The assertively titled Tapas Revolution in Westfield Stratford suggests that some sort of military junta is afoot, determined to make us enjoy jamón serrano while sitting just south of Uniqlo’s gilet section. Full disclosure: I do not need martial law to make me enjoy shopping-centre food. I eat a lot in what the kids are calling malls. I’m in there frequently, mooching, running errands and generally hiding from life.
It is, of course, fashionable to express dismay about any time spent inside these neon-lit retail kingdoms, and about their food offerings in particular. Nevertheless, as Christmas approaches, be sure that you will at some point find yourself in a multi-storey car park gridlock while heading to the festive stampede for Victoria’s Secret’s two-for-one gift thongs, which is when the likes of massaman curry at Rosa’s Thai will suddenly feel like refuge. As will the weeping tiger jay tofu at Busaba, or even just a pleasant scone in the Waitrose cafe while observing jabby-elbowed cardholders rinsing the free coffees.
You will, no doubt, have your own personal pockets of shopping-centre joy, which I am more than willing to hear about. Westfield Stratford also boasts a Pasta Remoli that is constantly mobbed, and the small, independently run Cafe Rasa, which serves half-decent roti canai. Tapas Revolution has taken the slot vacated by Cafe Football, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville’s awful, multi-screened, overpriced novelty burger restaurant; it is also close to the now permanently shut Levi Roots’ Caribbean Smokehouse and just along from a Jamie’s Italian (RIP). Tapas Revolution is Omar Allibhoy’s seventh shopping centre opening since he burst on to the scene with his lovely hair, El Bulli namedropping and doing a neat line in recipe books and Saturday morning TV appearances.
Each time one of these brands shuts its doors, I’m asked, as an expert, to guess why, and each time I reply, with heartfelt brevity, “Because the food was atrocious”. To which I’m informed, “No, it must be more complex than that”, and we then have to dance around the economy, millennials, vegans, health’n’safety and supermarket meal deals. “Well, yes,” I reply, “but really it’s the food. People don’t get fooled twice.”
I didn’t rush back to Cafe Football after the £18 pie with matchstick fries, and I won’t be going back to Tapas Revolution, either, not after the churros they served me: sad, tasteless turds of dough, deep-fried in jaded oil and served with a jar of separated cocoa and water masquerading as chocolate dipping sauce. No amount of fish-bowl gin and tonic can hide this. Churros – fat, fresh, delicious, hot, with sticky, calorific, pant-expanding chocolate sauce – are now available in every food market. Diners have travelled; they know what they want.
I’d eaten more authentic cod bacalao con alioli, and in more charmingly Spanish surroundings, the week before on a cruise ship a mile outside Hamburg. Tapas Revolution’s unlovable cod fritters had feasibly been fried in the same oil as the churros, and came with a highly subtle saffron mayo. Beef on skewers, pinchos morunos con mojo picón, were tender enough, but gave away nothing of the grill. Soggy pan con tomate. Weird, oily paella. Crispy fried aubergine with muscovado syrup arrived in huge, fierce chunks resembling oven chips and the syrup was predictably teeth-jarring.
There are great ideas and good intent hiding somewhere in this growing chain, but in the rush to expand and feed the masses, flavour and care have taken a hit. In its first few weeks of opening, Tapas Revolution Westfield was jam-packed with Instagram influencers necking watermelon sangria on the only two nice tables. A flurry of public relations people supervised them, alongside the owner, the owner’s friends and many other people on jollies who seemed willing to believe that anything was delicious in return for free gambas al ajillo, which here were poor-quality, oily prawns in an earthenware bowl.
Tapas Revolution is like being on holiday in Andalusia, wandering into a local restaurant, and then being punished incrementally for Brexit via terrible service and things from the bottom of the freezer. Come the revolution, I’ll be eating yaki udon at Wagamama in the food court.
• Tapas Revolution 145 The Street, Westfield Stratford City, London E20, 020-8221 1437. Open all week, 11am-11pm Mon-Fri (midnight Fri), Sat 10am-midnight, Sun 10am-9pm. From about £25-30 a head, for nibbles, tapas, paella and dessert, plus drinks and service.