Share plates seem to be a big culinary trend in Vancouver at the moment with a myriad of restaurants claiming to be “family style”, relinquishing the kitchen from the responsibility of delivering your dishes in any discernible order or timed to coincide with the rest of your table. And while we’ve encountered this movement in good and bad forms – who wants to share a bowl of soup with their fellow diners? – tapas is a natural fit for this kind of eating and a style of dining we greatly enjoy since it allows us to sample several different dishes in one sitting. España is the latest Spanish tapas establishment to open in Vancouver, a welcome addition to the West End which is largely dominated by small Asian establishments and falafel joints. The joint effort of Ed Perrow, who reassuringly has run operations at Bin 941 & 942, La Brasserie, Cibo and Uva, and Cibo’s former chef Neil Taylor, España’s classic menu crafted from quality ingredients makes it well worth a visit.
España’s simply outfitted space on Denman street houses about 45 seats including those along a bar and tables along a banquette. We visited on a rainy Thursday night and settled at their bar, the traditional spot to enjoy tapas, where we were greeted by the friendly server. We started with the Crispy Chickpeas ($4) laced with paprika and mint. These scrumptious, simultaneously spicy and savoury bites were crispy, as their name suggests, but with silky interiors and a smoky flavour so deep, I wondered if they were cooked in some kind of animal fat – I was informed that in fact there was chipotle in the mix giving the chickpeas their depth. The Roasted Baby Beets ($6) with yoghurt, cumin, pistachios, cilantro and some greens were light and bright – the succulent, flavourful beets were nicely set off by the yoghurt sauce. The Salt Cod and Potato Croquettes ($6) with orange aioli were deep fried balls of goodness, the salty fish perfectly complemented by the potato; the orange aioli added extra zest, enlivening all the flavours in each bite. Our favourite dish was the Patatas Bravas ($6) a staple of tapas menus the world round, consisting of fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce. Here they were served with a creamy sauce and green onions, creating a refreshing contrast to the piquant potatoes. This simple, rustic dish was a hearty hit. Between two, with the addition of a simple plate of pita accompanied by a creamy roasted eggplant dip, this was an ample amount of food serving as a light dinner. Heartier fare exists in the form of Charcuterie Plates or options like Chorizo cooked in Cider and Roast Local Snapper, all of which we are eager to try, making España’s menu adaptable for those in search of just a few bites with a glass of wine after work, or diners wishing to linger over a more substantial meal.
Refreshingly, the large majority of España’s dishes are priced at $10 and under, offering an affordable opportunity to sample and share many small plates, true to the casual and communal spirit of most Spanish tapas bars. Their wine list also offers reasonable options with whites ranging from $6-10 and reds from $7-12 a glass, with several bottles of Spanish origin. Notable too, are España’s several sherries, available by the glass or curated as dry and sweet flights. It’s fantastic to see the installation of a casually elegant but wallet-friendly dining option on Denman street and judging from the success of the simple but scrumptious dishes we sampled, we will certainly be back for more.