Born by Tapavino review

Paprika cones with mackerel brandada are a cute, not-so-traditional tapas idea that works at Born by Tapavino.
Paprika cones with mackerel brandada are a cute, not-so-traditional tapas idea that works at Born by Tapavino. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Barangaroo Avenue Barangaroo, NSW 2000

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Features Licensed, Accepts bookings, Groups, Events, Bar
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 8072 7387

The all-Spanish wine list at Born by Tapavino is not so much a directory of bottles as a 42-page instruction manual. As at the original Tapavino in The Rocks and Balcon by Tapavino in the city, owner Frank Dilernia and team want you to drink, eat and learn.

They've made it user-friendly by describing every vermouth, sherry and wine with an array of emojis that denote grape variety, sweetness, dryness, age and other things such as barrel-ageing.

That may sound like dumbing down, but unless you already know your tempranillo from your amontillado, it's more of a smarting up. And with heaps of wines offered by the 150ml glass, 375ml or 500ml carafe, as well as by the bottle, it's all fantastically helpful.

There's an 'instant bodega vibe' at Tapavino's third venue.
There's an 'instant bodega vibe' at Tapavino's third venue. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Executive chef Renee Anderson's menu doesn't require the same level of assistance. Any fool can order croquettes del dia, fino-cured salmon, steamed mussels with chickpeas and pork hock or a platter of jamon.

The 18-month aged jamon Iberico ($36 for 100 grams) is one of the exxiest dishes on the menu, and worth it. The ribboned fat is creamy and silky, almost rendering on the plate in the last rays of the setting sun. With a full pour of spicy, bittersweet Primitivo Quiles vermouth rojo ($12) from the oldest bodega in Alicante, it tastes like an older, wiser, nuttier prosciutto.

And here's another great match: a simple pintxo of fleshy anchovies skewered with soft green olives and tangy guindilla peppers ($6) and a briny Equipo Navazos "I Think" manzanilla ($12). Boom and boom. 

Ribbons of Iberico jamon are pricey, but worth it.
Ribbons of Iberico jamon are pricey, but worth it. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Not everything is as traditional. Cute, crisp, little paprika cones hold creamy mackerel brandada topped with trout roe ($7), and manchego churros – an idea that could have gone either way but lands on delicious – sees four mini extruded pastries filled with melting manchego and topped with a crumble of chorizo ($12).

Wine cages, a walk-in cellar and dramatically striated dark timbers make for an instant bodega vibe inside, with as many seats outside on the terrace. It's loud and a bit rough-and-tumble, with smartly dressed staff as eager as puppies, couples up at the bar drinking beer and tables from the office letting off steam over sangria. 

I can't get excited about a bland pan con tomate ($8), nor slightly pasty red claw yabbies ($28), or an underwhelming bocadillo of fried calamari ($10) that's more bread than seafood.

Go-to dish: Blue-eye trevalla with almejas (clams) and vermut bianco.
Go-to dish: Blue-eye trevalla with almejas (clams) and vermut bianco. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

But the combination of a fresh and green-fruity Torques do Vento Baixas Albarino ($13 a glass) and a racion-sized serving of blue-eye trevalla with four big clams ($35) is an instant hit, the fish bathed in a gorgeously buttery, sweetly scented, lightly alcoholic, parsley-studded vermouth sauce that won't be forgotten in a hurry.

Desserts are smart little riffs on tradition, so mil hojas ("thousand leaves") comes as less of a vanilla slice and more of crunchy caramelised pastry disc topping a disc of creamy nougat parfait ($15), spiked with the sour tang of a morello cherry sauce.

It's all nice, easy, casual food that fits the waterside setting, although a few too many of the rich sauces, cheeses, pastries and breads might slow you down somewhat. Heigh-ho, all the more need for the clarity and cut-through of a glass of something Spanish.


Best bit: The ruthlessly Spanish wine list.
Worst bit: The noisy Barangaroo building works.

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.

Go-to Dish: Blue-eye with almejas (clams) and vermut bianco, $35.