This post is a timely reminder that context is everything in dining.
So I’m just going to come out and say it. I really did not enjoy Andaluz the first time I went. It was a Friday night, it was busy, full of well suited business types and lawyer lookalikes. The people who no doubt keep most of the inner city bars afloat, but whose presence inevitably makes me cringe as their conversations turn to the share market, Bali, getting tickets to Pink for their missus, and whatever else it is that cashed up bogans and stockbrokers like to talk about.
I was squished into a small table and had to shout to be heard above the din. The waitress was sweet but clueless and felt like she needed to explain what jamon was to me. And here was me thinking my “I know what jamon is, where it comes from, and can quote you a thousand facts about it” face was so obvious. In short, I wrote it off as one of those places that people with too much money who work in the city would go to in the hope that some of its coolness will rub off on them.
Skip forward a few months and a friend was going out on a Thursday night and invited me along, “Sure I’ll give it a another shot” I thought. The crowd had suddenly changed into a group of people who looked like they could all have their own restaurant review blogs if they weren’t too busy being good-looking and having intellectual conversations with musicians and artists. Suddenly the menu had come to life as well. Looking at it in a new light, it was so much more interesting, the wine list extensive and thoughtful, the food more interesting. Clearly I still didn’t fit it, but we were heading in the right direction.
You see, I had thought Andaluz was yet another in a long line of places to join the awful tapas band wagon. So many places in Perth (and around the world) have popped up calling themselves tapas bars, when they are in actual fact nothing more than schlocky Spanglish joints with little to no creativity, some mention of chorizo on the menu, and prices through the roof for tiny plates of nothing special.
My general reaction to hearing about a new place serving tapas or tapas-like dishes is one of casual skepticism. I actually don’t mind eating that way if it’s done well. Being greedy and adventurous by nature, I love being able to try 8 things on the menu instead of just one. But so often the combination of those 8 dishes does not add up to the value of one very well made dish of the non-tapas variety.
Suffice to say however, I’ve changed my mind. Many subsequent visits to Andaluz have been excellent nights. Interesting seasonal changes abound with solid staples. The seared scallops on confit pork cheeks are outstanding and have been getting better every time I’ve been, and the duck albondigas (meatballs) are sublime. If you’re feeling rich you can splash on freshly shaved jamon by the gram (a dangerous road to go down because you’ll just want more).
The wine list is parochially Spanish without resorting to the same boring bottles you find all over town. You can still find the few odd Australian/French/Italian wines that fit into the style of the food they’re doing, but it’s pretty much Spain all the way. Thoughtfully chosen interesting expressions from a wide cross-section of Spain’s best wines.
So next time you find yourself in a place that doesn’t float your culinary boat on first glance, take a step back, think about the night, think about the crowd, think about the menu. Whilst you can’t always expect miraculous changes, it’s amazing what a difference a day can make.
Andaluz Bar and Tapas
21 Howard Street, Perth
T: 08 9481 0092