It's only been recently that I've been introduced to the concept of a restaurant soft launch, basically it gives restaurants a chance to work out some of the kinks before having a full launch to the public. The incentive for those who choose to visit in that soft launch period is that restaurants often offer discounts on the food, most are 50% off. Back in February I visited The Fable as part of their soft launch (read more on that here) and I'll be visiting the Big Easy in Covent Garden at the weekend. Who can resist the chance to either pay less or eat more?
When I heard that a new tapas restaurant, Bravas Tapas, would be opening in St Katherine Docks I was excited as it's not too far from both home and work for me. Even better? They'd be doing a soft launch for the first week. Better still? No need to commit to a time because they wouldn't be taking booking and instead would only take walk-ins.
If you aren't familiar with St Katherine Docks, it's a really pretty area and although it's so close to Tower Bridge because it's a bit set back behind buildings, it tends to be frequented by locals rather than being snided out by tourists (or at least that's how it feels). However, it's downside is that apart from the smaller cafes which are open in the day, the restaurants tend to be chains; Slug and Lettuce, Strada, Zizzi, Ping Pong, Cafe Rouge. The prospect of something a bit different was enough to catch my attention.
On Saturday we decided to go along and see if we could get a table for lunch. It was a beautiful day so we had a leisurely stroll through Wapping down to St Katherine Docks. I thought that with the soft launch having been advertised on Twitter (and having received some good comments from people who had already visited) that we'd need to go early to get a table and so we turned up at around midday. I was surprised to discover that although there were people already in there, the place wasn't full. We settled down in a table near the window.
The restaurant has a rustic feel to it with deep leather chairs, wooden plank tables and velvet cushioned banquettes along one wall and in front of the windows. The whole place looks like it's been there for ages, even though I know it's brand new. Although I don't have a picture of them (they were occupied while we were there), there are two gorgeous booths, perfect for a cosy group dinner.
When we went, there were three or four dishes in each section of the menu; Artisanal Snacks, Meat and Poultry Tapas, Vegetarian Tapas, Fish and Seafood Tapas and Dessert. We were keen to try as much as possible and the soft launch provided justification for pigging out a bit.
The other thing is that, instead of a knife and fork as standard, you get pincers (for the unadventurous or uncoordinated, you can request a knife and fork too). Halfway into the meal my boyfriend declared we should use pincers all the time, I was less convinced about replacing my trusty knife and fork in day to day life.
We started by ordering Spanish Pickles, which contained a home marinated selection of onion, garlic, olives and gherkins.
At a restaurant called Bravas Tapas, of course we had to order the Patatas Bravas, they were well spiced and fluffy little potatoes with salsa brava and alioli. A nice simple dish but well done.
We also ordered the Pa 'amb Tomaquet (toasted baguette with tomato and olive oil) and the Cod 'Esqueixada' which is raw thinly sliced cod with black olives, onions and served with a sauce (I'm not sure what). This was fresh and summery and would be the perfect dish for a sunny day sat outside with a glass of wine.
The only dish we ordered from the Meat and Poultry section was the Moorish Spiced Lamb Chops. I'm not normally a massive lamb fan but this was beautifully cooked, I'm not sure I could taste Moorish spices but these were definitely moreish.
There were two other meat dishes; Morcilla sliders (which looked great but I don't eat black pudding or anything similar because the idea just puts me off) and a Foie Gras Crema Catalana (I don't profess to be an animal lover but I won't eat foie gras). So, personally, maybe a few more slightly more conventional meat choices would have been better for me.
However, having said that, I understand from speaking to them that at the moment they are trying things out and that they plan on expanding the menu in due course. I've also seen on Twitter that other people had slightly different dishes, so I'm keen to see the full menu when they get it in place.
We also ordered the Assortment of Cheeses, although this might have been more the sort of dish that would normally be ordered if going for a drink, rather than with a meal, we saved it until last like our own little cheeseboard. We liked the presentation and the accompaniments, but wondered whether at full price (£11) it might have been a little pricey for the amount of cheese.
Our second fish dish was Fresh Salmon 'Rulada' which were rolls of fresh salmon wrapped around shoestring sweet potato. This dish was the one that intrigued me the most, the sweet potato was crispy and I have no idea how they did it, but combined with the salmon was the perfect combination.
My only problem was that I wasn't quite sure how to attack them, they were bigger than sushi rolls so too big to pop into my mouth in one but manhandling them with pincers and taking smaller bites seemed inelegant. They did go down a treat though.
Our final fish dish was Wild Mediterranean Seabass with Salsa Donostiarra. Again, lovely. The skin was crispy and delicious and again, it was lovely and fresh and tasty.
There were two desserts on the menu and with two of us, we decided to try one of each and share. The first was Torta de Santiago, a soft torte with cherries and served with almonds and sorbet. Delicious.
We had regretted not ordering the Gazpacho after we saw others eating it from a unique lying down wine glass. So we were pleased that our other dessert, Fresh Macerated Strawberries, came in the same glass. How cool is this as a way of presenting a dish? Ok, so you can't see the actual strawberries but they're covered in a delicious light foam and hidden underneath were chunks of a sort of chewy biscuit thing. It was like a wonderful and light deconstructed cheesecake.
Although I was expecting hitches and kinks as part of the soft launch, there were none. Service was perfect, friendly and attentive without being intrusive. The food was all gorgeous and beautifully presented, in fact we couldn't decide which dish was our favourite because they were all so good. I only wish we'd been for dinner instead of lunch as I imagine the place is beautifully cosy when lit by candles and looking out onto the twinkly lights of the docks.
We will definitely be back soon, especially when they have the full menu on. It's so nice to find somewhere new that's local and which ticks all of my boxes in a restaurant; great food, good service, lovely setting and real ambiance. Overall, a great addition to the area.