It has long been beyond my humble comprehension why Cowbridge is able to sustain a large number of restaurants and wine bars, whereas in Penarth, the only establishments that seem to be able to survive for any length of time were two Italian restaurants and an Indian restaurant (albeit very good in their own right). Things have changed in the last couple of years and we now have number of interesting restaurants such as The Olive Tree, The Fig Tree and the tres jolie Café des Amis. It must still surely be a very good sign that a Cowbridge restaurant has now opened in Penarth – Bar 44 – Tapas y Copas.
Tapas has become somewhat of a misused word with many restaurants serving so called tapas which seem to be far removed from the Spanish origin – indeed, just recently in Spain we saw a tapas bar owned by an English couple which appeared to be selling mainly sushi – novel for the Spanish perhaps! However, I’m glad to say that Bar 44 keeps strictly to its Spanish origins in every respect - dishes, wines, sherries, sangria and Spanish beers.
The modern bright décor gets over the Spanish flavour without being too kitschy, with some bare brick walls and modern but Spanish tiles, with hams hanging from the ceiling – but not purely for decoration as these are part of the open kitchen. The seating is varied with small tables, bench tables for larger parties, small stools and high stools, ideal for just a drink and one dish if that’s all you wish. There has also recently been added a small courtyard at the rear with some magnificently large Jerez sherry barrels. The front part gets very busy especially in the early evening, so if you are going for a leisurely meal, I suggest asking for a table at the rear where there is bench seating underneath the traditional style Spanish posters.
The aforesaid hams provide a number of different meats and the Selection Board of the various hams, at £12.00 for the Board provides a handsome starter for people, with a couple of portions of the excellent rustic bread. For the ham aficionado, there is a three-four year cured Jamon Iberico Bellota, Extremadura at a good price of £8.00.
With the tapas dishes, we have found that five between two of us is ample but dishes flow very quickly so to order an extra one or two would not be problem with the friendly and often Spanish (not a contradiction in terms!) waiting staff. On the printed menu, there will be many that you recognise - tortilla, boquerones, and croquetas, the latter being particularly good, rioja poached chorizo and triple cooked patatas bravas (perhaps that one’s a bit Heston Blummenthal rather than Andalucía!). For meat lovers you must not miss the Oloroso braised ox cheeks with olive oil mash – beautiful succulent slow cooked meat - and if you are fish addicts, then make sure you don’t miss the sea bream, with crab and new potatoes and spinach – even not being a white fish fan, I found the bream absolutely delicious and the crispy hake must also be mentioned for its light batter.
In addition to the menu, there is always a menu del dia on the blackboards; we were looking for something with prawns, sadly missing from the usual menu, but the hake and prawn dish had already sold out by early evening with shows how busy it is!
From the bar, there is Alhambra and Estrella beer on tap, sangria by the glass and cava, a not unreasonable £4.70 for a good size glass topped with a strawberry, plus a full range of Sherries and Spanish liqueurs.
As to the wines, there is separate selection of Rioja which we always go for: the Vallemayor at £17.50 is fruity and young enough to go with the variety of dishes, including fish, that you might be ordering
With its lively atmosphere, welcoming staff and authentic Spanish cooking, Bar 44 is a welcome addition to the Penarth food scene and hopefully it will long survive!!
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