Restaurant Review: The Kazbar, Oxford

Oxford Rocks The Kazbar

The Kazbar spread a sleazy smile across my face, like warm tetilla smeared across a crusty bocadillo. The shining sun lit up the riad-esque interior, flooding back hazy memories of Marrakesh. The orange washed walls, shimmering tiles and shabby chic furniture, created a unique, bohemian setting. This, combined with a zippy live band and hardworking, happy staff, produced a vibrant atmosphere that I was in no rush to escape from.

The annoyingly handsome beatnik main server provided genuine rapport throughout; his straightforward but conscientious approach was amicable without being overbearing. All The Kazbar’s Señoritas cheerfully glided around, although when one spilt an over-poured margarita over the table, her lack of resolution or even acknowledgement was irksome.

Cocktails are obligatory. I salute The Kazbar for having the rare decency to produce proper Margaritas (the drink, not the pizza). As requested, the venomous Bloody Mary didn’t take any prisoners. Sherry should also not be forgotten, magically pairing with everything in the tapas world. The Dry Amontillado was good value and perfectly sippable without food. The Manzanilla was the driest drink in the world; worth a try, but an acquired taste.

Some Kazbar dishes were better than others. The wonderfully light Smoked Mackerel Pate was the unexpected delicious highlight. The Prawns & Chorizo billed as the main event, were rather anaemic in a watery tomato sauce. The Moroccan Lamb, Beef & Harissa Sausage was the kind of tapas dish everyone wanted; ballsy (metaphorically, I hope), with a satisfyingly rich meaty flavour. The Gambas were adequate, but not inspiring. The Pig’s Cheek dutifully fell apart, with a beautiful depth of flavour. The Spiced Minced Lamb & Hummus was tasty, authentic but lukewarm. Some mysterious Latino Mozzarella substance from the specials board was divine. The well formed Membrillo Cheesecake graciously introduced two of my favourite things – Licor 43 and quince jelly. Finally, the Marrakesh Express commendably combined coffee and dessert with a delicious cinnamon finish.

The Kazbar’s squeaky clean plates spoke for themselves, my wallet didn’t feel violated, and I’m yet to review another a restaurant in Oxford with a warmer atmosphere – bravo!

The Kazbar Oxford
Review Summary

Atmosphere 10  Cost 7  Quality 7  Service 9

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Restaurant Review: Iberica, Manchester

Iberica Manchester – Tip Top Tapas

I loved Iberica Spinningfields. This modern Spanish restaurant pleasingly served dishes separately but rapidly, and in big enough portions to actually share. Iberica Manchester was social eating at its best, something that surprisingly few other Tapas restaurants deliver on.

Iberica Spinningfields didn’t just offer the same chorizo, gambas, calamari, patatas bravas lead menu found everywhere. I love these dishes, but Iberica Spinningfields made a refreshing change. I went weak at the knees laying eyes on their artisan cheese menu; being exclusively Spanish it provided the opportunity to discover new products and flavours.

The Red Berry Gazpacho was the finest cold soup I’d ever eaten. It was alive with vibrancy and just wonderfully summery. I’d never had a more flavoursome dish for £4. The humble Bread & Oil was as good as anywhere. The grilled Padron Peppers were pleasingly salty and made a classy beer accompaniment. The curious Spring Onion Tempura were bronzed crunchy phallic mouthfuls, served with decidedly delicious dips. The Classic Tortilla didn’t let its nation down, providing a perfectly respectable account of itself.

The meaty Sea Trout was lightly cooked and uniquely served with peanuts and Ajo Blanco sauce. The dish was certainly enjoyable, but quite expensive at £8. The Chorizo Lollipops were golden balls of fun, served with an intriguing pear aioli. In the wake of these quirky touches, came the poshest Ham, Egg & Chips in Manchester. The Sliced Cooked Beef was Spain’s answer to Bresaola and every bit as flavourful.

The Churros were piping hot, pleasingly crispy and sugary pieces of happiness. The small but perfectly formed cheese board paired marvellously with the amber-hued viscous sherry. I don’t know anything about sherry, other than that I need to drink more of it.

With the drinks menu heavily marked up and the additional 12.5% service charge, Iberica Spinningfields is at the pricier end of Manchester’s bustling restaurant scene. Given the exciting menu, quality ingredients, sophisticated atmosphere and charming staff, it is still certainly worth exploring.

Iberica Manchester
Review Summary

Atmosphere 10  Cost 6  Quality 10  Service 9

Ibérica Spinningfields Restaurant Review
A decent drop…
Ibérica Spinningfields
Bread & Oil
Ibérica Spinningfields
Outstanding Red Berry Gazpacho
Ibérica Spinningfields Restaurant Review Manchester
Padron Peppers
Ibérica Spinningfields Restaurant Review Manchester
Spring Onion Tempura
Ibérica Spinningfields Restaurant Review Manchester
Sea Trout, Ajoblanca & Pitu Sauce
Ibérica Spinningfields Restaurant Review Manchester
Fried Chorizo Lollipops w/ Pear Alioli
Ibérica Spinningfields Restaurant Review Manchester
Iberico Ham, Egg & Chips
Ibérica Spinningfields Restaurant Review Manchester
Sliced Cooked Beef
Ibérica Spinningfields Restaurant Review Manchester
Churros
Ibérica Spinningfields Restaurant Review Manchester
Cheese

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Restaurant Review: The Cuban, Camden

The Cuban – Close But No Cigar

Camden was typically frenetic: hordes of the weird and wonderful spilt in from all angles. The Cuban was found nestled in Camden’s eclectic epicentre, buzzing with shoppers resting from buying vintage tracksuits, vinyl and Novocaine.

The Cuban Camden’s boisterous atmosphere seemingly overwhelmed the staff who were less than composed. After politely advising I had booked, menus were shoved in my general direction. I loitered like a lemon, looking for anything resembling a table without success; a second server limply gestured to the lift, leading to a dead second floor.

The Cuban Camden’s menu advised: “our chefs spent time learning traditional Cuban cooking techniques”. The fact tapas should be ordered often and served quickly wasn’t learnt:  the food came together and after a long delay.

Regarding The Cuban Camden’s food, the anemic Calamari was the blandest pieces of squid known in existence. I doubt the complete absence of seasoning was part of the “authentic Cuban experience”. Better Olives & Feta can be sourced in Morrisons down the road -hardly the “best Cuban ingredients in London”. The Plantain was okay, but a giant banana served in three pieces didn’t excite. The Chorizo was enjoyed, but this should be the star of any tapas restaurant and was average at best. The Albondigas were well cooked and seasoned but lukewarm. The fried Sweet Potato & Plantain were tasty but just crisps with ideas above their station. Finally, the Chicken Tenders were fine, but which “neighbouring Caribbean Islands” serve schnitzels?

Under normal circumstances, The Cuban Camden is a rip-off tourist trap; however, it is regularly on Groupon providing much better value.

The Cuban Camden
Review Summary

Atmosphere 5    Cost 4    Service 4   Quality 3

The Cuban Tapas Restaurant Camden Locks
Below Average Tapas

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The Cuban Camden