pata negra – nedlands
It’s a Saturday night and we stumble into the dark den which is Pata Negra. Inside it’s cramped, very dim but alive with the many bodies of food lovers, drinking and staring wistfully at tapas.
We manage to squeeze into the communal area’s last seats – set aside for walk ins. Long tables close to each other, the area is separated from the forward thinking patrons who actually thought to ring ahead. The space is tight but the staff quickly make us feel at home. The black walls and gothic lamps, reminiscent of conquistador dungeons start to soften in the low light, and the modest space adopts an edgey atmosphere.
I love seats that look into the kitchen and that is exactly the seat I got. Looking up into the neon lit, pristine kitchen, the salami fridge and fire engine red slicers catch the willing eye. Whilst waiting for the first of the tapas dishes to arrive, we sip on glasses of cava and verdejo – both of spanish origin and very easy drinking. Cava, as we learnt from the waitress, is a Catalan sparkling wine made in the same method as Champagne – and as we discovered – a fine substitute for the drop too (a bit more about cava from an ‘expert source’ ).
A dish of flat bread spread with a heady rosemary paste and taramasalata dip arrive. The baby pink taramasalata is light and creamy with a faint taste of roe lingering afterward. The pliable flat bread marries well with the dip. Perfect for staving off the hunger and exotic enough to woo – sure beats the usual bread and evoo starters! There is far too much dip for the bread but it is gladly mopped up by the sticks of cucumber, parsley and cherry tomatoes.
The waiter squeezes in behind us and delivers the embutido platter. The small wooden board holds the bets of Pata Negra’s charcuterie. The serrano jamon is tasty and salty. Its silken fat tingles the palate. The jamon tastes best when chewed upon multiple times (literally – chewing the fat!). The salamis are spicy and chunky with texture.
Next are the eggplant fritters. It reminds me of a similar dish served in the Prophet (in Vic Park, recent victim of a drive by shooting, what a shame). Rounds of aubergine are deep fried, served with a fat cheek of lemon and a dollop of avocado dip. It’s delicious. The spongy flesh of eggplant lends itself as an eager sponge for the oil. Outside is delicately crisp, inside it’s warm, tender and flavoursome. We find the dish is reaches its peak with lots of the lemon juice squeezed over. The lemon juice cuts through the warm oil seeping from the eggplant, only to be accompanied by the smooth and creamy avocado. It’s a good dish but is slightly overpriced.
Above: eggplant fritters
Above: Air dried beef with beetroot relish and beans
The empty servings plates are cleared very quickly and the hotly anticipated air dried beef appears. Garnished with torn rocket leaves, the paper thin slices of air dried beef are each complimented by a dollop of the chillingly bright red beetroot puree. The beef was really tasty, tasting more like proscuitto and less like jerky. The beetroot was sweet and paired with the bitterness of the garnish, each tissue thin piece of beef was unexpectedly good. The pairing of the cured flavours plus the sweet, salty and bitter tones, was very balanced.
The menus are left on the tables in Pata Negra and whilst waiting for each dish, we lustfully analysed the menu, pondering the more-ish selections. There were a few interesting choices plus the daily specials. Unfortunately this was not our last stop for the night, alas, we would have immediately ordered the suckling pig special. The couple next to us had the suckling pig and boy, did it look like porky goodness.
The sister decided upon the slightly adventurous arroz negra (paella rice with squid ink). Squid ink, though it looks squeamish, is really delicious. It imparts a ‘flavour of the sea’ as well as a savoury flavour which is hard to describe. The colour is fascinatingly dark and spooky. But the taste transcends the initial rebuke. It’s wonderful. The tiny plump, fat grains of rice soak up the squid flavours, leaving the pieces of cuttlefish as textural bystanders. The serving was just big enough for each of us to have a spoonful, but no more. Would have thoroughly enjoyed a larger serving!
Last but certainly not least, was the cured kingfish. Kingfish is sublime served as sashimi and Pata Negra’s cured version did not disappoint. The curing process removes the raw texture of the kingfish, allowing the fish to develop a concentrated taste but leaving the translucent appearance unchanged. Those who are not partial to sashimi might be hesitant to try it, but even my mum, who does not eat sashimi tried some and liked it. The olive oil dressing and purple cress finished off each little piece of kingfish with a smooth after taste.
Pata Negra is obviously very popular and for good reason too. The food is good, service is spot on and the atmosphere, though very very noisy, is cosy. Having been to the holy grail of tapas in Oz – Movida (Melbourne) – I can’t help but compare the two. Pata Negra is very similar in some regards – the service and atmosphere – but differs greatly on the menu. The food at Pata Negra is less labour intensive, and less adventurous. Movida’s tapas are more likely to blow you out of the water and their offerings set them apart from other copycats, where as Pata Negra offers a tame taste of Spain. Funnily enough, we noticed Frank Camorra’s Movida cookbook lingering on Pata Negra’s shelf. =P In a way, I think our visit to Movida has spoiled our tastebuds. I’m not sure if anything will live up to it, bar a trip to Spain!
As one of the few genuine and atmospheric tapas houses in Perth, I’m sure Pata Negra will leave an indelible mark on the Perth food scene.
– 17 glasses of cava out of 20 –
Up’s: Good service and good food. Some dishes you won’t find elsewhere in Perth.
Down’s: Too noisy! A bit cramped.
Pata Negra, 26 Stirling Highway, Nedlands WA 6009
T: (08) 9389 5517
Tuesday – Saturday 5 -11pm
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