A Torre, Crystal Palace – review

Posted on January 22, 2011

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A Torre Portuguese, Crystal Palace

Although cosy and characterful, Portuguese restaurant A Torre’s food simply didn’t live up to its friendly staff and authentic presentation.

Perched on one edge of Crystal Palace triangle, A Torre takes its place among numerous quirky little restaurants with a bright and lively front. Its unassuming exterior leads into a relatively small interior, with around 12 tables hosting between two and six people. One step inside the front door and you could easily be across the continent in a European eatery – tiled walls, intimate tables and dark wood contribute immediately to a feeling of Portuguese authenticity.

A relaxed atmosphere is heightened by its friendly and polite staff. My companion and I were seated immediately and our drinks order taken promptly. I opted for the house white, neither spectacular nor offensive, and my partner chose one of the several Portuguese beers.

To start, I had the ‘chourico assado’ – flamed chorizo. And flamed it was – presented on terracotta crockery, the six inch horseshoe of spiced sausage came perched atop a bed of fire which extinguished after several minutes of cooking before my very eyes. But an impressive introduction wasn’t followed by impressive taste. Rather than harbouring deep flavours, the main sensation was oily, and the thick vein of fat running through the chorizo hadn’t been cooked for long enough to make it meltingly delicious.

My companion’s starter, though, was better. Chosen from the specials menu (although, judging from its permanence on the specials board, it seems a regular feature), he opted for white bait – a bowl full of tiny fried fish, eyes and all. With an accompaniment of lemon and tartare sauce, he described the dish as a pile of salty, fishy crisps. In the nicest way possible, as it was good.

A predominately seafood menu meant a wide range of choice for mains, and I went for grilled tuna steak with garlic butter and lemon sauce. Out of the optional accompaniments I chose sautéed potatoes and vegetables. Having read previous reviews warning that requesting rare tuna would result in raw tuna, I decided to wait and see how it came, since I was not asked for my cooking preference.

This was a mistake. Accustomed to tuna rare in the middle, I was disappointed to find it entirely cooked through – much flavour was lost as a result. The sauce was quite nice, as were the potatoes, but the latter had also been cooked in garlic which, with the garlic sauce as well, was a bit much. The vegetables were nondescript boiled carrots and broccoli with little, if any, seasoning.

My companion opted for monkfish stew. Again, this had excellent presentation – served in a large copper pot with lid attached, the dish made a very good first impression. The monkfish was well cooked, with chorizo, parma ham and vegetables mixed in to the dish. Served in a broth, the dish was of generous proportions and could easily be shared between two with some sides.

But again, the flavour really wasn’t there. The same boiled vegetables popped up in this dish – as did they in everybody else’s, from a quick glance around – and the luscious flavours expected from a stew just didn’t come to the surface. With desserts looking somewhat like pre-packaged freezer options, we decided to give them a miss.

If you’re looking for simple, Portuguese home cooking, A Torre will do the job. Likewise, if you’re looking for more on atmosphere than flavour, it will fit the bill. But if you’re after strong flavours, depth and complexity – or perhaps a fourth kind of vegetable on the menu – then it’s not the place for you.

yumptious rating: 6/10

A Torre, 19 Westow Street, Crystal Palace, SE19 3RY | 020 8653 9895 | atorrerestaurant.co.uk

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Posted in: cuisine