A taste of Spain ... Tapavino bar and restaurant. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
Need a holiday in Spain? Here's a cheaper alternative.
If this little laneway gem doesn't have you feeling as though you're kicking back in the cobblestoned, sangria-soaked alleyways of Madrid or Barcelona, then you need another sherry.
Tapavino nails the Spanish tapas-wine-sherry bar model. Maybe it's the laneway location, maybe it's the deep-red light soaking the smart, simple space, or perhaps it's the endless pages of Spanish wines and tapas.
This little bolt-hole has been doing a roaring trade in the usually bland city streets around Circular Quay. There's a beautiful warm vibe as you step inside and take a seat among floor-to-ceiling wine bottles and suited-up waiters buzzing around with great purpose.
''Mum's Spanish and dad's Italian, but I definitely grew up as a Spaniard,'' says the owner and former Buzo and Wine Library whiz, Frank Dilernia, of the bar's obvious inspiration.
My companion and I perch ourselves on stools at the bar and order drinks straight away - a Jerez Sour (amontillado jerez, amaretto, lemon, sugar, $16) for me and a smooth-as-velvet 2007 Arnegui Crianza tempranillo ($14) for my hombre.
The wine list is overwhelming, with dozens of pages of mostly Spanish drops, and the knowledgeable bar staff will dig out some darned spectacular ones, let you try them and, once you've finished, give you a splash more if you can't drink a whole glass. That's Spanish hospitality for you.
Then there is the jerez, or Spanish sherry. My tart Jerez Sour - one of about a dozen aperitif-like cocktails and sangrias - is brought to life perfectly by its sugary rim. Or there's a mind-boggling list of jerez on its own, either dry to go with savoury food or a sweet, silky one for dessert.
Apparently, sipping the stuff is a Spanish pastime. We wade through the list of 30 types - fino, manzanilla, amontillado, vintages of 1964, 1985 and so on - while the out-of-towner next to us proclaims his sherry (a dark and oily 30-year-old Noe Pedro Ximenez, $22) to be the best he's had.
We run the gamut from a pale, dry Croft Original ($7) to an intensely dark and rich 1982 vintage Anada Palo Cortado ($28).
There is plenty to learn about the sherry; just ask the bald man behind the bar, Dilernia says with a laugh.
The food is up and down. There is a stunning selection of cured meats, including a board stacked with thin, glossy slices of the famous acorn-fed pata negra jamon ($27).
Tapas range from kingfish ceviche to crispy crab tostadas, wagyu rump, olive-laden chorizo and a great salty-chocolate terrine. All are a decent size and geared towards the Dilernia philosophy of ''sip a little bit of this and eat a little bit of that''.
Lamb shoulder with pomegranate and yoghurt ($20) is deliciously crispy and fatty, but the goat's cheese and walnuts in vine leaves a la plancha ($14) is greasy and thick rather than a tangy, nutty delicacy.
However, a bit of heavy cheese doesn't detract from a pretty flawless night. Tapavino suits the business district well with its simple, classy style and excellent list of wines and sherry. It's not a grungy Newtown bar or a hip Surry Hills hangout. It's easy, tasty and a little bit sexy. Just like the perfect Spaniard.
Address 6-8 Bulletin Place, city, 9247 3221
Open Mon-Fri, 11am-11.30pm
You'll love it if … you're downtown and want a good bite and drink.
You'll hate it if … you're on a shoestring budget.
Go for … a huge range of sherries, pata negra jamon, a Jerez Sour.
It'll cost you … sherry by the glass $7-$33, wine by the glass $7-$14, cocktails $11-$24, tapas $4-$27.
- (02) 9247 3221
- Opening Hours - Monday-Friday 11am-11.30pm.
- Author - Rachel Olding