Bring on the end of my first week at work, and I find myself in desperate need for good food and better company. Bring on our insatiable appetite for all things Spanish (and Basque, of course) and we find ourselves clicking furiously on the internet, looking for a decent place for a spectacular Spanish meal. But really, why were we wasting our time anyway (?!), because we know we will always return to one of our favourite restaurants in London for anything Spanish – Cambio de Tercio. Now, if only one could stumble onto such an easy answer to the chicken-or-egg question, life would be a lot less baffling.
We called the restaurant up the day before, and thank goodness they had a table for us. I would have been devastated if they said they couldn’t accomodate our cravings. Not that I didn’t like my job during the first week of work, but everything was pretty fast-paced and I was thrown onto a steep learning curve; I was pissing tired and I couldn’t bear the thought of having my Friday night dinner any other way.
As usual (this was our fourth visit), we were greeted with my favourite Manchego lollipops. These are beautiful sticks of crispy (fried or oven-baked perhaps?) Manchego cheese (my favourite cheese, by the way) that always make me a very happy girl. I am no fan of candy, but this fun, savoury, flavoursome lollipop is right up my alley. As we nibbled on them, E and M left the ordering to me and I was more than happy to take charge because I knew exactly what we should have. The menu was albeit slightly different from the ones we had last year, but the good stuff were still on (as they should be because they are good) so ordering wasn’t a mammoth task.
We are suckers for Iberico ham, the best ham in the world, really, and a platter of these never ever goes unnoticed on our table at Cambio de Tercio. These were served with warm crusty bread and a herb dressing of fresh chopped tomatoes. They teased and pleased although my only complaint was that the ham was a little dry on this occasion, having been sliced from the bare remnants of a bony leg.
We also had the caramelised millefeuille of foie gras, smoked eel and baked apple, which M and I were so fond of from our most recent visit. As I recalled, this dish boasted a winning combination of flavours, from the richness of foie gras, the subtle savouriness from the smoked eel and the sweetness of the apple purée. This time, I was a tad disappointed to taste the apple above everything else; I much preferred the main flavours to come from the foie gras. On inspection, the layer of foie gras on the millefeuille was visibly thinner, unfortunately so, if I might add, for the foie gras lover in me.
The ravioli of crab certainly pleased. I loved the flavours very much – the sweetness of the crab worked well in the smooth, creamy and sweet leek emulsion. Before you wonder how I might be taken by a sweet-ish course, let me assure you that the flavours were lifted by the saltiness of the sea asparagus. I did think that the pasta was a little overcooked and slightly limp, but overall, this dish reminded me of a very tasty piece of the sea, which I am happy to have over and over again.
One of my favourite tapas at Cambio de Tercio would have to be the Serrano ham croquettes. They are such fun to eat and these are one of the best I’ve ever had, I kid you not. The smooth, luscious and savoury cream is enveloped in the most delicate and crisp batter. Biting into one of these makes me feel very naughty. Try one and go figure. I could have dozens of these and not feel sick. I’ll probably grow fat but I think I’d be happy growing horizontally on a diet of these croquettes.
The grilled prawns were very tasty too. They were very slightly overcooked, but that didn’t take away the wonderful sweetness of the prawns. Coated in a fragrant and subtly flavoured garlic and parsley oil, I personally think this is what good seafood should taste like – unpretentious, fresh and packed full of the flavours of the sea.
One of the stars of all four meals we had at Cambio de Tercio is the grilled lamb cutlet. These are by far, the only lamb cutlets I’m willing to have anywhere in the world because it’s lusciously tender, flavoursome and perfectly cooked every single time. Simply dressed and seated on the sweet piquillo peppers, this epitomises the brilliance of the chefs at Cambio de Tercio. Good produce, boasting good flavours, that is cooked to perfection.
My other favourite is the grilled Iberico pork chop, which is served with figs on a bed of chorizo & butternut squash. These chops are sourced from pigs that have been acorn-fed (yes the same pigs that give us Iberico ham), and that could only mean one thing – juicy, nutty slabs of pork that are guaranteed to change your life and make you a pork snob. Of course, if we allow any of these precious chops to land in the kitchen of incompetent chefs, we won’t be able to enjoy the flavours that are so promised anyway. This isn’t the case at Cambio de Tercio, for these chops are cooked to tender perfection. Subtly seasoned on its own, and most wonderfully paired with the savoury and creamy squash, and sweet figs, I don’t think I’d ever want to have pork chops done any other way. Had I been in a less public setting, I would have tossed the cutlery and gone straight for the kill; I would tuck in with my fingers and nibble all worthy morsels off the bone, but I didn’t. Shame.
For dessert, we shared an assortment of homemade ice cream (the flavours of which were nothing to shout about) and the Valrhona warm chocolate cake. Prepared just 20 minutes before serving, this cake unleashes the barbarian in me. I mean, who wouldn’t be bowled over by gooey, naughty and lusciously thick molten chocolate oozing out from a seemingly stiff cake
(we all like to see a tiger/tigress leaping out of our men/women, don’t we?) ? Throw a dollop of smooth coconut ice cream into the equation? I’m sold!
To finish off a worthy meal, Cambio de Tercio also leaves its diners wanting for more with its fluffy lemon madeleines and smooth coffee-chocolate truffles. First, Manchego lollipops and now, this?!
So now that you know how good the food is, I’d also like to tell you that service is warm and impeccable here. Yes, we might have received some Muscat dessert wine on the house during our meal, but that’s not the reason why I like the service at Cambio de Tercio. Whilst good restaurants here tend to boast efficient service, I often find that staff can lack a certain warmth. With the approachable and unpretentious people at Cambio de Tercio, I feel comfortable in their hands, and to me, this is the kind of hospitality that the Spanish have. That’s also one of the reasons why I love the Spanish cuisine so much – it’s robust, down-to-earth and so very accessible to all palettes and personalities. It’s hard not to like it!
I’d just like to end off by saying that if you want to check out Cambio de Tercio (which you should, because if Rafael Nadal thinks Cambio de Tercio is good enough for him, it should be good enough for you!), I’d strongly recommend you to make a reservation. During our visits, I’ve seen people being turned down one too many times when they step in without a reservation. There’s also a tasting menu, and a selection of other tapas and main courses on the a la carte menu that we have yet to try, so if you’ve got any recommendations, please leave a comment and let me know what’s good!
Cambio de Tercio is located at:
163 Old Brompton Road, London SW5 0LJ