By eight o'clock, Cambio de Tercio's creamy yellow walls were resounding with noise, animated conversation of people crowded into all the restaurant's tables. It was full by then, and I could barely hear the rest of my dinner companions - certainly not the ones seated further than next to me. Prompt and efficient service had largely swept us through the courses of our meal by then, though, from delicately friendly mojitos through to desserts.
The restaurant gives the option of ordering tapas-style or using tapas as appetizers and ordering mains. Most of us went for the tapas experience, the better to share and sample. Our tapas still came in courses though: first came all the vegetable and fish dishes; then, after an interval, all the meat dishes arrived. There were twenty-or-so dishes overall, a frenzy of arrivals and departures.
A house special, patatas bravas, were small cylinders of smooth potato, spiced with paprika, and topped with a small dollop of mayonnaise. Roast vegetables were a minor work of art, the colors of vegetables topped with a veil of robustly-flavored cheese. Prawns cooked in oil and garlic were delicately flavored, with perfect texture. Puréed tomato sauce gave flavor to largely bland cheese fritters. Smooth foie gras was accented with complementary condiments of quince, muscatel jelly cubes, and ground nuts. Tuna tartar was served finely chopped with spring onions and marinade.
The meats were rich and sweet. Veal was like brisket, falling apart from slow-cooked intensity. Beef fillet, layered with foie gras, was one of the few dishes not easily divided, but composed of excellent ingredients - starring mushrooms. Roasted quail breasts were sticky-sweet with madeira glaze, sided with a bed of legumes. The small bouquet of lamb chops were one of the real highlights of the meal, full of taste, and tender. Spinach was over-salted, but barely wilted, finished with raisins and toasted pine nuts.
Desserts were nicely presented, but not more than the sum of their parts. Cheesecake made with a light touch of manchego was soft, balanced with whipped cream and strawberries. A deconstructed piña colada included a fun-but-intense rum-filled whipped cream, densely sweet roasted pineapple cubes, and a pleasant coconut ice cream.
The textures were what really stood out for me in this meal, even in dishes which were otherwise bland. I loved the crisp shell of deep-fried breadcrumbs contrasting with the pure smoothness of the cheeseball's interior, even though tastewise, it was not an exciting dish. The meat was generally fork-tender. The prawns were firm. Tastewise, nothing was bad, many things were very good - confidently delicate or appropriately rich; some dishes were dull or over-seasoned. Texturewise, however, it was a bravura performance.