At last month’s Food and Film Festival at the Spot in Randwick, we had the chance to try some of the local restaurants’ cuisines with the view of dining at those places that have made a good impression. El Bulli del Punto’s paella stand was a winner so we decided to go there at the first opportunity. A couple of friends have dined there in the past and gave it a good recommendation yet our experience did not meet expectations.
Here on Gourmantic, we do not see any value in reviewing a place that we did not enjoy since we believe in the old adage that any publicity being good publicity. But we have decided to publish this review for a reason.
El Bulli del Punto occupies small premises opposite the Ritz cinema in the busy dining strip known as the Spot in Randwick. We arrive on time for our booking and take note of the number of people standing outside. We’re led past the tables that run parallel to the busy bar along a narrow hallway and into the main dining room.
The restaurant is gearing up for a second sitting and in time it is near full capacity. Long tables of boisterous diners contribute to the high noise levels bouncing off the walls. Soft cushions and banquettes make up the seating against the walls but do very little to absorb the sound. Trompe-l’oeil murals designed to give an illusion of space do very little under the dim lighting but add a pleasing effect nonetheless.
The cocktail selection is impressive, featuring drinks from Latin countries. We have to shout to place our order but the waitress is most apologetic for the noise. Within 15 minutes we are drinking a toast.
On the left is a Classic Margarita (Mexico), made with Tequila and Cointreau shaken with fresh limes and lemon, strained and served in a chilled salt-rimmed Martini glass. Behind it is Livin La Vida Loca, Pisco and apple Schnapps shaken with fresh limes and apple topped with ginger beer and served in a hurricane glass.
On the top right, Pisco Sour (Peru) is made of Pisco shaken with fresh lime juice, sugar, egg whites, laced with nutmeg and served in a chilled Martini glass. On the bottom right is Banderita (Little Flag), three separate shot glasses filled with El Bulli’s sangrita, fresh lime juice and Herradura Reposado Tequila. All cocktails are $15.50.
The cocktails are most enjoyable. I get to sample each one and vote Banderita as the favourite. Depending on the order you sip from each shot glass, you get a different taste experience.
We make a selection from the extensive tapas menu.
The first item to be served is the complimentary Bread, Mayonnaise and Garlic. The bread is fresh with a good crust but the mayonnaise is bland and watery with only a hint of garlic.
Next to arrive is Pan Con Tomate, toasted ciabatta rubbed with garlic, tomato and sea salt. This dish was also complimentary and we divide the three pieces among four people.
Time to swap our empty cocktails glasses for a jug of Sangria. Our glasses are filled, clinked and the fruity wine goes down easily.
The first of the tapas we ordered arrives. Boquerones ($15.50) are baby sardines filleted in a garlic olive oil dressing. The sardine fillets have a fresh taste that we all enjoy, even those of us who aren’t fans of oily fish. Bread is used to mop up the garlic-infused olive oil, a good start to the meal and one of the favourite dishes of the evening.
Chorizo A La Sidra ($14.50) is described as crispy panfried chorizo and Spanish onion in a cider glaze. We all love a good chorizo but this one lacked any bite and spice. Some pieces are well cooked and crisp just the way we like them, others could have been tossed in warm oil. The dish lacks consistency and flavour. We ask for some chilli to compensate for the taste but what we’re given can only be described as the mildest of mild.
Gambas Al Ajillo ($19.50) are pan-fried prawns in garlic oil, salt and pepper, with a hint of chilli oil. The prawns are nicely presented in a cast iron pan but one bite reveals that they are undercooked. It is difficult to see under the dim lighting but a closer inspection shows that the prawn flesh is translucent. We send it back and ask for it to be cooked. When the dish is returned, the prawn meat has shrunk as if it had been put in a microwave and it had no taste. The oil with the garlic and chilli makes for some good bread-mopping which we have to request.
Caracoles Al Ajilo ($16.50) are oven-baked snails in a garlic butter. The mollusks come served in their shell with an accompanying crab pick. The snails are soft and cooked but once again, they lack any flavour. Even the hint of garlic was easy to miss. When you remove a snail, the inside of the shell is dry. Two out of the four of us cook escargots at home while the other two are seasoned eaters, so we know our snails. These could have been lightly smeared in butter then stuffed inside a shell for decorative purposes.
Chipirones ($14.50) are char-grilled baby squid in a salt and garlic sauce. For a much anticipated dish, this one is voted the worst serving of the night. Tough under the knife, rubbery under the teeth, dry and lacking in oil or sauce, the taste is so insipid that we may as well be chewing on old gum.
Next to arrive are Champiñones Al Ajillo ($11.50), sautéed mushrooms in garlic, parsley, white wine and olive oil. The aroma from the dish is noticeable the moment the earthenware plate is placed on the table. One bite into a mushroom and we get an explosion of flavours. The white wine is easily discernible, the quantity of garlic is generous and the mushrooms are juicy and pack a flavour. We mop up every drop of oil with the bread after we ask for one more round.
This is the dish that makes us wonder if a different chefs are cooking different dishes. one of the best dishes of the night. If the strength of flavours extended to the other dishes, it would have been a winner.
Mejillones En Salsa Picante ($18.50) arrives, described as a giant pot of chilli mussels cooked in a traditional Spanish salsa, pumped up with eshallots, basil, chilli and garlic. The camera struggled with this dish and so did the palate. While the mussels themselves were soft and plump, it seemed like they were steamed in water then the tomato sauce added on top. Furthermore, the tomato in the salsa was acidic and undercooked. There was nothing picante about this salsa, and once the last mussel was had, the remaining liquid in the dish was no salsa but a watery concoction.
At this point in time, we ask our waitress if the owner is on site. She explains that he used to be regularly in the restaurant but he has taken a back seat of late. We say no more.
Looking around the other tables, jugs of sangria are being replenished and empty plates are being cleared. We are surprised that nobody has ordered the paella, ($28.95) considering it was the main attraction at the food festival.
When it comes to dessert, we are a little reluctant after our experience. There is a choice of three desserts, quesos frescos ($21.50) a selection of Spanish cheeses, churros ($13.50) and crema catalana ($12.50). We decide to pass on sweets and ask for the bill.
Four complimentary glasses of sherry are presented with the bill. Upon checking the tally, we note that they have charged us for an additional cocktail we didn’t have. After fixing the error, the bill is presented without a pen to sign the credit card vouchers.
El Bulli del Punto enticed us at the Food and Film Festival with their delicious paella and sangria and their friendly staff but our dining experience was far from acceptable. The dishes we ordered were not difficult to cook, and for the price they didn’t offer value for money. They mostly lacked flavour in the most basic ingredients that make good tapas and Spanish food. We believe that El Bulli del Punto has potential to improve therefore we have decided to publish this review.
The sherry is a nice complimentary touch to round off the meal. It has a sweet taste in the mouth but much like our dining experience, it does not linger.
El Bulli Spanish Tapas
40 St Pauls St
The Spot, Randwick
Sydney NSW 2031
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