I’ve always hated poor imitations of anything. Frankly, if it’s worth copying the only way it will ever be vaguely acceptable is with the right attention to detail, especially when it comes to food.
Think instant mash made with boiling water versus fluffy spuds stirred with milk, melting butter and black pepper. Powdered gravy granules, or would you prefer the real deal made with those meat juices in the bottom of the roasting tin?
The microwave has a lot to answer for as well when it comes to restaurants cutting corners by preparing in advance and then reheating before serving, inferring all is as fresh as can be.
I’m afraid Spanish tapas restaurants are a classic example of this shabby technique, generally serving well below average fare in many an eaterie I’ve been to in this neck of the woods.
Not so at Tendido Cuatro in New Kings Road, where nothing could be further from the truth.
A sister restaurant of the original Cambio de Tercio and Tendido Cero in the Old Brompton Road opened in 1995 by Abel Lusa and David Rivero.
Theirs was a concept not to be just another London tapas restaurant but to show how to do things differently.
They set out to do things their own way, inspired by the breadth and richness of Spanish cuisine. Shorter cooking times, intricate presentation, true ingredients, new methodology – and it worked. In 2003 the Spanish minister of agriculture, fishing and food gave Abel Lusa the prestigious award Premios alimentos de Espana 2003 as the best Spanish restaurant outside Spain.
So it is no surprise Spanish authenticity oozes from the orange walls, red ceilings, wooden floors and remarkable paintings of bullfighting scenes by Luis Canizares.
Alison and I are well impressed before any food has even passed our lips.
First it’s our welcome, then the surroundings, then the all-Spanish wine list full of the most famous and acclaimed wines from the well known regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero as well as the latest additions from other vineyards. I have a delicious glass of the red Finca Resalso 2007 and Alison the white Carqueixal 2008.
There is no question of the freshness of the dishes when every order is cooked on the spectacular open grill behind the bar; here baby lamb chops sizzle and giant prawns and octopus char, all served within seconds of leaving the flames.
We start with a taste of cured ham from Salamanca, sliced transparently and meltingly thin. Then Catalana toasted bread with doll-sized diced fresh tomato nuggets drizzled witholive oil, and a plate of the most delicious tuna tartare with velvety pureed avocado.
On we move to the Serrano ham and béchamel croquettes and spicy patatas bravas, all beautifully crafted works of art, too good to eat.
Alison is smiling a lot, a sure sign all is very well with the world indeed.
We’ve moved on to griddled squid and seared prawns, those crispy baby Burgos lamb chops two bites big with fried-till-their-skins-split little green Padron peppers, and the naughtiest garlic mushrooms I’ve ever tasted.
Then how can we leave without trying a couple of the signature dishes of paella, mixta; a recipe overflowing with mussels, chicken, Galician clams and prawns all resplendent in the rich organic bomba rice from Calasparra, and arroz negro; made with cuttlefish ink and black rice.
These are just two of a fine paella selection made with marvellous ingredients such as quail, rabbit, crab and chorizo.
We’re both fit to burst but can’t resist the yoghurt mousse with passion fruit and the crème Catalana. Both are fabulous.
But we’ve left the best till last and when you beat a path to their door – which you must very soon – don’t leave until you have dipped the thin, crisp Churros doughnut sticks into the totally amazing accompanying hot chocolate sauce as they do on every street corner in Madrid.
This restaurant is the stuff that dinner dreams are made of; simply the best tapas in Fulham, and no impersonators will do.
Tendido Cuatro, 108-110 New Kings Road, SW6 4LY.