“You know,” said The Boy as we sat down at the table at Basque. “It’s really hard to find a good place for vegetarians on Chapel Street.” I had charged him with the task of procuring a place to dine for the evening, because he is very ingenious and often comes up with places I’ve never heard of. But he does have that unfortunate fascination with Chapel Street common to many south-siders of my acquaintance. “Of course Chapel Street is rubbish for vegos!” I retorted. “Except for Veg Out Time. And Tusk. And Oriental Tea House is okay. But otherwise, rubbish!” Many decisive hand gestures accompanied this grand, sweeping statement.
Well, if you are vego and wandering lost and hungry upon that infernal strip, you could do a whole lot worse than to go to Basque. This Spanish restaurant lists an entire page of vegetarian tapas dishes in its menu, and although not all that we sampled was top notch, the ones that proved delicious were addictively so.
There was a lot to choose from, and it took a long while for us to settle definitely on what we wanted, but in the end we went for the ‘ensalada de garbanzos’: chickpea salad with green capsicum and carrot slivers and smoked paprika; the Spanish organic vegetable tortilla with aioli cream; and the ‘patatas bravas’: fried potato chunks sprinkled with smoked paprika salt, served with garlic aioli.
The chickpea salad came out first, with glistening chickpeas and strips of carrot and green capsicum liberally covered in paprika. The first mouthful took my head clean off. Dear god, it was nearly death by paprika. I downed my whole glass of water within two or three mouthfuls of the salad, and my mouth was buzzing wildly. The chickpeas were so well done, creamy and soft without being mushy, and I wanted to keep eating them, but the damn paprika was so strong I had to stop. The Boy had no such stung tastebud difficulties, however, and happily devoured the rest of the salad.
With a shocked and sulky mouth now, I was feverently praying that the next dish would be less of a taste riot. Luckily I was saved by the vegetable tortilla. The Boy was a wee bit confused at its presentation and asked “Did we order a quiche?”, but it turns out that a Spanish tortilla is markedly different to its more well known Mexican cousin, and does indeed look like a nice thin slice of quiche. This was the perfect way to refresh my mouth with subtle flavours, the potato and zucchini slices in the tortilla pleasing with gentle prods of tasty vegetable goodness. Totally cleansed my palate, which was just what I needed. The Boy nominated it his favourite dish of the night.
I was full of trepidations while awaiting the third dish, the patatas bravas, as the menu had promised that they too would be covered in paprika. I was fearful! They came out, little bite-sized cubes of fried potato glistening with the red powdery sheen of spice powder, all gathered around a pot of shining aioli. I gathered my courage, skewered one on my fork, dunked it in aioli, and popped it in my mouth.
It was… GLORIOUS!
You know I love anything to do with potatoes, but these golden little gems were a revelation. The paprika, instead of overwhelming all other components as in the chickpea salad, merged with the perfectly crisp potato to give a little kick of spice that was expertly contrasted by the cooling aioli. I could have eaten the entire (quite large!) bowl full all my myself, and once The Boy realised how much I was enjoying them, well he let me clean up the remaining pieces in the bowl, which I did so, with enthusiastic relish!
As we were anticipating that the remainder of our evening was going to feature a pair of the Astor’s decadent choc ices (infinitely superior to your local multiplex’s choc top), we opted out of dessert, although I finished off with a glass of sangria, as it seemed the correct thing to do.
Basque was a fun evening out. Although one dish wasn’t to my taste, the others certainly made up for it. Though I must admit the live Spanish guitar band that played throughout our entire meal made it a bit difficult to carry on a conversation: the lilting guitars were frequently punctuated by loud yells of “WHAT?!” by either me or The Boy, till we gave up and spent the rest of the meal conducting conservation via increasingly elaborate mimes.
159 Chapel Street, Prahran
Ph: 9533 7044