Thursday, 9 January 2014

Ole Spanish Restaurant - did my chorizo obsession get the better of me?

When you feel like something tasty, I mean really full of flavour, it's hard to go past Spanish cuisine.  I have to admit to a bit of an obsession with chorizo, for me it's the king of sausage and the king of flavour.  I'd had a little taste of chorizo with my breakfast (see post here) and found that it had whet my appetite for more, much more.  We wondered where we could go so I could get another hit of that sweet sweet chorizo, it obviously had to be a Spanish restaurant, but where? 

It came to me in a flash, we've walked past one of the larger and more popular Spanish dining spots so often, it had faded into the background a little bit.  Ole Restaurant seems to be the most popular dining spots over at Little Grey Street at Southbank and it seems to be packed at any time of the day or night.  I've thought about going there a lot and when I suggested Ole to SC, she seemed pretty interested and reminded me that she had been there before and had really enjoyed it.  We had a plan, now it was time to execute it.

We would normally walk over to Southbank when heading over for dinner, especially on a weekend but we had a dilemma.   If you've been in Brisbane for the last week or so, you know that there was a massive bushfire over on Stradbroke Island and it had been creating havoc over Brisbane, in fact it had turned the CBD into a smoky haze.  There was no way that we would be over to walk over, especially with SC's asthma already playing up, it was definitely driving weather.

It's a very short drive from the CBD to Southbank and as we were driving over Victoria Street bridge, we were provided with a spectacular view of the setting sun over the west.  It was simply stunning, made all the prettier from the dreaded smoke haze that was hanging over the city and we really wanted get a photo but by the time SC had her phone out the sun had dipped behind the buildings of Melbourne Street.  After finding a park and walking over to Ole, we could really notice the smoke in the air and were glad that we'd made the decision not to walk, it would have been a disaster.

I'm often reminded that we eat like old people (that is early in the evening) when we rocked up to Ole and were confronted by a mostly empty restaurant.  This was great because it meant no waiting around and we could get our pick of seats, with the options of being a low table or a high table.  The high tables were share tables so we thought the low tables would be a better option.  We didn't have to wait for menus to be dropped off, big placemat sized menus were already in place for us, but we did arrange for a couple of glasses of water and a sangria for SC.  It was time to decide on how much chorizo we could order throughout the night.

The menu at Ole Spanish Restaurant is massive, both in size and options.  It's split into Tapas - individual pieces or small plates to share, available all day; Raciones - slightly more substantial plates to share, for lunch and dinner and Paella Para Dos - paella for two.  While the paella was tempting, there was one key reason that we were there for (well, SC had other ideas) and that was chorizo, so my eye not so subtly started to scan the menu for my favourite of Spanish foods.

I didn't get it all my own way though and the first dish out was from the tapas menu.   The queso frito - fried manchego with mojo picon was up first and it was quite amazing.  This was essentially deep fried manchego cheese with a capsicum based sauce.  For a tapas, it was really quite generous with four huge chunks of cheese, that to be honest was probably the best dish of the night.  The cheese was held together nicely and coated in a golden brown crust, which helped contain the gooey cheese after every bite.  The manchego is a sweet cheese and lends itself particularly well to being deep fried as it doesn't completely melt.  Yum

I sometimes focus so much on chorizo that I forget that there's a heap of Spanish cuisine that I love equally and the jamon iberico fits into that category.  The iberian ham was rich and nutty and again there was a heap of jamon on the plate.  While we really loved the salty and fatty ham, the bread that the ham was presented on was just a little stale.  The bread is a really important component when eating a rich and salty ham as it helps diffuse and balance out the flavour, so I can only imagine how great it would have been with a nice, fresh and crusty slice of bread.

After having a couple of delicious tapas to start off the first of our raciones arrived which was a serve of albondigas, beef and chorizo meat balls served with sourdough.  There were five really large meat balls in a traditional Spanish bowl with a couple of slices of cheese and some sourdough to mop up the tomato based sauce that came with the meat balls.  Five is a really awkward number for share dining and usually leads to someone being disappointed, but not so in this case.  SC really didn't care for the meat balls and found them to be really dense and hard on the palate.  Not so for me, I was actually quite happy with them and stuffed my face full of chorizo goodness until I decided I'd better save some space for some of the remaining courses.

The dishes were coming out thick and fast by now and while we still had most of the preceding dishes on the table when our next course of vieiras con calamares y chorizo - pan fried scallops with squid, chorizo and lemon was presented.  This was quite a pretty dish for a rustic Spanish meal and consisted of a much easier number to share, four large pan fried scallops in a bed of calamari and chorizo meat. The calamari was quite interesting with the dish, it was really thin and looked almost like pasta on the plate, a feeling which was enhanced with the red chorizo meat.  While it looked a little like an Italian pasta dish, it was all Spanish flavours!  The scallops were really well cooked with a great caramalisation and the combination of subtle fish flavours were not lost amongst the chorizo meat.  It was a great dish.

We were starting to fill up a bit by the time our last racione was presented.  The gambas con chorizo - local prawns, fried with garlic and chorizo was another pretty looking dish that had a generous helping of prawns and chorizo.  This time the chorizo was pan fried and cut up into little bits and then mixed in through a tomato salad.  The prawns were not huge but their lack in size was made up for the sheer number of them in the dish.  Again, the mix of seafood and chorizo worked really well, with the perfectly cooked prawns having a bit of a smoky flavour (and not from the bushfires) that worked really well with the smoky chorizo.  I was feeling quite full, so I gave the saffron rice that came along with the dish a miss, but SC mentioned that it was pretty good.

As full as we were from the surprisingly large plates of food, there was definitely room for dessert and SC had no hesitation in going for that most quintessential of Spanish desserts, the churros.  The three large churros came with a big pot of chocolate sauce, ripe for the dipping.  Ordinarily, churros are a little lighter that the churros from Ole and we weren't sure if there was a mix up of the batter or not, but they were quite heavy and dense.  The flavours were good, but there was just too much churro on the plate and even with my help, we could not get through all three.

My choice for dessert is also considered a classic Spanish dessert, but the crema catalana is so much like a French style creme brûlée, it can't really be considered quintessentially Spanish.  We'd not looked at the menu again when ordering desserts, so I was surprised when I cracked the perfect toffee glaze on top of the sweet custard to find chunks of figs mixed in.  At first I thought there was something wrong with the dessert, but then it all clicked when I paid close attention to the chunks on my spoon.  I can't say that I prefer my crema catalana's with chunks of fruit, it was a little off putting for me as I really just wanted that smooth cooked custard, although it was still very good.

We had watched the restaurant go from mostly empty to almost completely full in the space of an hour, which was pretty good considering it was a Sunday night and there was such a huge smoke haze around the city.  At some point in the night, we were not sure when, some dudes had set up and started playing some Spanish tunes on acoustic guitars, which really added that Spanish flavour to the night and enhanced the vibe.

Ole Spanish Restaurant is pretty large space and can cater for a heap of people.  It does remind me of the cafes and restaurants we visited when we went to Barcelona a few years ago.  Share dining is such a large part of the Spanish culture and the large share tables around the dining area really enhance the feeling that you could be in Spain.  

We had some amazing dishes at Ole, in particular the deep fried manchego cheese, but I fear that my obsession with chorizo had some impact on our meal.  I think I was too focussed on making sure there was chorizo in each of our main dishes that I missed out on some other great looking food.  In fact, if SC had not insisted on the manchego and the jamon, it would have been just a chorizo meal for me.  I'm sure we can head along again to check out some of the other delicacies on the menu, I'm sure I will be able to resist the lure of that sweet sweet chorizo, right?

It started off pretty quiet - notice there are no guitar dudes yet!
Ole brand extra virgin olive oil...
Food just kept coming out!
The dining area started to fill up pretty quickly.  I wonder if it was the music?
The dudes playing guitars
The kitchen hard at work - I really love tapas and Spanish food in general

Ole Restaurant on UrbanspoonOle Restaurant

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