Basque Kitchen and Bar

What often passes for tapas these days is generic finger food with a price tag that is heftier than reasonable. I always look for humble but brilliant plates of flavour when seeking out good tapas and Basque Kitchen and Bar has been putting out some great small plates for a while now from their unassuming and cosy establishment on the corner of Davis Crescent. For a place that has appeared on Metro’s Top 50 Restaurants list for the past couple of years, Basque is rather bare when it comes to interior aesthetics. The lighting has a reddish glow to it, which would cover the rosy hue of one too many sherries nicely, and there are origami-esque motifs and ornamental lamps as decoration.

Nothing on the menu at Basque is over $14.50, which is what we like to see,  and although one dish does not a meal make here, when a group is gathered and collection of dishes ordered, you could easily eat well for $20. And eat well we did. We ordered the two specials of the night: the chorizo with white bean and lemon puree, and the squid ink rice with prawns. From the main menu we couldn’t go past a version of patatas bravas and the slow-roasted pork belly with quince and pear relish.

Most of the dishes were stellar; the chorizo was juicy and the flavours explosive. The white bean and lemon puree was a nice foil to the chorizo, cutting the richness, and the radishes and watercress that accompanied it added interesting textures to each mouthful. The slow-roasted pork belly was a fine specimen; the belly fat had been mostly rendered out leaving moist, tender pork that made us feel slightly less guilty we were eating it. The crackling was tooth-breakingly crunchy and the quince and pear relish was a sophisticated variation of applesauce.

I wish I had the prowess to describe the taste of squid ink in words, but its flavour is so unique there aren’t the synonyms in my vocabulary to do so. The squid ink rice we had at Basque was silky but the individual grains al dente like a well-cooked risotto, and the prawns (which can so often be over-cooked) succulent. The final touch was a dollop of gold, saffron aioli. Now what’s a Spanish superlative for fabulous? The fried potatoes with red capsicum dressing was the only mediocre dish of the night; the flavour of dipping sauce was rather creamy and pedestrian to be paired with spuds, and could have done with a lot more zip.

Oh there are still so many dishes to try at Basque; I’d love to try the duck-neck sausage and stuffed squid next time. Being in the company of sweet-tooths, we decided to round off the meal with a double serving of churros. Fat, sugar and chocolate, is there any better combination? Basque’s churros are thin and crisp on the outside and are amply frosted with sugar; the chocolate dipping sauce is slightly bitter which maintains a bit of balance in the sweet department.

If you’re wanting tapas that do something other than disappoint and leave moths in your wallet (between four of us, dinner was $17 each), Basque Kitchen and Bar should be the next place you visit for warmth, good conversations and beautiful food.

Location: 61 Davis Crescent, Newmarket
Phone: (09) 523-1057
Hours:  Mon – Wed 4:30pm-11pm; Thurs 4.30pm-midnight; Fri noon-midnight; Sat 4.30pm-midnight 
Prices:  Tapas $3.50-$8.50; Racions $8.50-$14.50;
Desserts $11.50
Credit Cards: Yes
Suitable for Vegetarians: Yes
Takeaways: No
Bathrooms: Okay; shared with the neighboring restaurants
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
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