Swooning in South Ken – a visit to Capote y Toros
So the text message exchange between me and my friend Debbie (whose flat I stay in when I come to London) began like this:
Debbie: I’ll be back about 9. Are you eating in or eating out?
Me: Going to capote y toros for a sherry and a tapa before heading back.
Notice the singular: A sherry, A tapa – who on earth was I kidding?!
Fast forward 3 hours and the texts begin again.
Debbie: I’m just heading home. Where are you?
Me: Heaven aka capote y toros, join me?
Debbie: Will you be there long?
Me: Until they throw me out
Because that’s how it rolls at Capote y Toros – it turns out you just don’t leave until you absolutely have to.
Capote y Toros is a tapas and sherry bar on the Old Brompton Road in Kensington, London. Not exactly sleepy hollow, but also not quite the heart of the action, this part of town has a real neighbourhood feel and the bar shares this. It’s one of four bars/restaurants owned by the Cambio de Tercio group all on the same block, and all three were pretty full on the Wednesday night I visited – many of the folk in Capote y Toros appeared to be regulars and locals, which is always a good sign.
Walk in and the first thing you smell is the jamon and the olive oil, and the first thing you hear is noisy chatter. Listen carefully and the live guitarist’s music will reach your ears pretty soon too. The decor is basically jamon hanging from the ceilings, bullfight memorabilia on the walls and a rack of Osborne barrels on one of the walls, set up solera-style: they’re not making any secret of what you’ve come here for!
I knew before I visited that Capote y Toros was ‘a good place for sherry’, but I really hadn’t appreciated the scale of that understatement. 55 sherries by the glass. Yes, 55!! I had originally planned to photograph the sherry list for this post, but when it ran to several pages I figured I’d better photograph the shelves instead.
11 Finos, 10 Manzanillas, 10 Amontillados, 7 Olorosos, 5 Palo Cortados, 6 Creams and 6 PXs – plus a few others by the bottle only. There was no way I was going to be able to drink my way through the list, so I had to prioritise.
Thankfully that wasn’t too difficult, as the list included some serious exotica; sherries that I simply can’t get in Edinburgh, or that are so expensive by the bottle that I would put them in the very special treat category. There were several Equipo Navazos choices and plenty of VORS options. So I set my criteria for choosing:
- something I’d never tasted before
- something I wouldn’t be able to get or readily afford by the bottle
Even using these criteria I was spoiled for choice. Plus there were a few old favourites on the list that I had to forego because I’d tried them before.
Some food to soak up the sherry
The tapas menu was a combination of old faithfuls – tortilla, croquetas, jamon – and some inventive specialities. I ordered one tapa each time I ordered a different sherry, and the knowledgeable staff advised on good pairings. Actually, it’s worth another word of praise for the staff here – as well as being knowledgeable, they were cheerful, helpful and the service was fab, despite them being very busy. If their boss is reading this, they really do deserve a pat on the back!
So I started with a La Panesa aged Fino by Emilio Hidalgo. I had been inspired by reading Vine Inspiration’s aged Fino article for International Sherry Week, and his rave review of this particular sherry. I matched it with some toasted pan con tomate topped with jamon. The bread was simple and perfect – crispy toast, juicy garlicky tomatoes and meltingly tender jamon. Being an aged Fino, the La Panesa had the oomph to cope with the strong flavours on the toast.
Next up was Jalifa – a VORS (30 year old) Amontillado from Williams & Humbert and it was served really cold, which I know is perhaps not quite as recommended but it is how I prefer my Amontillado. I matched it with croquetas de jamon, which were lovely and squidgy and really tasted of jamon not just bechamel. The sherry was super-citrussy with caramel and vanilla aromas, with flavours of bitter almonds and toasted hazelnuts. It was elegant, complex but also fresh and zippy. Quite a neat trick to pull off!
Next came the show-stopper that I’d been building up to: La Bota No 34 Palo Cortado from Equipo Navazos. Simply not available in Edinburgh, and eye-wateringly expensive to buy a bottle online. I’d had my eye on that from the outset. I wasn’t sure what to pair it with so put myself in the hands of the staff. They recommended a home made tuna chorizo, made from tuna marinaded with lemon, pepper and dill before curing for 5-7 days. It was more fishy than spicy, with sweet and lemony flavours. “But what about the sherry?” I hear you ask – sorry, I was just building the suspense! Again the Palo Cortado was nice and cold, and it was lighter in body that some Palos I’ve tasted. It had the usual lovely combination of caramel, resin and furniture polish aromas which were complemented in the mouth with roasted hazelnuts and pencil shavings. It was complex, elegant and very fresh and, as Palos go, it was also quite austere. It cut through the oiliness of the tuna chorizo perfectly and I could’ve drunk a gallon of the stuff if I’d won the lottery!
Chef Luis Navacerrada popped out to chat sherry at this point and tell me about desserts. I couldn’t resist the ‘Descontructed Rebujito’ – 7up sorbet with Manzanilla, sprigs of mint and hidden chunks of fizzy lemon sherbert powder. A brilliant palate cleanser with a sense of humour. I was smitten!
I can’t quite believe I’ve waited this long to visit Capote y Toros. It’s practically on my doorstep when I’m staying in London, but just enough off the beaten track to have justified going elsewhere in the past. Not any more though. A swoon-inducing range of sherries, good simple Spanish food served with passion and a smile – what’s not to love?