“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tapas, Churros and Liquid Pleasures

Yesterday we ventured off again to the bustling metrollops of Maidstone, where I remembered what it is about bustling towns that I don't like, which is that they are large, and full of cars and people, especially on a Saturday. From the dirty diesel smell of the buses to the crowded shops, Maidstone fills me with a combination of claustrophobia and loathing which is hard to describe. However, being a jolly sort of fellow, I try to maintain a positive outlook while there. There are some nice shops and eateries, it has to be said. After we alighted from the bus, we went for a quick glance around the Royal Star Arcade, a place I have not been in since it was first opened all those years ago before I left these shores for foreign climes. Well, architecturally speaking, it's a pretty place with lots of stores, but I resisted the temptation to buy anything, at least for the moment.

I also resisted the urge to buy candy...
After the delights of the arcade we went to Lush (natch) and by this point we were both Jonesing for a coffee. We headed for the Chequers Centre (what used to be the Stoneborough Centre, and now known as simply The Mall) with the intent of finding caffeine, among other things.

One of the other things we were looking for was some items of clothing for the young'uns. We were looking for a particular store called Madhouse, which did not seem to be there anymore. Bah. We did, however, meet some Daleks. Friendly ones. Raising money for the British Heart Foundation, no less.

By this time we were really in need of some Joe, so we ducked into the British Home Stores, or BHS as they seem to prefer calling themselves these days, lured by the sign saying that their restaurant was open.

Well, I say restaurant. I mean cramped room with tables.

Attractive, isn't it? Hmm.

Standard nasty cafeteria. The signs with the pretty pictures bore no relation to the food behind the sneezeguards. Ecch.
The only attractive-looking food seemed to be the baked goods and cookies.

We ordered two large lattes, which we didn't much care for other than the fact that they were warm and wet.

After leaving the Mall and trotting round a few more shops, we finally decided we were hungry enough to go to the place we had decided to go for lunch.

It's a little place on Earl Street, which has several nice-looking restaurants including Nando's, Zizzi and Mexxa Mexxa (which I am planning a future trip to... watch this space), but we had plumped for La Tasca, and boy am I glad we did.

 The first thing I noticed on entering the building was the visually arresting authentic Spanish decor, especially the big frieze behind the bar.

We started by ordering drinks - Laura had a Coke, and I had a pint of San Miguel.

Then we ordered a couple of appetizers. We had intended to order a paella for the main course and share it, but they make their paellas to order and it takes about an hour, so we decided to order some tapas instead, because we were hungry now.

Our appetizers came and we munched happily on those.

Montado De Queso - Garlic bread with goat's cheese and balsamic caramelised onions.

Pan De Ajo Con Queso - Garlic bread with melty cheese. Mmm.
Then our tapas came quite swiftly...

Pescado Blanco Frito, which is deep-fried white fish, in the lightest and most delicate crispy batter I have ever tasted, served with roasted garlic mayonnaise and lemon.

Patatas Riojanas, sauteed chunks of potato with mixed peppers, onion and chorizo.

Ensalada De Pera Y Jamon - Serrano Ham with slices of fresh pear, cherry tomatoes and mixed salad leaves, with a balsamic drizzle. Quite a lot of baby spinach and lamb's lettuce in the mix, two of my favourite salad leaves.

Albondigas A La Jardinera, tender beef and pork meatballs in a fresh tomato sauce.

Cordero De Mallorca - tender pieces of lamb, potato, sultanas and prunes, in a rich red wine & brandy sauce.

By the time we'd polished that lot off we'd just about finished our drinks and we'd decided to get another. The drinks menu was very tempting indeed.

Oh, look out.
The drinks menu contained a lot of permutations on Sangria, one of my favourite drinks - the flavour always makes me think of summer. One of the concoctions was a Sangria Margarita, and that's just double trouble because margaritas are one of my fave drinks too. Well, there was no question about it. I liked both Sangria and Margarita, and Laura had never experienced either, so we had to get one each.

It's a wicked combo of white-wine Sangria mixed with  Cuervo Gold tequila , fruit and lemonade. Delicious, and it's got a kick.
Around this time we also looked at the dessert menu. I noticed they had Churros, and it was game over. What are Churros, I hear you cry? Churros, sometimes referred to as a Spanish doughnut, are fried-dough pastry-based snacks, sometimes made from potato dough, that originated in Spain. Churros are typically fried until they become crunchy, and may be sprinkled with sugar. The surface of a churro is ridged due to having been piped from a churrera, a syringe with a star-shaped nozzle. Churros are generally prisms in shape, and may be straight, curled or spirally twisted.

Now the Churros I was used to from my days in the States, served in Mexican joints up and down the country, usually get coated in cinnamon sugar and are served with a dollop of whipped cream, a cherry and perhaps a drizzle of chocolate syrup. Like so.

La Tasca does their Churros with sliced strawberries and marshmallows, a light dusting of icing sugar, and a bowl of warm chocolate fondue for dipping. Heavenly....

They were great...

As you can see.

Little sip to wash 'em down with...

We finished our drinks and ordered another. This time Laura's was the Fruity-Fizz Sangría, with orange liqueur, peach schnapps, brandy and fresh orange slices, mixed with cava.

I think she likes it.

I went for a good old-fashioned Long Island Iced Tea. For those of you who are uncertain of the contents of what we ex-Outbackers used to refer to as an LIT, it consists of a mix of Bacardi, Smirnoff, gin, Cointreau, Jose Cuervo Gold tequila and fresh lime juice, shaken over ice and topped with Coke. Hot-cha!!!

I thoroughly recommend La Tasca to anyone looking to explore Spanish cuisine. It's a chain, with 60 restaurants in the UK, but you wouldn't know it. The atmosphere is friendly, the decor is great and the food is delish. Not to mention the drinks! A definite 4 and three quarter yums out of 5 on the Jeff scale of yumminess.

Later, as we lurched back into sunny Tenterden, we stopped by Liquid Pleasure, a new off-licence in the town, a rather high-end establishment, staffed by some very knowledgeable and personable gents named Ian and Ray. They have both an on- and off-licence which means they are able to do tastings regularly. In fact they have a purpose-built tasting area in the rear of the shop. We sampled some Thunder toffee-flavoured vodka, which we'd had before but still, I'm not one to pass up a sample of something delicious. It was nice and cold, straight from the freezer, which I am assured is the best way to enjoy it. If you've been on a skiing trip recently you've probably seen people quaffing toffee vodka at the bar (and getting themselves piste, no doubt). However, Thunder is the only one that uses no artificial ingredients or preservatives - just vodka and toffee syrup. Nice.
The boys at Liquid Pleasure tell me that their official opening is on the 18th and 19th of this month (February 2011) - that's a Friday and Saturday. They'll be doing lots of tastings on those days, so why not pop in and sample a little something? Hey, it couldn't hurt, could it? It'd almost be rude not to.

Kooshti sante!

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