305 Cleveland St Redfern, NSW 2016
|Opening hours||Sat-Sun from noon; Wed-Fri from 5pm|
An evening at La Salut starts, as it would in Barcelona, with a glass of vermouth. It's a bridging drink, taking you from outside to inside, day to night, hungry to fed.
Here, it comes poured over ice, with three anchovy-stuffed olives and a little bottle of sparkling water. Try the Partida Creus MUZ ($12), a richly ruby-coloured organic vermouth that fuses red and white wines with herbs, citrus and botanicals to create something refreshing and juicy.
Pair it with a salty cracker topped with manchego custard, tomato and a single curl of fat Angelachu Cantabrian anchovy ($7), and you're off and running.
La Salut, named for the lively barrio of La Salut in Barcelona, completes a European triumvirate for the Love Tilly Group, with their Frenchy Dear Sainte Eloise and Italian ventures Ragazzi and Fabbrica food store.
With the entrepreneurial hospo group The People upgrading the Norfolk into a hotel and rooms, the opportunity came to tapas-dance into what was the corner Sports Bar.
It's unrecognisable, cleaned up by interior architect Sarah Watt and clad in golden tiles, with dark wood chairs around handsome, lozenge-shaped tables and stools up against the central bar and windows. The side entrance opens into the group's adjoining wine store Bottles.Sydney.
The kitchen is tiny. So tiny that Ragazzi and Fabbrica chef Scott McComas-Williams does exactly what they would do in Barcelona, and opens a few cans, jars and packets of potato crisps.
I know what you're thinking. If I'm going to eat out of cans, I may as well stay home. But having worked in restaurants and tapas bars in Catalonia, and with Frank Camorra at MoVida for seven years, McComas-Williams is very aware of the fine tradition of Spanish conservas, or preserves.
The menu leans heavily upon them, supported by some simple on-the-spot cooking, and clever baking from Aniruddha Bhosekar of Fabbrica.
So canned mussels are strewn with pickled guindilla peppers and sent out with paprika-dusted Pafritas chips from Navarette in La Rioja ($13) as a very vermut-friendly opener. The official chips of the Spanish football team, they're hard, crisp and salty, hand-cut and fried in virgin olive oil. Shower them with Fabbrica hot sauce, because it's damn good – sharp and strident without burning your head off.
Drinks go from crisp, hoppy Moritz lager ($9) to a lively, citrusy 2018 Bodegas Albamar Albarino from Galicia ($17/$77), with good advice from manager Alexander Borys and sommelier Max Gurtler.
Actually, the food is better when it's cooked, not canned. Pinchos skewers of charred hanger steak and chicken liver on a bed of buttery Andean Sunrise potato puree are unforgettably lush.
Quail ($12 half) is brined for tenderness and deep-fried for crispness, rather like eating a crusty schnitzel on the bone. Some mildly annoying morcilla crumbs add crunch, and padron peppers bring a surprising amount of heat (it's usually one in ten that's hot, not one in one).
An excellent butifarra pork sausage ($30) is sliced and tossed through a mix of canned beans, from baby broad beans to fabada (alubias) and their long-time companions, canned clams.
The best thing you can possibly order at Bar La Salut, however, is a platter of jamon. There's the everyday jamon serrano ($18) and top-drawer jamon Iberico from the haunches of the acorn-snuffling Iberican pig ($48), but my money's on the paletilla Iberico ($28) from the shoulder.
The meat is darker, deeper and softer, perfect for piling onto the ciabatta-style sourdough, pan de cristal.
Most of our tapas joints end up acting like restaurants, so this feels good, and right, to have one that has the spirit of a neighbourhood bar.
It's a great place to settle in over small plates of simple but actually very sophisticated food, and chat, sip, nibble and sip again – just as they would in Barcelona.
Drinks Spanish-focused natural wines, vermut, cava and pet nats from a team that has pushed minimal-intervention from day one.
Vegetarian A few options available.
Pro tip Stock up on natural wines, beers and canned mussels from the bottleshop next door.