Al-Andalus, situated on Little Clarendon Street, is set to be my go-to tapas restaurant for the foreseeable future. The food was outstanding and was probably the best tapas I've had outside of Spain.
Al-Andalus have done a fantastic job of decorating the restaurant to make their clients feel completely immersed in Spanish culture. The yellowy-orange walls were covered with images of bulls and flamenco dancers and occupying one of the walls was a large painted map of España, helping diners imagine that they were in a sunny tapas bar just off the plaza. Unfortunately, because of the long thin layout of the restaurant, they had to open the door right next to our table to get some air into the room, and thus we were reminded that we were, in fact, in cold, grey Britain.
The menu is largely composed of 'hot' tapas, with 'cold' tapas, salads & extras and paellas for two people available as well as the chef's specials. Choosing what we wanted to eat took quite a bit of time; my dining companion follows a dairy-free diet so we asked a member of staff for assistance as although vegetarian and gluten-free dishes were marked, the dairy-free ones were not. After waiting a while for advice, we asked another member of staff for help and this time they promptly got the manager. He inquired whether my friend was lactose-free or dairy-free then proceeded to point out all the options. Initially, my friend was a little sceptical that the dishes chosen would actually be dairy-free as the manager appeared to only be avoiding the options which contained cheese and so she was concerned that the food might be cooked in butter. Overall, I think the manager knew his stuff and was very helpful and we were confident that the majority of the dishes (with the exception of the datiles bacon) were free from dairy. To drink, I had a small bottle of refreshing Estrella Galicia, and we shared a large jug of Sangria for £14.50 which provided about 5 glasses worth and was strong and met an important criteria for me personally by containing lots of fruit at the bottom of the jug. Initially, we ordered seven dishes, which were roughly between £4-6 per dish, but we became greedy and I ordered another dish right towards the end. The beauty of tapas is that you can eat as much or as little as you like throughout the meal, and so it's perfect for any appetite, however big or small.
The patatas bravas caused us some initial concern; the dish came with what looked like sour cream on top of the patatas and we became anxious that my companion would not be able to eat the dish but after reassurance from the manager who told us it was actually garlic mayonnaise, we tucked into our feast. The potatoes were crispy and the bravas sauce was smooth, sweet and mild at first then it slowly developed spicier. We enjoyed a very generous portion of chorizo which was mild, tasty and served hot. The fritos bacalao, deep-fried cod with a salt and pepper batter served with garlic mayo, was crispy and perfectly cooked. The pollo y chorzio con patatas (chicken and chorizo stew with potatoes) tasted largely of bell peppers and tomatoes, which was homely and comforting, especially given the succulent texture of the chicken. Perhaps we could have done with some bread to mop up the sauce but potatoes sufficed nicely. The garlicky champinones (mushrooms) were adorable and juicy, while the berenjenas a la miel (deep-fried aubergine) was soft on the inside and wonderfully crunchy on the outside, and went beautifully with the floral honey drizzled on top. The boquerones (deep fried whitebait) were some of the best whitebait I've ever had. They seemed to have been marinated in a herby vinegar beforehand and so when you bit into the crispy shell, this amazing fresh acidic taste cut through the batter. The most adventurous dish I tried were the datiles bacon, dates stuffed with blue cheese and held together by strips of bacon - frankly, it shouldn't work but it does! The sweetness of the date combined with the salty bacon and tang of the cheese made for an indulgent treat, which I can imagine would go down very well during the colder months.
After this bountiful feast, we had stuffed ourselves silly and felt very satisfied with our dinner. When we visited, it was a surprisingly busy Wednesday evening so the service was slow and a few dishes were forgotten but that is completely understandable and hasn't put me off visiting again. I have already recommended Al-Andulas to multiple people and intend to visit again soon to sample more tapas, the paella, and maybe I'll even leave enough room for dessert. Muchos gracias Al-Andulas.