Barrio 2304: Tapping into Spanish vibe

TRY THIS: The Spanish meatballs. Picture: Dean Osland
TRY THIS: The Spanish meatballs. Picture: Dean Osland

What: Barrio 2304.

Where: 45 Maitland Road, Mayfield; (02) 49677374.

Owner: Andrew Cavanagh.

Drinks: Fully licensed. By the glass $4-$8, 14, or by the bottle $18-$38. Selection of cocktails, beers and sherries.

Hours: Tues-Sat 6pm till late. Bookings essential.

Vegetarian: Yes.

Bottom line: Tapas $60 for two (excluding drinks) 

Wheelchair access: Yes (some stairs at entrance).

Do try: Algerian eggplant, pan-fried kingfish, with a bottle of Damm Inedit beer (if available).

IT'S been open for a while now, but Barrio 2304, in Mayfield, is still probably the best tapas in town.

SPANISH HIDEAWAY: Barrio. Picture: Dean Osland

SPANISH HIDEAWAY: Barrio. Picture: Dean Osland

On a typical warm summer evening in Newcastle, the setting sun's rays shine softly on the back wall, where a silhouetted painting of a bull and a bright yellow sun conjure up memories of Spain, even if you've never been.

Mayfield's own Spanish hideaway is made all the more authentic by the bright sights of wild flames and pleasant smells coming from the kitchen, enticing you to enter and sit down.

The space hums with calm, happy chatter as one of the friendly wait staff places a bottle of tap water and two small glasses on our table and asks my friend and I if we're ready to order. Given the temperature outside, we order two beers - Estrella Damm Inedit - a Spanish beer from Barcelona that was apparently brewed specifically to accompany food. We aren't disappointed.

The menu is scribbled in chalk on a long blackboard above the kitchen, and is ever changing. As such, it may not be exactly the same when you go there as it was for my dining associate and I. Tonight, however, we ordered Algerian eggplant (on a recommendation by the staff), pan-fried kingfish, and Spanish meatballs.

The Algerian eggplant was the curtain raiser, and a definite highlight of the night. It consists of eggplant with jam, labna (a cheese-like spread made from yoghurt) and pine nuts, served with grilled toast. The smoky flavours of the toast play bass lines underneath the sweetly spiced melody of the eggplant and jam. Each ingredient is in perfect balance and harmony. The cool taste of the labna with the warmth of the eggplant offers a pleasant textural contrast within the dish.

Picture: Dean Osland

Picture: Dean Osland

Next was the pan-fried kingfish, served with a wasabi and green pea puree. A playful dish that surprised us both with its elegance and simplicity. The kingfish had been lightly dusted with salt and pepper and cooked in butter, resulting in tiny, white fleshy morsels of more-ishness that were helped along by the creamy textures and delicate warmth of the puree. Simple flavours, finely balanced, sincere and delicious.

Last in line came the Spanish meatballs. Tiny globes of beef rolled with feta, thyme and parsley, and a few muted spices, all bathing in a rich tomato sauce. Again, simplicity is the key in this dish as each soft meatball happily melts in your mouth, releasing a surge of satisfying and delicious flavours.

Despite their small appearance, each dish goes a long way, as my dining associate and I were both satisfactorily sated after each dish was removed. We did, however, leave a small amount of room for dessert.

Picked from the floating specials board, we shared a serving of creme catalan, otherwise known as Spanish creme brulee. Burnished orange toffee cracks like thin sheets of ice revealing a gooey pale yellow cloud of creaminess that tastes of cardamom and nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar.

Picture: Dean Osland

Picture: Dean Osland

The toffee appropriately got stuck in my teeth, and that makes me happy.

For some reason, it seems Barrio 2304 is still a secret for many Novocastrians, but I'm pretty certain that this quiet achiever and its many diners each night like it that way.