If you think tapas are all about chorizo and calamari, you’ve been looking at the wrong menus. Spanish cuisine is traditionally heavy on the meat and cheese but it’s perfectly possible to find tasty tapas that’s vegan, too. After all, the Mediterranean boasts a bounty of fresh produce: think fat olives, sun-ripened tomatoes and pretty peppers.
In Cardiff, we’re lucky to have some pretty fine tapas bars in the city centre and all within a few yards of each other. In the tapas triangle, as I like to call it, there’s Bar 44, its little sister, Asador 44, and Curado. I like them all a lot but Bar 44 is my favourite and I’ve long been a fan of their meat-free morsels. When they invited me to try their new vegan menu, I very happily accepted.
It was an otherwise mediocre Monday evening and I was feeling a little tired and rundown. Never mind though; it was warm and cosy inside and I was looking forward to some good food and wine and a well overdue catch up with my friend, Lleucu, who arrived, ever the glam gal, in a ravishing red coat.
Coats off, we looked at the menu and chatted to our friendly waitress. We were a bit gutted to hear that the padron peppers had run out (it’s almost not a trip here without them) but luckily there were plenty of other goodies on the menu to tempt us.
First up: some juicy Gordal olives and mixed pickles, which we nibbled on as we chatted and drank some delicious vegan wine. Next, the pan con tomate, and they do it so well here that it gives the real deal a run for its money – it’s sweet, sharp and salty all at the same time.
The calabaza is as colourful as its name and this spiced roast squash with chickpeas, pomegranate and coriander certainly packs a punch. The remolacha, a heady combination of beetroot, hazelnuts and figs, looks and tastes beautiful.
We also enjoyed the alcachofa, crispy artichokes with caramelised peppers and the piperrada, silky smooth slivers of braised peppers which were both smoky and sweet, served with crispbreads.
It should go without saying that everything here is delicious, but the star of the show – the piece de resistance, if you will – is definitely the zanahoria. These cute little heritage carrots are roasted and served on a bed of gloriously green salsa verde made from watercress, garlic and almonds. Muy apetitoso.
Finally, we managed to fit in a little sweet treat that’s not on the menu yet: a decadent chocolate brownie with cherries soaked in sherry (sherries?) and cherry sorbet. Wowzas.
The service was brilliant as always and the staff really looked after us. Bar 44 be one of my favourite Cardiff restaurants for some time yet I think.
Bar 44 Cardiff is at 15-23 Westgate Street, Cardiff, CF10 1DD