First impressions are favourable for the Islas Canarias Café Tapas Bar in Belmont.
Tables well-spaced, ceilings high, so although there are plenty of hard surfaces it’s still possible to carry out a conversation.
The open-plan kitchen reveals a well-choreographed performance by the chef and wait staff.
It’s just a short time since Aaron Stobbs and his partner, Ramona Barboza (Romy) opened in Belmont after closing their popular Te Aroha Place in Blacksmiths.
Here Romy is the chef and Belmont boy Aaron works the front of house. And although the place is almost full they don’t miss a beat, producing plate after plate of delicious tapas.
I predict they will reach a stage soon where they’ll need more staff and tables. It seems the word has already got around that there’s some serious nosh here.
Why tapas? Aaron, who was an executive chef in the Hunter Valley, met Romy when working at Santa Catalina Gran Canaria. Romy comes from the Canary Islands and was also working there as a chef. She brings her expertise in Spanish cuisine to classic favourites.
The menu is sensibly short, with just 17 tapas/raciones (larger dishes), three house-made desserts, a selection of prepared tarts and cakes, and four flavours of gelato.
Tablas de dixc is the Canary Island slang for crudités ($11). Lightly pickled sticks of white radish and carrot arrive, along with olives and toast soldiers, all ready to dip into creamy hummus and baba ganouj.
Croquetas de puchero translates to seven egg-shaped croquettes, their crunchy crumb coating contrasting with the centre of soft pork, veal and chicken mince thickened with herb-flecked potato ($14). Yum.
Ceviche del pescado is a dish popular in many Spanish-speaking countries particularly Mexico and Peru. Pieces of baby kingfish fillets lightly “cooked” by marinating in lemon juice, are tossed with julienne capsicum and onion spiked with chilli, mint and coriander ($18) for a light but satisfying dish.
Two cigar rolls of chicken mince mixed with cinnamon, almond, eggs, coriander and orange flower water, encased in crisp filo and dusted with icing sugar, give pastela del pollo ($16) a southern Spanish vibe with a hint of Moorish influence; think Moroccan chicken b’stilla.
A bowl of Carrillera de ternera con puré de papas ($20) is the standout dish; braised beef cheeks in a rich wine-y sauce which gains its consistency from the gelatinous connective tissue that has melted from the meat. Rustic potato mash is perfect for soaking up all the sticky juices.
Back in 1973 while camper vanning around Europe I had tried to overcome my childhood revulsion of tripe and made an abortive attempt on Callos Madrilenos in Granada. Too oily, too rich and too reminiscent of the texture I disliked. So, it was with some trepidation that we ordered the dish here. At least my dining partner would love it.
Much to my surprise I loved it too. This is a light version with far less oil and confirms the theory that there are as many versions of Callos Madrilenos as there are Spanish families. Tender pieces of honeycomb tripe nestle in a tomatoey, garlicky sauce along with a plethora of chickpeas and a few chunks of chorizo, serrano ham and morcilla (blood pudding). ($12).
Make sure you leave enough room for dessert.
I’m a sucker for comfort food. Arroz con leche fits the bill. It’s a superb marriage between creamed rice and lemon, aniseed and passionfruit flavours ($12). Comfort food at its best.
Yes, it’s another tapas place; we can’t get enough of shared plates. Bring along a few mates and you could easily get through most of the menu without breaking the bank.
- What: Islas Canarias, 4/35 Macquarie Street, Belmont. Facebook: Islas Canaries Cafe Tapas Bar. 0481 994 875
- Chefs: Romy Barboza and Aaron Stobbs
- Wines: BYO
- Hours: Tuesday, breakfast and lunch; Wednesday to Sunday, breakfast, lunch and dinner; closed Monday.
- Vegetarian: Ask on booking; several dishes can be adapted.
- Bottom line: $70 for two max.
- Wheelchair access: Yes
- Do try: Carrillera de ternera con puré de papas, and Callos Madrilenos.