One of my biggest regrets in life is that I don’t read enough. I’ve been an avid reader in the past; in my teenage years I devoured anything I could lay my hands on, in between taping the top 40 off Radio 1 and playing play-by-mail football games (not being wealthy enough to own a computer and thus a copy of Championship Manager). Typically for boys of that age I preferred sci-fi/fantasy; no need to commission Dr Freud to analyse that one, pure and simple escapism. As I’ve gotten older my tastes have become more catholic, although I still do like to indulge in something involving improbable space travel every now and again.
Disappointingly though, with the increasing demands of work and young children, I’ve read less and less in recent years, to the point where I realised recently I’ve only read two books this year so far, coincidentally both translations of Spanish-language originals. We rarely go to bed before midnight and are up not long after 6, so any bedtime reading consists of at most a few pages a night, and I often find myself falling asleep when doing so (I’m no Maggie Thatcher, and 6 hours a night really isn’t enough, especially without the pre-kids habit of a 12 hour catch-up at the weekend). Thus even when I do get the urge to embark on a literary journey, it’s so punctuated that I struggle to retain the names of any but the most key central characters, and often have to flip back to earlier chapters to remind myself who this or that incidental player actually is and what relationship they have to anything.
That said, I think I am just undergoing a rocky patch in my love affair with reading. I still feel a slight sense of grief on finishing a book I have particularly enjoyed, and feel it my duty to recommend it to everyone I know, in order to enrich their lives as mine has been. As with restaurants, I am a creature of habit, and will lean towards reading something by an author I know and like rather than face the potential disappointment of flirting with someone new; I jump online whenever I discover one of my small number of absolute favourites* releasing something new.
With two of my biggest loves being literature and gastronomy, coming across a restaurant called The Library was just too much to resist, especially once I discovered it served tapas. I regularly struggle to decide on what to have when I eat out, and I often have pangs of regret at what I didn’t order (often when someone else has it and it looks better than mine), so the ability to order lots of different stuff to share works perfectly for me. My occasional trips to La Tasca have failed to put me off, and given the choice, I would struggle to choose (again) between Spanish and Indian for the cuisine I had to survive on for the rest of my days if given such an unlikely ultimatum. So when a former colleague who has done me a number of favours finally accepted my offer of lunch, the discovery of a conveniently-located tapas restaurant was too enticing to refuse.
The Library is not big – unless it had an upstairs that I didn’t spot, no more than thirty diners could be catered for, casting doubt on my assumption that the name was due to the original purpose of the building. The decor is fairly minimal, the furniture not fancy, the menu not especially attractively designed; all in all conveying something of that essence of not having spent much on decorating that costs a significant amount to achieve, although I got the feeling that here it was genuine. The hope is then that the effort has gone into the food itself, and after exactly the appropriate amount of time had elapsed since ordering, we were pleased to discover that was indeed the case here.
We shared four dishes: simple but effective paprika-coated fries, arancini (sort of a risotto croquette) with a tomato salsa, five-spiced pork belly with onion marmalade, and the inevitable chorizo, here with crushed potato and tomatoes with an aioli and some wraps. Pork belly is in my experience often a good indicator for the quality of a restaurant; this was tender, the spices were entirely fitting, and although I am not always a fan of sweet with meat, the onion marmalade was an excellent accompaniment. Chips probably weren’t the obvious foil for this dish but that is one of the joys of tapas – somehow it doesn’t matter so much that you might combine dishes that you would never serve on a single plate.
Chorizo is one of my favourite things in the world so it was not a surprise to me that this dish very much worked for me, although I would like to try it with the slightly spicier chorizo such as you get with the excellent breakfasts at Brindisa in Borough Market by London Bridge. The arancini were probably the element that grabbed me least although I really should learn – I am always disappointed with arancini so I shouldn’t be surprised they similarly failed to grab me here. It just always sounds so nice on the menu.
The most pleasing thing about the meal was that the four dishes, which were generously proportioned for tapas dishes, with two cups of tea (both of which curiously came with a ginger nut) and a coke only came to around £22. I would happily have paid half as much again, and as it is less than 10 minutes from where I work, I will be making my way back soon to start working my way around the rest of the menu.
Perhaps I’ll take a book to read.
*Perversely, although I will go out of my way to recommend my favourite books and authors to other people, I always feel strangely uncomfortable when someone recommends a new author to me. However, since you ask, I instantly buy anything new by Christopher Brookmyre and David Mitchell (not the comedian), and have relatively recently become very keen on Neil Gaiman, although some of his short stories I find difficult to digest.