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23 May 2012
33 Camberwell Church Street
020 7703 5984
When you see a restaurant rammed out on a rainy Wednesday night you know there is something good about it, but you still have to try it for yourself, and that is exactly what I did with The Viking. Or Vi, as I call her.
The first thing we did was to introduce ourselves to the manager of Angels & Gypsies, Felipé Palmeira, who was an absolute gem throughout our stay there. With no fussing he sat us down and brought us a plate of mixed Spanish olives, sparkling water and recommended a Manzanilla Sherry for me, which he described in full-bodied Technicolor.
It was incredibly refreshing and went so well with the olives I could have just ate and drank a combination of both all evening. But Felipé would be having none of that, as he wanted us to savour the best that A&G had to offer.
Next we had a short lecture on Jamón, the wonderful cured pork of Spain. As Felipé told how the black Iberian pigs are left roaming free in oak groves to feed on grass, herbs and acorns he painted a picture of happy pigs that I too wanted to frolic with in the pastures of Salamanca.
But all good things come to an end, and after slaughter they are hung to cure for at least 12 months. But those carefree porkers did not die in vain; the finished article is a tender, flavoursome piece of Jamón Ibérico that is a highly prized deicacy.
Felipé brought some 36-month cured Ibérico and a selection of meats that included Serrano (from the white pig, but bred just as carefully as the Iberian) and Jamón Paleta. The Norwegian looked on with vegetarian envy, but then felt better when I allowed her to do the ordering of the mains.
As we sipped and got excited about our wines (Rioja for her and a Macabeo for me), we discussed how authentic it was inside Angels & Gypsies; rustic Spain in the heart of Camberwell. If you don’t face the window overlooking an open-all-hours convenience store and a take-away you could be in Andalusia.
Just as my third verbal appreciation of the Jamón began to fall on deaf vegetarian ears so the procession of dishes began to arrive: Roasted Beetroot with Rocket and Goat’s Cheese; Aubergine and Coriander Stew; Butter Beans with Tomato Sauce; Basque Tortilla Bacalao with Salt Cod; Steamed Langoustines and Prawn Croquetas; a veritable carnival of colour and taste.
The croquetas had a superb crispiness that gave way to its own secret softness of creamy prawn; the texture of the tortilla made me laugh at my own attempts at home; the butter beans brought back distant memories of dinner at my nan’s but also made me think of how I would cook them in the future, and the aubergine dish was bursting with character and distinction.
It was my favourite, although everything else tied for a very close second. All in all, each dish stood up on its own. There was an amazing side dish of Guacamole with chilli that brought out the flavour of the tortilla, and is another dish that can be conjured up at home quite simply.
The langoustines did look the part but were a lot of messing about for so little meat, although what was there was superior. The Noskie got stuck right in and cleaned out the meat from all the legs by cracking the shell with her teeth and excavating with a fork.
Like all good tapas bars the chatter rules. There is music playing but you have to struggle to hear it over the din and the few I heard were as diverse as Nirvana and The Beatles. The best sounds were coming from adjoining tables.
After a while of digestion the attentive Felipé returned to lure us into dessert, and easily talked me into the Macadamia Nut Cheesecake, but The Viking had already set her mind on the Churros with Chocolate Dip, the hint of cinnamon involved in said dish swaying her decision.
The cheesecake was just right for cleansing the palate at the end of a good dinner: nice and light. The stodge of the churros and chocolate, though, were just as good to finish with; they were delicious. A guilty pleasure to savour.
The Camberwell Beauty is not extinct, it is alive and well and thriving in Camberwell Church Street. Angels & Gypsies is somewhere you can go and eat well, and quite cheaply if you want. You can also visit and have a celebratory feast, as it caters for all tastes and all pockets.
Sparkling Water £2.60
Olives & organic Bread £2.50
Roast Beetroot £5.00
Roasted Butter Beans £5.50
Tortilla Bacalao £5.50
Prawn Croquetas £7.50
Mixed Jamón Platter £9.00
Aubergine Stew £4.50
Café con Leche £2.00
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