I had walked past Teatro a couple of times before, slowing with the crowd to read the menu stuck up in the window. Glimpsing a couple of dishes that sounded intriguing, I walked in and requested a table, despite being a party of one.
You can tell a lot about a restaurant by how they treat their carrots
It was quite early on a Saturday evening yet I was lucky to get a table without a booking. No one blinked at my solo dining status, less even when I proceeded to order half the menu. That's the good thing about tapas, you are able to try lots of dishes.
Teatro is a bar and pizzeria as well as serving tapas, meaning you can order a bunch of small dishes, share a pizza or – for larger groups or those feeling particularly hungry – you can choose from the 'sharing' section which starts at $44 for a whole roast Portuguese chicken and finishes at $75 for the josper del mare (grilled seafood from the traditional Spanish charcoal oven).
In a cavernous space underneath the Hamer Hall Theatre in Southbank, Teatro is as dramatic as its namesake. The high pitched ceiling is lined with gold (probably not actual gold) giving the room an ethereal, almost Greek feel, as the light bounces off the metal, warming the room.
Mirrors line the walls, and banquettes stretch the length of the room. In between, tables fill the space, and two open bars offer diners an intimate place to eat their meals and watch all the action.
The tapas menu has almost 30 options, with 11 being suitable for vegetarians. While all are designed to share, some items are purchased individually such as the crispy zucchini flower with spiced yoghurt ($5 each) and the josper corn cob with pecorino cheese ($5 each). Although these individual items seem a little pricey, they are top quality and very delicious.
For those who love their proteins, you can select Spanish black pudding with scallops and fried quail eggs ($19), spring bay mussels with pedro ximenez vinaigrette ($14) or Moroccan spiced lamb cutlets ($15).
However, apart from the cutlets and some crispy fried chicken ribs ($12) the majority of the tapas menu is seafood including prawns, clams, squid, octopus and anchovies. If you really want beef or pork you need to be prepared to cough up extra for the larger, more pricey sharing dishes such as the 500g Angus rib eye ($48) or mixed grill from the josper oven ($70).
Being in a Spanish restaurant it seemed only natural that I ordered a sangria. The standard version comes red or white in three sizes: glass ($9), carafe ($18) and jug ($34). The deluxe version comes in carafe ($30) or jug ($50).
Unfortunately for me, I had already received and eaten my dinner before my sangria finally arrived. I felt compelled to order another dish, and didn't regret it at all.
I ordered a josper corn cob ($5). It was deliciously blackened in the oven, with a generous dollop of sauce and freshly grated pecorino cheese. It was also dusted with paprika, which was tasty but tended to go all over my face. Delicious, but best to avoid if you're trying to impress your date.
The crispy zucchini flower ($5) was exactly that. Usually the flowers are stuffed but this one was plain: just perfectly cooked (the stem literally melted in my mouth) and generously seasoned. Admittedly it is a pricey ingredient but it still felt a tad expensive.
I also chose the jamon and manchengo cheese croquettes, on the recommendation of the waitress. There was not as much noticeable jamon ham as I would have liked but they were crispy and the melty cheese inside was both decadent and a little bit naughty. You get two for your $9.
The fourth dish I ordered while waiting for my sangria was listed as carrots, caraway and whipped goats curd ($10). It was divine: cubes of roasted carrots, fat juicy sultanas, earthy caraway seeds, puddles of rich goats cheese and sweet smelling fresh mint. I know it was meant as a side dish to share, but I was happy just eating it on its own.
The sangria when it arrived was generous, cold, sweet and fruity – exactly as you would like. I spent the next ten minutes trying to extricate all the strawberries and crushed grapes from my glass. I didn't want to waste a thing.
The next table over had ordered a couple of the pizzas. They were larger than a dinner plate and had one of those crusts that is neither soft and fat, nor so thin it flops on the plate. The toppings looked reasonably generous and they were consumed quickly.
There are thirteen choices, ranging from the $20 margherita and ortolana (eggplant) pizzas to the $26 gamberi (prawn) pizza.
Naturally there are dessert options as well as starters (such as cold meats, cheeses, oysters and bruschetta) but I was very full after my meal. The food arrived quickly after ordering, and I certainly wasn't the only person who ordered a second round of food. The staff were friendly and there was a lot of them. I think I had personally been served by at least half a dozen by the end of my meal, which lasted less than 45 minutes (and most of that was spent waiting for, and then drinking my enormous sangria).
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable meal in a nice location – it would be great for small groups who like to try plenty of different foods and are happy to share.