The Russian word for train station, apparently (according to Wikipedia…) due to a little trip to view the construction of the London & South Western Railway at Vauxhall, South West London, by some Russians, who then took the Proper Noun name of station to be the noun for train stations in general.
Vauxhall is also the home to a large part of the Portuguese population of London (not Russians, that part was mainly irrelevant). As a result, it is also home to several amazing Portuguese cafes, one of which J took me to last week.
Being in Estrela felt like being in a small town cafe somewhere in the Algarve, the atmosphere is warm and friendly, the service attentive without being annoying and on the occasion of our visit Portuguese football was on the tele.
Straight off, and as usual with tapas, we over ordered. Also as usual, we still finished it all. We ordered grilled Sardines, Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fritters), Chorizo in firewater (setting something on fire almost always = better, non?), Pork and Broad Bean Stew, Sardine Pate and Patatas Bravas.
I apologise in advance for the lack of pictures…still no digital camera to my name!
Sardine Pate, which appeared first alongside the Bread and Olives was like an upmarket, yummy version of the fish paste which I remember my Grandmother eating when I was a child, I probably could have eaten just that and bread.
The Sardines were fresh, crispy and perfect, you get four in one portion and they are left as whole fish so you do have to take the flesh of the bones. I’m not one to be squeamish about bones, but if you are I suppose this could seem a bit of a faff. But they are worth it..despite the simplicity of the cooking method, having eaten Sardines newly caught in Greece on several occasions, I can attest to these being very fresh and well cooked.
Bacalhau was as good as any I have eaten and definitely better than the ones I attempted to make on Bank Holiday Monday (mine weren’t bad, they were ahem…different – will try again). Patatas Bravas were also really good, tomato sauce had a nice level of heat, greatly appreciated having eaten so many blandly seasoned tomato sauces in the past.
The pork dishes, however, ‘stole the show.’ I must qualify at this stage that I have never eaten Portuguese Tapas but J used to live around the corner from Estrella and spent many evenings and lots of long Sundays in here before I muscled my way onto the scene, so he ordered the Chorizo in Firewater, and I had no expectations. The Chorizo arrived, a big, thick, red curl of a sausage sitting on top of a sort of terracotta grill with some sort of booze (Brandy? Whiskey?) alight in the bottom of the dish. Although some would accuse this of being a naff spectacle I am easily entertained. It was also lovely as a result, the flame kept the fat in the sausage juicy as we ate it bit at a time with the other dishes.
The final dish was the Pork and Broad Bean Stew which was the one dish I picked that J had never eaten, being the sucker for beans that I am. Again, sorry to go on but, it was amazing. It had bits of Chorizo, Lardons and Rib, all had been cooked slowly to melting point with the beans in tow. The whole thing tasted of pork fat and pork and beans…..and everything that is good and right with the world.
All in all, Estrela is worth a trip for what I feel is a pretty authentic Portuguese cafe experience. By all accounts there is a couple of other really good Portuguese restaurants around there, some a similar experience and others slightly more upmarket. There are also several Delis which weren’t open the day we went as it was Good Friday. If you don’t know the South Lambeth road and you like Iberian food stuffs, now is the time to find it!
113-115 South Lambeth Road, Vauxhall, London SW8 1UZ