I spent my third year of university studying in Madrid, and I ate a lot of tapas. A lot.
To the point of overdoing it.
I am always on the hunt of where to find good tapas in London.
When the chance to try La Gamba – a riverside tapas restaurant at the Southbank Centre – appeared in my inbox, my friend Christian and I jumped at the chance.
As the days get shorter and deadlines loom, an evening at La Gamba was the perfect mid-week treat.
The atmosphere was bustling and the staff were lovely and so helpful.
There was a real festive feeling in the air, and you can try some of the same dishes in their Christmas menu.
La Gamba was founded by Jack Applebee of Applebee’s Fish, and great, high-quality produce is at the heart of their business.
That’s no different at La Gamba – think big, juicy prawns, tasty padrón peppers and delicious bread and butter.
To begin with, Christian and I opted for two ‘Mamá’s Margaritas’ – a spicy twist on a classic tequila cocktail, with the added element of chillies and coriander.
As a coriander hater, I was slightly apprehensive but pleasantly surprised.
It embodies everything you want from a cocktail – it was indulgent, tasty and strong.
The menu itself is just right – it caters for everyone, but you’re not inundated with choice – the perfect combination for those of us who struggle to make a decision.
We opted for a variety of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes and none of them disappointed.
The ‘Gambas Salvajes’ were cooked in their shells and perfectly mild in flavour.
They were messy, which I think is part of the fun, and the combination of fragrant parsley, fiery chilli and the sweetness of cooked garlic worked very well and created a delicious fusion of flavour.
Next up were padron peppers – one of my favourite things, and these did not disappoint.
They were delectably simple, and the earthy, charred flavour of the peppers supported by the crunchy sea salt was great.
The sardinas a la plancha were also very tasty.
Simplicity was also at the heart of this dish, and the umami flavour of the sardines, partnered with the acidity of lemon juice and a gremolata of garlic and parsley hit the spot.
And of course, you can’t go for tapas without trying their croquetas or their tortilla.
The creamy, richness of the bechamel sauce paired with the saltiness of the jamon (spanish ham) perfectly counteracted each other.
This was further supported by the crunchy, deep-fried exterior and the soft, pureed texture of the inside.
As for the tortilla, the simple combination of potatoes and egg was just the ticket. It was perfectly runny and really tasty.
We mopped it all up with some crusty pan rustico, and washed it down with two more cocktails.
The ‘melocton y miel’ combined the nutty flavour of maker’s mark with the fruityness of peach and the sweetness of honey and agave made for a palatable post-dinner drink.
In comparison, the alfarero provided more of a punch.
The combination of rum, with Pedro Ximenez sherry, a fig liquor and an orange bitter created something a bit stronger.
And finally for the star of the show, pudding.
The torijja caramelizada was phenomenal.
Again, it’s pretty simple: caramelised bread with cinnamon and orange and vanilla ice-cream, but the flavour and the texture was powerful.
The softness of the bread paired with the crunchiness of the caramel was sensational, and Christian and I both agreed it was the star of the show.
We couldn’t say no to an extra helping of ice-cream, and opted for honeycomb and blood orange. Both scoops were seriously tasty, we left feeling delightfully full.
Overall, it was a lovely evening. Perfectly fishy, searingly spicy and I still can’t stop thinking about the torrija caramelizada.