Searching down the sun in North London – Bar Esteban, Crouch End N8

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I think I have to finally admit defeat and dig out the big old coats now October has blown in. After a lot of work and not much time to play since I got back from Mallorca (well ok there was the Jozie Lovestar exhibition launch at Sanctum Hotel, leading to the obligatory wild night out with Finns and New Yorkers buuut…) the last Sunday of September’s warm sunny weather prompted the pet Finn to suggest a walk to Crouch End. The disused railway line has been turned into a relaxing stroll across north London, where skaters and graffiti artists mix with tweedy dog walkers and Lycra clad fitness enthusiasts. An of course the start of the autumn crunchy leaves!

 

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After reaching Crouch end and a pint in the Railway Tavern we started thinking about something to eat, neither of us fancied the idea of a stodgy Sunday dinner and the sun and the cider had left me feeling quite relaxed. We thought about visiting Heirloom where we had a great meal with a Yorkshire Fettle cheese and seasonal vegetable salad, and hake which has to be one of my favourite fish, but weren’t sure we were feeling committed to a full sit down dinner.

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Next door to Heirloom is Bar Esteban, a tapas bar which I’ve been hearing good things about. We took 2 seats at the bar and ordered a carafe of probably the cheapest red. No shame in ordering a cheaper/house wine, unless you have a specific wine in mind to eat with your meal, which we didn’t, then the “house” should be versatile enough to fit with dishes across the menu, if it is naff, there is a good chance the restaurant will be too. Anyway the wine was good and the server looking after us had great knowledge of the menu and quickly annotated ours with things that were gluten free or that could be adapted to my needs. As our sights were set firmly to snack I ordered the cheeseboard, a mixed leaf salad and some olives.

 

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The olives were big and fat, marinated in chili, garlic and lemon. Very moreish and quickly disappeared… maybe a sign that we were hungrier than we thought? The cheeseboard comprised of a trio of Spanish sheep and goat milk cheeses; Manchego, Payoyo and Sudao, accompanied by quince jam, and some out of bounds to me bread crisps, made with their in-house baked bread that the pet Finn wolfed down and reported to be very good. The cheeses were all excellent with enough character to stand out against each other, the Payoyo being the sharper of the two goat cheeses, and the Sudao having a softer taste, the Manchego was slightly crumbly and salty-sweet, all paired well with the quince. I had the mixed leaves which worked well to cleanse the palate between cheeses, and I loved the presentation, arriving looking like a bushy little pot plant, simply super fresh, well dressed leaves.

 

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When I had skimmed through the menu, I had spotted an octopus dish and was torn about sticking to plan and ordering snacks, but had decided to be “good”. But then everything we’d had was good and well, since coming back from Spain I have been missing a bit of sunshine on my plate so I thought sod it… and ordered the octopus anyway. I’m really glad I did. It was heavenly, perfectly cooked, on bright, both in colour and flavour, pea purée, dotted with tarragon. Just really good.

 

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We also tried a few different drinks, I had an El Comandante cocktail, made with Havana Club anejo rum, fresh lime juice and honey, a tried and tested flavour combination but good nonetheless! The pet Finn had an espresso which came beautifully made. We checked out the liqueurs and got excited to see Hierbas de Mallorca on the menu, but it had sadly run out and not been delivered again yet. This pushed us to try out the trio of Galician “grappas”. All were seriously good! The chocolate one definitely deserves the “better than Baileys” mantle, and the original and herb flavoured versions were a good mix of smoothness and fire.

 

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Grappa is also the magic drink when your walk home is largely an uphill struggle. I can’t wait for my next chance to roll down the hill for another visit. Checking their website, their head chef’s background in Spain, and at Barrafina, Moro and Morito becomes evident, as does his love of seafood in the way that the octopus was perfectly prepared, the powerful but delicate seasoning, and the awesome quality of the products on offer.

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The winning point, looking up at the wall and seeing a Sartre reference to one of my favourite plays Huis Clos. I am so happy to have found somewhere a walking distance from my house that has enough sunshine to keep be going through the winter, and which feels like a decidedly North London take on Buscando El Norte’s modern tapas. I think I just found a new local. Just praying that they have restocked their Hierbas de Mallorca in time for our next visit!

 

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