Santiago Tapas

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The violin’s melodious undertones float around me and the mariachi’s croon in unison, the Spanish words unknown to me, yet I’m transported to another place and time. I’m in a Spain of the past complete with a bull fighter who hangs off to my left, framed and offering me a red rose. Mother Mary prays upon my meal from her vantage point upon the wall and the décor reflects a variety of colourful bottles of all sizes offering wines and beers, all of Spanish origin.

My waiter wears black from shoulder to foot, but his cap is grey felt. He smiles to me from underneath it, exposing white teeth contrasting with a dark wiry beard. If he’s not Spanish I don’t care because he suits the atmosphere of the place, and if he were to break out into Spanish while offering me today’s specials then I would be all the happier.

Soft lighting abounds, with candles flickering in the light breeze that sneaks its way through the nooks and crannies of the old place, and permeates from under the wooden doors. The scents of frying meat and grilled vegetables surrounds me as I sit in the dim light reflecting upon the sights and sounds. The warmth of the painted red walls encompasses me in the moment, along with the history found in the light fixtures, the flaking wallpapers and the bricked walls. I love the place even before I’ve tried the food.

I am here at Santiago Tapas in Middle Park Beach just near South Melbourne and I love everything about the place. My table curiously sits next to an open window, yet I’m sitting in the middle of the room; a tribute to the past as my neighbours sit in what must have once been an alleyway between two houses. Upstairs the gilded couches stand in a room swamped in history, complete with floor to ceiling fireplace. The owner tells me that two weeks ago a Grand Prix party was hosted here, proving the place has a modern appeal despite its historical underpinnings.

Spanish lessons take place upstairs as well, next to the ornate fireplace. New words are practiced over the little dishes of tasty morsels that arrive from the kitchen downstairs, and new pronunciations are practised by the huge mirror hanging by the door. A light curtain of non-descript colour slices the room in half, serving as a division between lessons and dinner. I’ll be back in June to try this for myself.

Downstairs again, settled at my table by the open window in the middle of the room, I’ve ordered blue eye croquettes and patatas bravas (my absolute favourite and the measure upon which all tapas restaurants are measured for me). My husband has ordered the eye fillet steaks with olives and aioli. We considered the spiced chicken and the garlic prawns, instead preferring to under order and leave room for dessert.

Blue Eye Croquettes

Patatas Bravas

Tasting plate with: – front: Apple fritters, – mid left: Berry topped custard,
– mid: dipping chocolate, – mid right, ice cream and – back: churros.
Each meal is brought to us on a small plate or dish and its presentation tempts us to try the food immediately. The flavours and tastes are delightful, making the evening a success as I savour the flavours of each dish. I even ordered a second plate of croquettes because we loved them so much and there just weren’t enough on that first dish. I thought I hated dill, but the delicate flavour of the fish merged with the cream in the croquettes provided just the right base for the dill, providing the perfect flavour combination (and one I’ll no doubt recreate at home later).

Dessert followed with a tasting plate as we just couldn’t decide which item to order by itself. Churros and warm chocolate dipping sauce. Berry sauce atop homemade custard. Soft delicate apple fritters. Ice cream. Yum. The churros were the disappointment of the evening as they were small and crunchy, not like I’d experienced before. But the apple fritters were amazing and the custard, something I don’t usually like, was absolutely delicious.

Beef eye fillet with olives and aioli. 

Santiago tapas lies within a misfit collection of establishments amongst a suburb steeped in 1920s décor, complete with vintage jaguar parked outside one of the nearby residences. My love of history and my husband’s yearning for Spain lead us by accident to the wonderful Santiago Tapas restaurant and bar: a place I would recommend to all. And in my recent experience, those places you find quite by accident are often some of the best times you will have, creating memories to treasure.

Buen apetito!

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