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A piece of Barcelona in Hà Nội: Arte Spanish Tapas Bar

Update: August, 21/2016 - 09:00
Football time: watch sports at the bar with a sangria. — VNS Photos Edward Dalton
Viet Nam News

By Edward Dalton

During my visit to Barcelona last year, there was one thing that took priority over everything else. Marvelling at the architectural genius of Antoni Gaudi, visiting the stadium of the second best football team in the world* and roaming the streets of the Gothic Quarter were all relegated to minor detours of lower importance. I was in Spain, home to the best food in the world, and I was determined to eat as much of it as possible before the flight home.

Several hollow months back in Hà Nội passed without a single authentic paella to be found anywhere. Then one glorious day back in March, Arte Spanish Tapas Bar officially opened its doors for business, and life had meaning again. I starved myself for longer than I ever had before (nearly three hours) and made haste to Arte to find out if it could fill the void left in my stomach by the absence of quality Spanish cuisine.

Authentic: Chorizo croquetas made with bechemal.

After a few minutes of listening to an impassioned soliloquy by the owner, Carles Noales, on his hometown of Barcelona, I felt confident that I was in for a real treat. I meet a lot of people who are foodies in one way or another; chefs, restaurateurs, connoisseurs, social media know-it-alls or just insatiable gluttons like me. Never before have I been more heavily bombarded by such a proud and fervid volley of words, than by Carles explaining what’s so special about Spanish cuisine.

At Arte, the ingredients matter a lot. Most of the seafood comes from Phú Quốc, because Carles didn’t think the more readily available local produce would do justice to the recipes in his restaurant. There’s a similar story with the cold cuts, because as Carles questioned out loud, ‘how can I open a Spanish restaurant without iberico ham?’ The ham, both iberico and serrano varieties, is imported from Spain; as is the manchego cheese, olive oil and rice.

Time to Dip: The calamari are an ideal bar snack.

The platter of cold cuts (VNĐ190,000) was the perfect way to start the meal, especially on such a stiflingly hot day. The wafer-thin slices of cured iberico and serrano hams were plated along with iberico chorizo, green olives and manchego cheese. A light and salty dish, especially when heaped onto the warm toasted bread in various combinations.

It wouldn’t be a visit to a Spanish tapas bar without a plate of croquetas, which are traditionally made with béchamel rather than mashed potato. Out of the seven available flavours, I opted for the chorizo croquetas (VNĐ85,000), in which the béchamel was flavoured with paprika, elevating it far beyond its humble side dish calling.

From Spain with Love: Mixed cold cuts, manchego cheese and olives.

Both starters were so good, I almost failed to see the gargantuan flat screen TV above the bar, the noticing of which served to remind me that Arte also doubles as a sports bar. To fit in with that theme, I ordered a glass of sangria (VNĐ85,000) and a couple more tapas favourites to nibble on while I waited for the main course.

First up was the calamares andaluza (VNĐ115,000), crispy battered squid rings, marinated in wholemilk and served with a paprika-enhanced allioli dip. Not as rubbery as I’d feared, they were easy to chew and disappeared during a fleeting exchange of conversation, during which time I also learned that Arte sometimes hosts events for the only official Barcelona Supporters Club in Viêt Nam, of which Carles is the leading man.

Allioli oi: Patatas bravas, the perfect side dish.

As I saw my order of patatas bravas (VNĐ65,000) making its way to the table, I sipped on my drink with fervent anticipation. This was always my favourite tapas dish, so you can imagine my euphoria after taking that first bite and discovering my unfairly high expectations had been met. The creamy garlic-infused allioli combined with an excellent exemplar of brava sauce was addictive beyond description, and I feverishly scooped up every last drop of sauce with the crispy roasted potatoes until the plate looked freshly washed.

For the previous half an hour, Chef Giang, with his six years of Spanish cooking experience, was busy preparing the pièce de résistance. A paella marinera (VNĐ255,000), Spanish rice with seafood, was presented to me like a cake at a child’s birthday party. Carles explained that authentic paella is never coloured yellow, and should ideally be finished off in an oven.

Worth waiting for: Seafood paella finished off in the oven

I also learnt that a toasted bottom layer of rice, the socarrat, is a clear sign of an authentic paella. By these measures, as well as the beautiful, rich flavour, this paella was extraordinary. Generously loaded with prawns, squid and mussels, I finished off this dish intended for two people in a time that would shame competitive eaters everywhere.

As Hà Nội’s only real Spanish restaurant, Arte maintains its high standards as a matter of pride and love, rather than out of competition. High quality ingredients, reasonable prices, authentic cooking methods and a passion for sharing Spanish cuisine all add up to a dining experience not soon forgotten, so I urge everyone to visit and enjoy a real taste of Spain.

* Arsenal is the best football team in the world.

Name: Arte Spanish Tapas Bar

Address: 178c Xuân Diệu, Tây Hồ, Hanoi

Telephone: 09 8395 6615 (Vietnamese) 09 6608 9912 (English/Spanish)

Bookings / Delivery: Yes / Yes

Comments: Authentic Spanish Tapas & Sports Bar located in Hà Nội, where you can enjoy Spanish cuisine with a proper sangria, while watching your favourite team playing. Open daily from 11am to 11pm.


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