Spanish tapa has come a long way from its original meaning: to cover. From the earliest inception – where a piece of cured meat covered a wine glass in Southern Spain – it has transformed into an international gastronomic delight. It’s not a new concept to Melbourne, being well established before the likes of Movida exploded onto the food scene. The dining experience of small dishes with wine is often a special occasion as cooking techniques and sophisticated plating go hand in hand. It’s harder to create tapas than one may first acknowledge.
Chato is the latest Spanish tapas restaurant to open on High Street, Thornbury. Not only a new gem for locals, but demonstrates strong fundamentals in offering an authentic Spanish experience. Since opening its doors in early July, Chato – which means ‘small glass of wine’ – has two shades to its operation. During the day it’s a vibrant and easy going café that offers unique breakfast and lunch options, then at night it transforms into an intimate and cosy dining that focuses on tapas.
Opening its doors in early July, the family-run venue of Maria and Jenny Echevarria-Lang has a strong focus and connection to local community. Not only extending its commitment to customers, but sources the majority of its required produce from small and Melbourne based businesses. Such commitment allows to showcases the talents of these produces and enabling to operate a sustainable kitchen. Coffee is source by Reservoir roaster Niccolo and fair trade organic teas from Melbourne-based tea trader Somage. On the meat side, Thornbury Meats provides all of its meat requirements and poultry is sourced from Poultry N More.
The Modern Con was invited on behalf of Zilla & Brook to sample and capture a true sense of Chato’s dinner menu. A combination of traditional and progressive tapas kicked the night off and set the tone for what was to come. Tapas included Moruno – Marinated lamb fillet shashlik char grilled, Flamenca – Tomato and chorizo ragu with egg and crispy serrano ham and Montadito de Sardinas – smoked sardines on charred bread, all had a scrumptious look about them and hard to really fault the execution or taste.
The brains and inspiration in the kitchen is Head Chef Maria Echevarria-Lang, a well-respected chef in the hospitality industry who brings an invaluable wealth of cooking experience. Having being chef and co-founder of Caffe e Cucina and doing stints at the established Ramblas and the busy Cafe Lorca in Centre Place, she is well prepare to cultivate an unique Spanish experience under the Chato name. Madrid is her birth place and while migrated to Australia at the age of four (her parents were persecuted due to the brutality of the Franco regime) she regularly travels back to capture unique food and culture elements of Spain’s regions.
Flamenca – Tomato and chorizo ragu with egg and crispy serrano ham
Sitting down and experiencing a number of the raciones menu items, it was hard not to be impressed by the quality and presentation of each dish. From the simplicity of the Pimientos de Piquillo – Piquillo peppers filled with creamed goat’s cheese to the ultimate comfort food of black pudding and baked pototoes Morcilla con patatas – Black pudding with potato cubes and sherry vinegar reduction; these stunning tapas played centre stage to the backdrop of the cozy decor features.
Each raciones was individual in its own right that beautifully dominant the palate in a diverse range of flavouring. For instance, the Pimiento de Piquillo had a sensational saltiness from the peppers that married well with the creamy texture of the goat cheese.
What really caught my eye and cemented my notion that Chato was not just another tapas restaurant were the Panthers – mousse of mussel and prawn with squid ink served in a mussel shell. On first glance the presentation gives the impression of baked mussels; however this dish has Maria’s own touch to a common Spanish dish called Tigers – stuffed mussels. The name is derived from the stark contrast of the black mussel shell with the orange coloured bechamel sauce that encases the cavity of the mussel shell. Instead of applying an orange colour bechamel, Maria adds squid ink – hence the creation of the panther.
The flavour profile has an unusual texture to it, but yet delightfully creamy on the palate. The mussels created a sense of inquisitive and enjoyment as we all searched for clues as to what exactly were the components to this dish.
It wouldn’t be Spanish if there wasn’t some proper meat and sides of greens. The sauteed spinach with currents and slivers of almonds was a perfect side on their own, also enriching the juicy pieces of the Spanish sausages.
It didn’t just stop with the racion as dessert soon followed; Leche Frita – Fried milk (creamy custard deep-fried and drizzled with orange honey syrup) and Blue cheese with quince paste. The Fried milk was a favourite around the table being a delectable sweet texture mixed with the creamy custard center.
Chato is a restaurant in Thornbury that delivers well and above what is considered good food in the area. There is a deep reach of innovation and theater to each of the tapas experience that would expected to be found closer to the CBD. I really want this restaurant to work – and not just for my own selfish reasons – because its the likes of Chato that put suburbs like Thornbury well and truly on the food map.
The Modern Con dined as a guest of Zilla & Brook. All opinions and views are objective to the reviewers own experience.
921 High Street
Mon – Wed 8am – 3pm
Thu – Sat 8am – 11pm
Sun 8am – 3pm