While we were all busy complaining about the sweaty tubes and chatting about the hottest summer on record, autumn seems to have quietly snuck up behind us and set up shop. There is a definite nip in the air, especially first thing, and when the sun does make its way through the clouds it is only for a half-hearted attempt at warmth. Yet as much as I love autumn, and its promise of snuggly new knitwear and mugs of hot Ribena, I’m not quite ready to give up on summer just yet. I’m doggedly still wearing my sandals, despite constant wet toes.
And is there a better way of making the most of the still late-light evenings, than to sit outside with one of your best friends, tapas and Cava for company?
Which is exactly what I did last Wednesday when Tilda and I tried La Mancha, a family run Spanish restaurant that used to be based in Putney, but is now sat next to Franco Manca on Chiswick High Street.
Chiswick is not somewhere I tend to go that often. It is a lovely leafy part of town, near the river and with lots of independent shops on the high street. It is yet another area to pin to the ‘must explore further’ board.
The Cava they serve by the glass is Cavas Hill Brut (£6.50), and was crisp and clean with a nice dry finish. The Spanish sparkling wine has a reputation as being of lesser quality than its Italian counterpart Prosecco, one that I don’t think is deserved. Put a decent Cava on the same pitch as a Prosecco and even some of the French sparkling wines, and it will happily hold its own, especially when it comes to value for money.
It is also the perfect accompaniment to tapas. As Tilda is vegetarian we went easy on the meat and fish dishes, although I did sneak in an octopus dish or two, just to try! You can see the full menu on Zomato.
We started with a generous portion of pan con tomate (£3), crisp toasted white bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with freshly chopped tomatoes. It’s a dish I often feel compelled to order, because when it’s good it’s really good, but I am so often disappointed with it. With only a few ingredients, those ingredients really need to stand up and be counted, be fresh and full-flavoured, and thankfully, in this case, they did.
The other vegetarian tapas dishes were similarly excellent. The champinones al ajillo (£6.20) were button mushrooms cooked in a white wine sauce, and served with a pieces of sweet, chewy garlic. The spinach croquettes (£5.50), neat little rolls of squidgy, piping hot spinach and cheese with a crisp breadcrumb coating. The tortilla (£5.20), always a good indicator of a decent Spanish restaurant, was flavoured with softly cooked onions and plenty of olive oil. It was slightly overcooked and rubbery around the edges, but otherwise delicious. The nuggets of fried potato in the Patatas bravas (£4.95) were topped in a sauce that I would have liked a bit more of a kick from, but otherwise sound.
I ordered just one octopus dish, but as they mistakenly initially brought over the wrong one, I ended up with two. It’s a good a job I like tentacles. Octopus one was char-grilled along with tiger prawns (£7.95). Lightly charred on the outside, both shellfish were perfectly plump, and the smooth potatoes and hot paprika oil a great accompaniment. Octopus two had been fried, and was served on top of sweet caramelized onions with soya mayonnaise, drizzled with smoked paprika oil (£5.95).
Finally, the creme caramel (£5) had a shiny top and Burlesque-worthy wobble to it. Tilda tucked into a chocolate and chocolate concoction, which from her gleeful spoon-licking, I think she rather enjoyed.
There is nothing new or innovative about the cooking at La Mancha, but its tapas, if ain’t broke don’t fix it. And not every meal needs to be ground-breaking. La Mancha is a good, solid, well-priced Spanish restaurant that is perfect for a relaxed meal with friends, and if you are lucky enough to live near it in Chiswick then I recommend you make the most of it.