Tapas was the order of the day as Liz O’Reilly checked out the new brunch at Salero.
I have to confess, brunch has been a long way from my thoughts since the beginning of the pandemic. But, when an invitation arrived to try the new tapas brunch at Salero, I was just too tempted to say no. I’d actually forgotten how much I love driving up to The Westin City Centre Bahrain, valeting my car and walking into that cavernous lobby with its feeling of stylish calm – from the outset, it feels like a real treat and brings back memories of glasses of bubbly during girly shopping trips – before the world went mad.
A whoosh in the lift and I found myself greeting the multi-coloured papier mache bull who guards the door of Salero, the hotel’s chic but informal Spanish dining restaurant. Inside, we were just a few, gathered to try the new tapas brunch which will run until April 2 and will then be back with a roar straight after Ramadan.
Quickly seated and clutching glasses of delicious virgin sangria, we didn’t know what to expect but the first round of these delicious little Spanish bites soon arrived. Laid out on long wooden serving boards was a feast for both the eyes and taste buds.
We quickly tucked into toasted bread with fresh tomato sauce and garlic, a familiar mix of flavours that set us up for the rest of the offerings. The first platter also included classic Spanish potato salad, deliciously creamy and actually rather filling, despite the small portion size, thanks to the inclusion of egg and tuna.
I surprised myself by trying and really enjoying the Mussels in Escabeche, poached mussels and confit with thyme, garlic, onion, carrots, olive oil and grape vinegar. I try to avoid most types of shellfish and usually find the texture of mussels rubbery, slightly slimy and off-putting. But these had been de-shelled and cooked to perfection, introducing an almost meaty consistency bursting with all those poached-in flavours. I actually went back for a second bite.
Both myself and my dining companion were blown away by the Gazpacho Andalùz, the traditional Spanish cold tomato soup but created with a twist. Gazpacho is usually red but this was green, colour and additional flavours coming from spinach and apple. Slightly salty with a delightfully fresh tang, we just couldn’t get enough of it and one tiny pot was simply not sufficient.
But, let me explain, that’s the beauty of this tapas-style brunch. You will be served portion after portion of these small tasters and, when you find something you really like, you just order more of it (and more and more in our case). Bravo!
As our first board was cleared, my confused (and obviously disappointed) friend asked: “Is that it, is that the full selection?” She could not have been more wrong. Within minutes another board arrived bursting with new flavour combinations.
Spanish Omelette, light and fluffy with added interest from the slightly metallic hint of spinach; cured anchovies with seasoned tomatoes on toasted baguette – I simply adore this flavour combination, the salty, almost brackishness of the fish coupled with the bursting fresh sweetness of the tomatoes is a winner that screams Mediterranean, I could almost taste the early morning atmosphere of a tiny seaside market from my last Spanish sojourn. And sautéed mushrooms and truffle topped with goat cheese – be still my beating heart. The mushrooms were just the right side of cooked through, leaving the flesh firm and the subtle flavour intact, while the surprise of the goat cheese added salt and a light crunch. Perfect. The hot tapas were equally impressive. I particularly loved the beef meatball served in a beef and almond gravy. High quality meat made crunchy on the outside, pink and juicy inside, the gravy providing an unfamiliar dash of nutty sweetness to complement the gamey taste of the flesh.
Iberian Benedict Eggs was another favourite, the use of Iberian ham on a sourdough roll base adding a little something exotic and interesting to a familiar dish.
My dining companion was in raptures over the selection of fried chunks of cuttle fish and shrimp each offered with a dip and lemon. She said that, for these alone, she would return with her husband who would be over the moon to find a representation of their Brazilian homeland. For myself, I was more than happy to consume indecent amounts of fried calamari rings, crispy batter yielding to the perfect rings of flesh within.
And then it was the turn of the piece de resistance. Paella, prepared in pans specially imported from Spain for their thin bottom, which allows the bomba rice to cook perfectly without sticking. The chef brought out two of these pans for us to serve ourselves, one chicken and one vegetable. In honesty, I was already full but the aromatic steam wafting through the air made abstention impossible and I tried a small serving of each. My favourite was the vegetable version. Total and utter comfort food, the juices of the veggies imbued in the fat, round grains of rice. I have decided that Paella is like eating a hug!
Desserts had been specially decorated for us with the logos of OHLALA and our sister publication FACT, so it would have been hard to resist. And, to be honest, we needed little encouragement to dig in since my friend had been eyeing the traditional churros with hot chocolate sauce since we arrived. She was not disappointed with the crunchy outer that melted into the soft, yielding interior. I went for the fresh strawberry mini tartelette, simply because I adore the creamy Chantilly cream that nestled beneath the fruit, the height of indulgence and the perfect way to end one of the most exciting and interesting brunches I’ve ever experienced.
A wise man once said: “Life without tapas, is like a heart without love,” and having tried the new tapas brunch at Salero, I’m inclined to agree.