Sampling tapas at La Parrilla

Ye-Gon: Natalia and I are sitting inside La Parrilla, arguably the crown jewel of the Skycity Co-Op. There’s an acoustic guitar rendition of Summertime crooning through the speakers, and the glass of tempranillo in my hand fills the air with aromas of cherry and almond. The wine relaxes with every sip, as does the décor which is best described as a tapestry inspired by the colours of Spain. And as the food arrives one by one, I prepare myself for the oh-so-tedious burden of tasting delicious food and living to tell the tale.

Tapas-style dining isn’t something that’s very common in the English-speaking countries, but it’s beginning to attract some well-deserved attention, thanks locally to places like Mexico, Ember, and the immortal Gothenburg. To me personally, banchan is literally what I grew up eating every day, and I still love the idea of being able to share every element of your food with your friends, family, friend’s family, mutual acquaintances, whoever else you might be sharing your table with, along with plenty of sangria/soju to go around.

$60 for a omakase-style tapas dinner for two is a pretty darn good deal, considering that a Lizzie and a Kate won’t buy half the mains on most restaurant menus these days. We were presented with goat’s cheese fritters, croquetas, calamares, piquillo, pork belly, and the corn puree. There are some more classic/clichéd items on the menu such as patatas bravas or albóndigas, but I appreciate that they didn’t only stick to the textbook examples. There’s nothing to be said about the presentation other than that it’s impeccable. It’s a feast for the eyes before anything else, with the dishes laid out and battling for the attention.

I decide to go for the crumbed chèvre as my first bite, and it’s a bold choice by design to layer the flavours with so many types of sweet, from the pizzicato hits of the candied nuts to the low drone of the citrus-infused honey. It somehow works, and it brings out the creamy, nutty, sour, slightly grassy notes of the cheese well.

The star of the evening for me, though, is the grilled corn, prepared puréed and served in a manchego basket. It captures the essence of the corn – the sweetness, the bite of its toasted skin – and elevates it in every way possible. This is peasant food, fit for a king, and it’s one of those unassuming, yet unforgettable dishes.

What else is to say about the food? From the texture, I assume the pork belly is braised then quick-fried for some colour and crisp. It’s a little too sweet a composition, but all in all it’s another winner. Croquettes are breaded in panko and the smooth, almost runny filling is a nice contrast to the sharp aioli it’s served on. The piquillo peppers have a nice texture and smokiness, and the liquor it’s served in does a decent job of keeping the flavour all together. The only disappointment for me was the calamares; squid is all about the texture, which they nailed, but the taste needs something big and bold to hold it up and give it some oomph. The chorizos go some way to impart a hint of garlic and paprika, but it’s a far cry from the spice explosion I hoped and expected for the dish.

It’s probably worth noting that La Parrilla has a large grill menu to order from as well. I kept my eyes on the prize, but there’s plenty there to please the carnivores as well. And as the meal comes to a close, I’m left wondering, “how come this is the first time I’ve visited here?” I mean, there are many a restaurants yet unexplored by many; heck, that’s one of the whole point of this blog. But looking at the number of diners that were seated in the house, I’d hazard a guess that that’s going to be a resonating thought for a lot of people. It’s not hugely helpful that its entrance is through the lobby of the casino building, and I’m not sure if the logo and the branding is all that inviting or informative as to the treasures that are tucked within. At the end of the day, maybe people just aren’t all that adventurous. All I can hope for is that this goes some way to allay some of those fears; there’s food, then there’s an experience. Guess which one I think this place serves up.

La Parrilla is located inside Skycity Hamilton on 346 Victoria Street in the CBD. They’re open Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm till late.

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