It’s the simplicity that takes your breath away at Arbequina on Cowley Road.
Unashamedly pared back, its no frills approach still working its magic, perfect for this kind of unadulterated tapas offering.
“Arbequina’s laid back vibe and epic food is still hard to beat”
And that first taste of onion tortilla is always a seismic moment, stopping you in your tracks, muting any conversation, everything else ceasing to have priority as the soft, silky, almost caramelised taste hits you.
And that’s if the bread with harissa and aioli (£4.50) hasn’t already got to you, wonderfully strong with garlic and spices.
We were sat at one of the minamalist tables in the main restaurant, fortunately no longer furnished with those uncomfortable stools of yesteryear which always encouraged a short visit, but on new comfy chairs.
And yes we opted for the cocktails offered to us by our adept waitress Izzy, Negronis made in the sexy, sleek bar next-door, think velvet with sultry lighting, so good we ordered more.
But in Arbequina itself, the emphasis is on the food, and has been since it was opened by Ben, Rufus and Ben back in 2016 read about it here – the open plan kitchen having an honest industrial feel, rather than pandering to aesthetics – the diners sitting and eating at the bar there enjoying the sight.
There are no starters and mains here as such, although the dishes get more expensive the further your eye wanders down the menu.
Order what you like and it will turn up in a steady flow. It’s a lovely way to eat; sharing, chatting, tasting, without being overwhelmed by quantity or protocol. The Spanish are onto something there! The wine at Arbequina is also excellent.
The chorizo arrived with the tortilla (as seen in main pic) just sliced sausages on a plate, entirely unadorned, and perhaps more delicious for it, the rich salty marvel saved for the flavour alone. Another plate please.
we tried EVERY DESSERT ON THE MENU BECAUSE THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY OF LEAVING ANY OF THE ENTICING OPTIONS OUT
Working our way through most of the menu, our dishes ranging in price from £4.50 – £13, favourites included the aubergine with whipped feta, molasses and pomegranate which was dark, sultry and piquant, the soft and decadent Santa Gadea goat’s cheese with thyme, honey and picos (mini bread sticks).
We also opted for the jamon and manchego croquettes with tomato chutney from the specials board which were soft and unctuous inside and hot and crispy on the exterior a bit like, which reminded me of the Dutch street food bitterballen.
Or the more filling Navaricco butter beans with crispy chicken (£8.50), the crispy chickpea salad with chilli butter and yoghurt (£9) which stole the show, reminiscent of the Thai version sold at sister restaurant – Oli’s Thai, now Ella’s Deli – down the road, which had me at hello.
And then EVERY dessert on the menu because there was absolutely no way of leaving out any of the enticing options, from the strong, dark chocolate mousse to the Santiago tart – a heavenly sugary Spanish almond cake – or the lavender panna cotta with Alphonso mango and sorta de aceite (like an olive oil biscuit).
But the piece de resistance was the raspberry custard tart. It was so sublime my fingers have gone tingly just thinking about it, like a traditional Pasteis de Nata, but even better because the tartness of the raspberry offsets the sweetness of the custard. It was just heaven for £6 a pop.
So there we are. Another memorable night out at Arbequina with no fuss or bother. You need to book because it’s popular, but it’s laid back vibe and epic food is still hard to beat.
Arbequina, 72-74 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JB. https://arbequina.co.uk