It was time for a long overdue catch-up with two of my favourite Zumba girls. With the pressure of them trustingly bestowing the duty of selecting a venue up to me, I decided that we pay Encasa Restaurant a visit. Having previously visited Encasa Deli many times when I worked around the corner, I was curious to try the original restaurant of which I’ve heard it’s near impossible to get a reservation for on certain nights. I was fortunate enough to get a table on a Saturday evening even by calling them only two days before; luck was obviously on my side!
Encasa Restaurant is located on Pitt Street, between the Capitol Theatre on Campbell Street and World Square. There’s a handful of backpacker hostels around the block, but it didn’t detract from the warm homeliness of the restaurant. The interior was simple: bare wooden floors, plain tan walls and bricked archways with lights from the ceiling and wall fans. The hard, bare surfaces and high ceiling meant that noise bounced off easily and despite the place not being packed, it was rather noisy and throughout the dinner we had to raise our voices to talk to one another across our intimate table of three.
I knew my friend Dancing Queen was there already, so when I mentioned my name at the podium and was taken to an empty table, I was confused until I saw her at the table next to me. Service throughout the night was a little slow and it was difficult to catch their attention a few times, but when we did they were consistently courteous and friendly.
We ultimately decided to order a number of tapas to share first before having a paella for three as a main. Our waiter said that we had ordered too much (for which we were very thankful for) and suggested we order just the paella for two – something I had no idea we could do as I thought it was according to how many people were dining at the table. We trusted his judgment and happily placed our order, choosing to stay with our water on the balmy Sydney summer evening.
The first of our tapas arrived, being the Pimientos al Jerez ($7.50): roasted red capsicum in sherry vinegar, olive oil and garlic.
This little dish was served cold and the red capsicums had been roasted so sweetly, with a lovely slight acidity from the sherry vinegar and with, as always, a beautiful aroma of the accompanying garlic.
Garlic was also our favourite when the Gambas al Ajillo ($13.50) arrived: peeled king prawns in sizzling garlic oil and chilli.
I was a little taken aback at how much oil there was, but with the prawns being cooked in that much oil it meant that they were perfectly soft and tender. Nothing beats true Spanish garlic prawns. One of the girls loved the garlic so much she drained it from the bowl with her spoon and added it to her plate to accompany everything else that she was eating!
My other friend really wanted the Boquerones en Vinagre ($11): marinated white anchovies served with toasted bread.
While the anchovies were nice, meaty and very tender, they were too salty and acidic for my taste, and I’m usually one that loves to saturate her dumplings in black vinegar.
And as always, you can’t possibly have traditional Spanish tapas without having Patatas Bravas ($9.50): fried potatoes with garlic mayonnaise and spicy tomato salsa.
Tasty, wholesome and satisfying. Potatoes are, hands down, my number one favourite vegetable. Fried, baked, boiled, in salads, on their own, in mash…there really is no way for potatoes to go wrong.
We were already quite full at this stage and I was starting to regret having ordered the paella as well, and my eyes almost fell out of my head when the paella arrived. It seemed like that dinner was yet another night where my eyes were bigger than my stomach.
The Paella Valenciana ($25 per person) of saffron rice with chicken and seafood was a simply beautiful dish to admire despite my growing concern of how my stomach was going to cope. But of course, as you all know well I’m not one to give up on a challenge, and so I dolled out a generous portion for myself and dug in.
All of the seafood was fresh, perfectly cooked and tender, with possibly some of the softest calamari I’ve ever tasted, scented lightly with saffron. I can’t say I found the rice particularly flavoursome, however this may be due to the fact that when I’ve made paella at home I use a combination of chicken stock and passata to cook the rice, and also because we had just had a number of very delicious, intensely-flavoured tapas that made the flavour of the rice pale in comparison afterwards. It was gorgeous fluffy rice that unfortunately none of us could eat much of, so they were more than happy to allow us to get it in a takeaway foil container.
Overall, the tapas are cheaply priced and the regular Spanish tapas that you would see on the menu of any standard Spanish establishment. With solid hits of flavour and good value, I would go back to Encasa to sample the rest of their extensive tapas menu.
423 Pitt Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9211 4257