One wonders how much the physical location of a restaurant, and the ghosts of previous incarnations can affect a new business. Not much I hope, because the latest restaurant to open at 353 Cambridge Street has a wonderful appeal and I would love to see it stick around longer than some of the earlier establishments that inhabited the same space.
Hermosa is a colourful and fun tapas style cantina. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and much of in between as well. Inspired by Spanish flavours and styles, Hermosa has only been open a week but is already making an impact on the local community and the dining room already booked out on some nights.
Breakfast is available daily until noon, at which time the full menu kicks in. Lunch finishes around 3pm and dinner starts at 6pm, but for the three hours in between you are able to order from the merienda menu.
Merienda is a light meal that is eaten particularly in the south of Europe it fills the gap between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner. We might refer to it as morning or afternoon tea, but I guarantee you would never have an afternoon tea like this. As well as the merienda snacks, you can also order cocktails and drinks and small cakes and tarts from the display. It is basically a fantastic option for a late lunch or early dinner (or if you can't get a dinner booking).
Relying heavily on local producers, Hermosa's menu is broken down into the merienda (or snacks) menu, small plates (such as fried baby squid and squid ink mayonnaise or slow cooked pork belly with pickled apple, nuts and seeds); meat and bread (such as crispy fried chicken in a corn bun, piquillo peppers, and smoky pimento mayonnaise); a variety of meats cooked in the special josper oven; plus some sides, salads and desserts.
There isn't a thing on the menu that doesn't sound intriguing or delicious (usually both).
There is no kids menu, and to be honest if you have fussy or simple eaters, then there might not be anything for children (even on the breakfast menu).
We started with a sangria styled cocktail from the new (and growing) cocktail menu: the winter fruit white sangria ($18) which had pino grigio, pear liquor, persimmon juice and chartreuse. Heavier and much more alcoholic than a straight sangria, it was fruity and delicious (it had frozen pears and berries alongside the ice cubes). I may have had more than one.
We asked how many of the small dishes we should share between the two of us and settled on five savoury dishes plus some desserts from the case (we were too early to try their lime churros, brown butter and lemon curd and white chocolate for $14 or their orange crθme Catalan (like a brulee) roasted in the josper oven, also $14).
First to arrive was the Duroc gran reserve Serrano ham which had been cured for 18 months ($13). Presented in small torn pieces, you were meant to take a piece of the ham and eat with the tiny cubes of watermelon and whole hazelnuts that accompanied the dish. It was an unusual combination of flavours and textures that was really interesting and tasty. The small pieces encourage you to eat daintily and really savour the food, rather than gobbling down giant mouthfuls.
Up next was the corn bread with smoked butter and spiced popcorn ($8). What a revelation for corn the bread was warm and soft on the inside, and toasty on the outside. The popcorn was addictive and I could have easily eaten a serve by myself.
This was soon followed by the white anchovies with piquillo peppers ($12). This was probably our least favourite of the dishes, as it was predominantly a large serving of shredded (very soft and tender) roasted capsicum with five anchovy fillets. It was tasty, but lacked the oomph of other more exotic dishes.
We followed this with smoked hock and morcilla croquettes, served with heirloom carrot escabeche (sauce) ($12). In case you're wondering, morcilla is Spanish black (blood) sausage. I personally don't have an issue with blood sausage, and this was one of the tastiest dishes I have eaten in a long time. Rather than being traditional cylinder shapes, the croquettes were angular, and made of shredded pork hock, crumbed and crispy fried. Highly recommended.
Our next dish was pressed watermelon with smoked almonds and miso butterscotch ($8). This was one of those dishes you had to stop and taste slowly a really unusual combination of flavours and textures you probably haven't tried before. The watermelon slices had been soaked, the almonds steeped in smoke and the little puddles of miso butterscotch an eye-opening mix of sweet and savoury.
All the merienda items range from $8-$13 while the rest of the menu average around $14 for the small plates, $15 for the 'burgers', $30 for the meats and $14 for the desserts. In reality there is quite a spread of prices within each category, meaning you can order a very filling and interesting meal for as little or as much as you like.
There are at least nine vegetarian options on the menu as well as five salads and sides (and all the desserts).
We selected two desserts from the takeaway section (a separate entrance on the side of the building) including a $6 jam donut and a $6 salted caramel tart, made with the thinnest chocolate pastry shell, and a rich caramel that I am still thinking about today. It was no competition the chocolate caramel tart was far and away the dessert winner.
Apart from the cocktail menu (and the bar staff are very willing to make something off-menu) there is a decently sized wine list including plenty of by-the-glass options (the majority from Spain or Australia).
Service was very friendly and helpful and as the room begin to fill, it was clear that Hermosa is exactly what the locals ordered. I bet I'm back within the week.