What: The Depot on Beaumont
Where: Beaumont Street, Hamilton
Prices: Tapas, $3 to $13.50; mains, $25.90 to $37.90; desserts, $10.50 to $12.90
Chef: Shane Brunt
Wines: 11 by the glass; good selection of mainly Hunter, with other Australian and NZ wines, listed by variety
Hours: 11.30 until late, Wednesday to Saturday
Bottom line: Around $70 for two without drinks, depending on what is ordered
When an established brand opens in another location it must be because they are doing something right. The Depot on Darby now has a sister eatery in Hamilton, The Depot on Beaumont.
It’s a brave undertaking to occupy this former Masonic lodge building, but an indication of how well the bar-cum-shared plate, convivial style of eating has taken off in this town.
In true tapas-bar spirit, tapas are only available after 5pm. But don’t be disappointed if you come for lunch. The Spanish tasting plate ($22.90) gives a Noah’s Ark (two by two) selection from the tapas menu; manchego croquetas, salt and pepper squid, warm Hunter olives, pork and morcilla meatballs in a chipotle sauce; and excellent sourdough toasts. There is also a good selection of sandwiches, pasta and salads including a marinated Thai beef salad (18.90). Thinly sliced, pinkly rare beef fillet, infused with coriander, lime and chilli and seasoned with fish sauce, rests on a refreshing melange of green pawpaw, bean shoots, mint, basil and coriander leaves. Abundant cashews provide a nice texture contrast.
Tapas must be made to order; food laws here forbid the huge counter displays you’ll find in Northern Spain. They can double as entrees, or they can be the basis for a do-it-yourself degustation, allowing a small group to work its way through the full selection, with a couple of larger dishes thrown in.
Smaller plates include warm, slightly spicy Hunter olives spiked with cloves of garlic ($4.80), and a mixture of wild mushrooms; earthy flavours to rouse the taste buds.
Crab and sweet corn are found in Chinese restaurants as soup, so it shouldn’t be surprising to find sweet corn puree as an interesting alternative to the usual aioli with the soft shell tempura crab ($13.50). I have a vision of moulting crabs being pursued by determined hunters but can’t resist ordering this dish. Tonight the sweet flesh comes covered in a thin coating of crisp batter. A wedge of lime adds some punch.
Chilli and herb-flecked rice cushions the pork and morcilla (blood sausage) meatballs. The coarsely minced meat is redolent with garlic and herbs and bathed in a vibrant red chipotle sauce, flecked with chopped parsley.
Fire-tinged roasted cherry tomatoes with deep-fried basil and balsamic vinegar get a texture boost from toasted pine nuts, and along with a dish of patatas bravas ($9.90) with tomato relish make a fine accompaniment to the main dish. Unfortunately the American-style ribs with barbecue marinade lack the expected caramelised coating, but finely diced red onion and charred pineapple cubes in the relish provide some compensation.
The pick of desserts must be the panna cotta with rose granita and poached peach in rose water syrup ($12.90). White chocolate makes the panna cotta a little firmer than I like, but it sits prettily between a shot glass of refreshing rose water ice and a perfectly poached peach. A scattering of tiny rose petals references dominant flavours.
Tonight the service is enthusiastic but a bit unco-ordinated. It’s early days, so I am sure it won’t be long before the service is as polished as the food.