There are always people either tucked inside this quaint restaurant and making the most of the outdoor tables too (even tonight, on a chilly November evening) so instinctively I had fallen curious to this mysterious looking restaurant on Sydney Street. Solera Tapas do not have a website, and are rarely active on social media; even the exterior of the restaurant does not give much away with its black and white paint work and ‘solera tapas’ written timidly. The large bay window entices you into the dimly lit space which I now realise is intended to look like nothing more than a home. It is a little Alice in Wonderland escape because you step inside and are transported to the taste of authentic Spanish food and an ambience that makes you feel as though you are a part of the family that prepared it. The owner, Jesus Carmona Azopardi, tells me that it is simply word of mouth that encourages customers to come to his restaurant, if they don’t just stumble across it while wandering through the lanes.
The exposed brick with family photographs on the walls and dining tables of oak wood feels casual but friendly. The tables are pretty stacked on top of each other, ensuring as many diners as possible can squeeze into the space, but it is cozy rather than claustrophobic. We took a seat once greeted by warm smiles and ordered a jug of sangria – the owner’s own recipe. Sipping the peachy liquid with fruity gems stirred into the juice, I noticed one diner swiping their index finger across their plate and licking that finger to savour every last taste of rich tomato sauce or garlic aioli. This gave me a pit of excitement in my stomach before even ordering the food, confirming I was right to be curious about Solera.
The aim with the menu, Jesus explains, “was to share the most iconic dishes from my country’s unique traditional gastronomy with the people of Brighton”, allowing us to taste genuine Spanish cuisine without the travel. Having worked in hospitality since twelve years old at his older brother’s bar, he has also worked in both small and national franchise hotels, allowing him to meet and work with chefs all over the world. To have his expertise and experience here in Brighton is a true luxury, and his desire to recreate the traditional cuisine of Spain which he grew up in will give you a teaser of just how good it is.
Recommended two or three plates of food per person, I ordered the aubergine, mushroom croquettes, prawns and chorizo, garlic chicken and meatballs for two people. These choices were made following the list of Jesus’s personal favourites reeled off to us as he squatted beside our table, maintaining the sense of familiarity between staff and customer though we had only just met. It took hardly any time for the food to come to our table too despite the full capacity, piping hot and giving off stunning aromas in the steam. The vegetarian dishes were served first and six mushroom croquettes were generously served in a cute deep fry basket. Crisp on the outside with a rich mushroom cream in the middle, they were heavenly little bites of gold. The rich tomato aubergine was topped with cheese and parsley, and was so indulgent that it felt like the perfect dish to console you on a winter’s night. Prawns mixed in with chorizo is a Spanish classic, but the sherry sauce in which Solera’s chorizo is cooked makes this plate memorable. The seafood was cooked to perfection, and I found myself using the oil as a dipping sauce for my croquettes (not that the already provided aioli was not delicious enough), it was just that flavoursome. The chicken was beautifully refreshing, marinated in herbs with a side salad, but definitely nothing too special while the meatballs really were noteworthy. Four small balls of succulent pork meat served in a luscious tomato sauce, they were soft and delightfully herby. It was clear to see why guests were licking their plates clean. All ingredients are cooked in house every morning we are informed as our table is cleared and I compliment the now vanished food. Nothing is brought in; everything is prepared fresh from scratch.
Curious to know if there is potential for Jesus to open more restaurants in Brighton, he states that he would rather purely focus on keeping Solera successful, wanting it to be a reference in the city. The best way to book your table at Solera is to call up the restaurant and that is where your adventure to memorable, heartwarming tapas begins.
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