February 06, 2011

Restaurant Review: La Tienda

¿Viva la Revolución? No – Viva La Tradición: Authentic, no-frills Spanish by La Tienda

Our Spanish colonial history has endowed us with many cultural relics: the Catholic Church, condescending management practices and Spanish surnames. How to do good tapas was not one of them. Inheriting a church full o’ bishops over the knowing how to do a mouth watering gazpacho seems like a pretty raw deal for the Philippines. That is, if it weren’t for La Tienda.

Nestled in Bel-Air on a once tree-lined street capable of pleasant alfresco dining, La Tienda has been around for quite a while, yet continues to punch out all the tapas you want and then some. The quintessential Spanish restaurant, La Tienda presents the sort of quaint, unencumbered atmosphere of a charming little Mediterranean restaurant from the movies. Wood panelling, red and white chequered table cloths and a fully stocked bar may remind you of Breadsticks from the hit series Glee or a Spanish Carnegie Deli (depending on which way you’re inclined). However, don’t let the simplicity and sincerity of the design language fool you – this place means business. Starting with its fully stocked Spanish supermarket, filled with clay pots, pimentόn, a lovingly selected batch of cheeses and knick-knacks at the entrance; and a maître d’ well versed in etiquette from a more civilized age; you know this place is authentic.

The menu is extensive, featuring everything from large servings of paella, braised ox, beef and a smattering of fins, tentacles and seafood. However, it’s the tapas that draw everyone in. All the usual suspects are available in rich flavor – tangy patatas bravas, platters of jamόn serrano shipped over from Spain, Manchego cheese, chorizo, mouth-watering gambas al ajillo, crisp and gooey croquetas jamon y queso and with out a doubt, the best gazapacho in town – almost as good as the one being served up in the pastelería across the road from the Seville Cathedral in Andalusia itself. 

However, two traditions are readily broken here. Firstly, a Mexican mariachi band plays. Nevertheless, the band is talented, entertaining and would do any mariachi proud. Secondly, tapas should traditionally be eaten one or two plates at a time, ordering as you go. However, the rapid fire orders from the rest of the clientele force you to break with tradition and order your glutton’s share of the loot in one go. If you’re feeling lugubrious, grab a jug of Sangria too or have something made up at the bar, it’ll certainly brighten the mood. 

Whilst the poultry, beef and seafood may rightfully tempt you, skip the animal fare and give the paella a go – it’s a real winner, provided you’ve not stuffed yourself with morsels of olive oil and garlic drenched prawns and fatty air-dried ham. 

Service isn’t 100% perfect and there’s a photo of former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar at the restaurant in the entrance (he was in the fascist youth). Nevertheless, La Tienda is charming. The food is so traditional in flavor and the décor so insistent in its sincerity that the place is kitsch enough to be perfect for those nights spent reminiscing over late-night tapas bar fare in Madrid or for a delightful first date. After your first visit, you’ll feel like it’s your own little secret. 

When I want a good gazpacho or need to buy another round of jamon serrano for my refrigerator, this is where I go. The place has a way of making you want to come back. 
What: La Tienda An authentic and down to earth Spanish restaurant with killer tapas and a nifty well-stocked Spanish supermarket.
Where: Bel-Air, Makati, off Jupiter St
Price: No more expensive than Cibo

What it’s got: The most authentic, down to earth Spanish food in town. The menu may be safe, but it’s got everything you want, with few deviations from the real thing. The Spanish supermarket is a delight and the mariachi band, whilst not traditional, is admittedly fun.

What it’s missing: Rather, what it should be missing – all those Korean and ex-pats crawling over the place. On Friday nights, you just know that they’re going to head off to the nearby red-light district for some debauchery. The whole place would look better without them.

(Anything over 11/20 is very good)

Listening to : Aquellos Ojos Verdes, Nat King Cole
<3 : Lime Jelly
=( : exam tom!

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