black ink sprinkled all over the batter.
gambas al ajillo
Another favorite when it came to the tapas was the Gambas al Ajillo. As a fan of garlic with prawns, it was wonderful to find a copious amount of garlic scattered all over the dish (I’d worry about having garlic breath later). I also saw specks of coriander leaves dotting the plate which further enhanced the already aromatic flavors of the shrimp.
As the meal went on, I could see that it was starting to get heavy. I had the chance to try three different paella dishes from Tapella.
As a sort of continuation to the Calamari I had earlier, the first paella dish that came was also of the squid ink variety. The Paella Negra (Php 595) – literally black paella – was an unexpected delight. I was shocked to find that some of my companions couldn’t get past the naturally dark appearance and were quick to dismiss the dish without even giving it a try. Personally though, this was my favorite among the three paella dishes I’ve tried at Tapella.
The next dish – Paella de Cordero – was another highlight. Ok, I may be biased since I do have an inclination to lamb, which was the main ingredient in making this type of paella. I loved it because of its especially strong lamb flavor which many fine dining establishments often try to conceal (a wrong option, in my opinion) with herbs like rosemary and basil. Tapella on the other hand lets the pure and unadulterated lamb goodness shine through.
The Paella Manchego (Php 675) was perhaps the most accessible of the three and is a safe option especially for those dining as a family. The generous Manchego Cheese topping will likely appeal to the younger folks.
I was looking forward to again having the Chuleton Villagodio (Php 300 per 100g) after what has been a seven year absence. It came out just like I expected it. Similar to Gaudi, a burner was placed on my table with a plate on top to cook the Angus prime rib, cut into several slices. There was nothing except for salt to season the dish. That was not a problem however, as the meat remained flavorful and juicy, just like how I remembered it from seven years back!
We finished off the meal with small plates of desserts – Tocino del Cielo (Php 75), Flan de la Abuela (Php 75), Dulce de Leche Cheescake (Php 150) and Tarta Volcan (Php 150). Similar to the tapas, portions were quite small which help encourage multiple kinds especially when dining as a large group. Desserts-wise, the Tarta Volcan or Lava Cake was the highlight and oozed with rich (and hot!) chocolate even before the point of slicing.
Value for money: 4/5
*** Special deal for readers ***
Tapella is giving away a free glass of sangria to those who follow their instagram page at @tapellarestobar (Instagram) or @tapellarestobar (Twitter). No minimum order required! Just flash your Instagram / Twitter profiles to the staff to redeem your free drink!