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The Sunday Times/Harden's cheap eats, Sunday 15.11.15
Mar i Terra is the antithesis of a chain and proud of it. Owner Lee Hulbert's family are part Spanish and he runs the restaurant with his stepfather. The lamb is succulent, chicken livers delicious, and peppers tangy yet sweet. It is a mark of quality that the hubbub of lively conversation is as often Spanish as it is English.
'A very unpretentious, friendly and reliable place, praised for its "authentic" if "basic" tapas and other dishes.
Locals come back for octopus with paprika and salt.
Matthew Fort- THE GUARDIAN April 24th 2004
Eating Out - Matthew Fort
'You are a hoot,' said Philbrick. 'Two lunches Fort.'
You are a hoot?! I had not heard that expression in, what, 30 years. What kind of hoot was I? The hoot of an owl? The hoot of a ship? The hoot of a car horn? Given Philbrick's passion for them, probably the latter. And all because I suggested that we might have a light pre-lunch at Refettorio, Giorgio Locatelli's latest gastro-excursion, before lunch proper at Mar i Terra. So we did, for a plate of salami, bread and a glass of Prosecco - nothing more than a light snack. I will come back to Refettorio at a later date when I have given it a more searching investigation.
I had suggested it because Philbrick had said that Mar i Terra was close to Blackfriars, where you'll find Refettorio. It seems that Blackfriars may cover a larger area than I had previously thought, because we finally found it on the corner of Gambia Street, SE1, on of the most obscure, derelict streets I have ever been down in London. No matter that the street was obscure and derelict, and Mar i Terra was a small, spit-and-sawdust tapas bar, basic in its wooden floor, deal tables and chairs with walls covered in pretty-as-a-picture images of Spanish tourist spots, it was awash with as cheery a crowd of lunchers as I have bumped into in some time. In my experience, a restaurant, even a tapas bar, does not attract that kind of following by accident. It doesn't mean necessarily that the food is good, but it does mean that the whole set-up offers a kind of fun gratification that other places struggle to come up with.
As it happens, the food is pretty good. Tapas does not call for a high level of technical ooo-ah, but it does call for decent ingredients, sound technique and a substantial through-put, so the colour and freshness of the dishes don't go dull and stale. So, after a copita of light, crisp manzanilla (La Goya Hidalgo, for the curious) and bowls of olives and salted marcona almonds, we set about pan con ajo (toasted bread with garlic), espinacas a la catalana (spinach sauteed with pinenuts and raisins), jamon de Teruel (Spanish mountain ham), higadillos de pollo (chicken livers with vinegar), pulpo a la feria (octopus pieces with paprika, olive oil and sea salt), boquerones (fresh anchovies from Cantabria with olive oil and wine vinegar) and chipirones en su tinta (baby squid in a sauce incorporating white wine, garlic and their own ink). And because food encourages these things, we also had a bottle of a full, lively white wine called Guitan. None of these dishes was exactly a novelty turn. They're mainstream tapas, but they were tightly done. The bread was good; the chicken livers were nicely pink inside, glossy with a sweet/sour vinegar; the octopus was as tender as a baby's bottom; the anchovies brisk and assertive; the ham lingered on the front and back palate; and the baby squid were stuffed with their own tentacles and bathed in their ink, which is redolent of the marine depths. It was good stuff, just right for lunch. Just right for a second lunch, come to that.
We paid £100.10, which may seem a lot for tapas, but subtract non-food items and we were left with £53.50 and feeling mighty full. If we had not been devoted to carrying out our researches with such scientific rigour, we might have got away with less. But then, on the other hand, scientific rigour is scientific rigour.
Susan Low - TIME OUT LONDON February 19-26 2003
Time Out visits restaurants and bars anonymously and pays for meals.
The newest branch of this burgeoning tapas mini-chain comes blissfully free of the usual tapas-bar clichés. The interior is understatedly contemporary; o permanent loop of the Gypsy Kings wails in the background; there are no lurid posters of bullfights; and the 'ping' of the microwave doesn't precede each dish's appearance at the table. Still, Mar i Terra isn't exactly what you'd find in Spain. Spanish cuisine is resolutely regional.
At Mar i Terra, the menu allows you to graze on dishes from the length and breadth of the country, from Galician-style pork with hot paprika (£5.95), to Catalan grilled vegetable salad (£4) to fabada, the hearty bean stew of Asturias in the north (£4.50). There are also tapas staples such as tortilla, albondigas (meatballs) and patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy sauce).
We chose a couple of daily specials - cod, spinach and tomato paella (£5) and fabada, rounded out with Teruel cured Spanish ham from Aragon (£6), anchovies with oil and vinegar (£4.75) and pimientos de padrón, tiny green peppers from Galicia with a gently spicy bite (£6.50).
With one exception, the dishes were a delight, made with fresh, top quality ingredients. Only the fabada, seemingly made with pork skin, cartilage and bone rather than meat, disappointed. For afters, three Spanish cheeses (£6) were served with quince paste and a Moorish - style torte of almonds and figs.
The drinks list is short but wellchosen, with an obvious eye to matching the food. There are also three good sherries, several fine Spanish brandies and Spanish speciality drinks such as pacharan (made from sloes macerated in anisette) and ponche (made with oranges, sherry and brandy) not normally found in London.
'A Marvellous hidey-hole for skivers, skulkers, lovers'
Jan Moir - Saturday, August 3, 2002 - The Telegraph Weekend.
It is a hot, hot, hot afternoon with the City shimmering in a blue haze across the river and a strange, thick silence muffling the capital. People plod around the streets, drooping like dead tulips, yearning for a cool breeze, a glass of water, even a bit of rain. For this is the way of the British in summer; we complain about the grotty weather for weeks on end and then, when the temperature does shoot up for a few measly days, we moan that it's too darned hot.
But you know what? It is hot today; the kind of sizzler when it's very tempting to skip off work, sit in the shade with a jug of sangria or a crisp glass of wine and feast on delicious titbits all afternoon. It is, I have to say, the perfect kind of day for tapas and a skive in a sweet little bolthole where no one can find you. Somewhere that's open all afternoon. Somewhere with a garden. Somewhere secret. Somewhere I'm going to take you right now.
Mar I Terra stands alone amid a large expanse of building site and a tangle of railway lines just South of the Thames in Southwark. With its cream-painted exterior looming brightly on the urban horizon, this former pub looks like a nicely polished tooth in a particularly gappy smile.
The fact that all the doors and windows are flung open today does not adulterate the unmistakable and lovely smell of Spain that seems to seep out of the walls here: a sunny aroma of wine, orange peel, cigarettes and garlic. It is a plain and simple place; a wooden bar and tables downstairs, a restaurant upstairs, a little courtyard in the back with cream umbrellas and leafy foliage providing pools of shade.
The clatter of trains thundering towards Blackfriars on the nearby track renders all conversation inaudible now and again but I find this oddly charming rather than irritating in any way. Sitting out here in the sunshine, munching on marcona almonds tossed in olive oil and sea salt and wondering if I should have a copita of manzanilla as an aperitif while the 2.10 from Brighton rattles past, is the kind of multicultural experience at which London casually excels. Perversely, though it remains devilishly difficult to find a good Spanish restaurant there.
Upstairs Dining Room And Mar I Terra is good, with its carefully made tapas, interesting wine list and exuberant approach to drinks. Apart from the sherries, there are also cocktails- whatever you want, they'll make it if they have the fixings- freshly pressed juices for the temperate and jugs of sangria or agua de Valencia at £15 a pitcher for everyone else. There is also café carajillo, an after-dinner pick-me-up comprising an espresso flamed with brandy and served with a curl of lemon zest- all very hospitable and fun.
Did I mention that it is hot today? Too hot to order anything but the lightest of young wines, a Vina Costeria 2001 that is apply and fresh and perfect for sipping in the sun. now. The menu, which is split into vegetable, meat and fish selections, includes interesting choices such as chicken livers cooked in vinegar and tiny, sweet green peppers from Galicia blasted in oil and served with fresh salmon.
All the old favourites are also present and correct- Spanish omelette, patatas bravas, ham croquetas - but we can't have any sardines a la plancha because the engineer has just arrived to fix the chef's grill. That is a shame, particularly because they serve them the traditional and best way: simply griddled and dressed with oil, garlic and parsley.
Never mind; we have a plate of tasty octopus that has been tenderised by a careful hand, then nicely boiled and served with a dusting of cayenne pepper and a sprinkling of rock salt. Juicy piquillo peppers have been wood-roasted, charred and peeled then generously stuffed with crabmeat and showered with sliced spring onions.
An earthenware bowl is piled high with fresh spinach that has been cooked in the Catalan style: sautéed with toasted pine nuts and raisins in olive oil. Good thick slices of chorizo have been cooked in red wine and are slightly crusty and charred at the edges- just the way I like them.
All the ingredients are of good quality and all have been prepared and served with care and knowledge. There are lots of nice, cheffy touches that suggest there is someone in the kitchen that cares. Too often tapas in British restaurants- and even in some Spanish ones- are cheap piles of microwaved rubble that are slung out of the hatch and expected to do no more than soak up the booze. It has given the very concept of a tapas bar and the tapas themselves a bad reputation, which is a pity.
When they are nicely done- as they are here- it is a very pleasant way to while away an evening or an afternoon and while the food itself is not particularly elegant or refined, sometimes the hot, robust flavours of Spain will satisfy a summer appetite like no other cuisine.
Even if Mar I Terra's fresh Cantabrian anchovies are those bog-standard boquerones served in every Spanish eatery in town- they are filleted, packed in oil and garlic and flown over here by the tonne, it seems - you can't help but enjoy their savoury intensity.
Also noteworthy is the ensalada terra, a salad of wild rocket leaves and blades of crisp chicory, mixed with a few wafers of cheese and dressed with sherry vinegar- very good indeed.
After this, a cheese plate. No, I don't know why either. I think I've gone mad in the heat. Cheese is not exactly what your body craves when it's 90 in the shade, but you have to know that the aged manchego- that popped up in the salad earlier- has a deep and nutty flavour and an intriguingly hot aftertaste. An oblong of jewel-coloured quince jelly shimmering alongside and a slice of damp, dense fig and walnut cake are winning accompaniments.
For most of the afternoon, our only two fellow diners out in the garden were two quiet chaps from the City, having a serious but pleasant meeting over their grilled vegetable salads and cumin-spiced meatballs. Even most of Mar I Terra's regulars don't know it's there. Yet rain or shine, it is a marvellous little hidey-hole for skivers, skulkers, lovers, mistresses, absconders and me.