I had been trying to arrange a night at the newest tapas bar in town, and it finally happened this week: a Girls’ Night Out at COVA tapas & sangria, at the quiet end of Jupiter Street.
Co-owners Tatyana Guevarra and Patrick Hesse are both alumni from local culinary and business school, Enderun Colleges, where they graduated in International Hospitality Management. Determined to expand their education to the full, they spent their internships in Barcelona, where they fell in love with Spanish food and culture, and found the inspiration for their own restaurant in Makati.
As the taxi pulled up, we were greeted by a smiling guard with a huge umbrella (yes the rainy season has set in), who ushered us gently towards the door. After a bad run on efficient service recently, the staff at COVA was delightful, and reassuringly on the ball. What’s more, they went the extra mile, by providing individual bills at the end of the night without us even asking.
As our group started to trickle in, waiters were ready to take orders, and drinks arrived promptly. Let me warn you, the sangria (red, ‘peachy’ white or ‘millionaire’ sparkling sangria) goes down very smoothly and those carafes leak (metaphorically speaking). So beware: today’s indulgence is tomorrow’s hangover!
‘Cova’ is Catalan for cave, and the interior designer, Luigi Tabuena, has created the effect with an amazing ribcage arced over the ceiling that made me feel like I was picnicking beneath the bones of Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Natural History Museum. It looks amazing, and creates an intimate, cave-like atmosphere. Unfortunately it did nothing to muffle the noise, as the group at the next table did their best to break records for sheer volume. We just shrugged, and huddled together to exchange news nose-to-nose. At least we were not contending with loud music as well.
The menu is interesting. As we were a large group, we had ordered the day before and therefore had time to examine the menu in detail. There is a lot of variety and a few challenges. For dishes like Cap i Pota (ox tripe and blood sausage), veal sweet breads and ox tongue with mushrooms I intend, like food critic Jeffrey Steingarten, to overcome my cultural disinclination, because I know I am probably missing out.
If you like fish, however, you will be in heaven. There was a deliciously moreish seafood risotto which travelled the length and breadth of the table to positive exclamations, and provided plenty to share. The fresh anchovies were unexpectedly light and I much preferred them to the more common salted variety, and the Paella Negra (of course there was paella!) was choc-a-block with soft shell crab, mussels and squid and is on my ‘must do’ list for next time. The Calamares Tintados (squid cooked in beer and ink batter) rated a special mention from a friend who says it was one of the best she has tasted.
Vegetarians are left a little high and dry with only three choices, but they were all tasty ones, especially the Pintxo de Queso Fritto (fried Gruyere with honey and caramelized onions).
As it should be in a tapas bar, everyone was generous about sharing. The Taquitos de Pollo (tiny tacos filled with a morsel of tangy chicken marinated in lime and tequila) slipped down the throat in the blink of an eye. And I keep wishing I had ordered a larger serve of the Ravioli de Rabo de Toro, a dish of fried oxtail ravioli with shiitake mushrooms and foie gras that was quite exquisite. There was a slight crunch to the pasta as I bit into the rich filling of melt-in-the-mouth, slow-cooked oxtail. According to general consensus it was the pièce de resistance, and I am definitely going back for more.
The dessert list is short and sweet, as in Momento Dulce: a white chocolate cream with ginger caramel, orange and mint soup and caramelized orange. Doesn’t it sound glamorous? It is another one on my ‘must-try-next-time’ list. The Crema Catalana (Catalonian crème brulée) was judged lacking that night – the taste was bland and the texture wasn’t quite right, a little thick and grainy, so definitely a tad overcooked, but it is an old favourite, so I will give it a second chance.
The ice creams – made by fellow Enderun alumnus Xandra Rocha – were wonderfully creamy, and the flavours were amusing. I insisted on trying both and I had some fun with them. Red velvet ice cream has had me trawling the internet for an explanation, and eventually led me to a blog site that described a buttermilk cake with a dash of cocoa, an overdose of red food colouring and a preference for the cream cheese icing! So I will have to get back to you on how that translates into ice cream.
I passed the other serving anonymously around the table to monitor responses. Most liked it, guessing caramel or toffee, except one friend who screwed up her nose at the ‘coffee’ flavour, saying “I don’t even like tiramisu!” Not coffee, in fact, but maple syrup and bacon. The combination is apparently popular with Americans and Filipinos to accompany their pancakes, and against my better judgment, my taste buds thought the combination was fabulous.
By the way, only one lady picked the fact it had meat in it – and yes, I promise I kept it away from the vegetarians!
So, it was a successful night out, a great new find, and to all you unadventurous westerners, don’t be deterred by a first glimpse at the menu. If you aren’t into offal, there are plenty of other options. You are truly missing out if you don’t give it a go! There is a great five course tasting menu for two and a wide variety of Spanish meats. Most dishes can be ordered as tapas (tasting sized serves) or ración (enough to share). And don’t stint on the sangria…
PS Red Velvet is indeed a cake mix stirred into the ice cream.
* this photo came from ‘SPOT’ website