We are eating tapas in the downstairs area of THBC, and mouth half full, I stop. For not the first time in his life Guim has come out with one of those leftfield ideas of his. It’s an idea that knowing Guim may well come to fruition — after all, this is a guy who’s cycled around the world not once but twice.
“You don’t actually need to be 100 percent naked,” continues the Catalonian. “You can wear shorts or Y-fronts. What I want to do is make a skin-coloured body suit and paint on abs and muscles. Then it will look like I’m naked although I’ll actually be wearing something.”
It’s from another idea of his that Guim’s Spanish Tapas Bar has gradually developed. What started off as a bicycle collective has eventually transformed itself into an Iberian-styled café, bar and restaurant, albeit still with a bicycle theme. The bicycle side of things has now moved to a dedicated shop on West Lake, a few doors down from Spanish compadres Chula. On this visit I’ve also ditched the bicycles and have come for the food.
“You’d get away with it if you do the ride on Middle Warp,” I say.
“No way. I want to do it in Hanoi. Around the lake.”
From Tortilla to Octopus
If the number of Spanish customers can act as a barometer, then Guim’s transformation has so far been a success. There have been a few worthy attempts in the capital at creating a tapas bar, but Spanish tapas has never quite worked here. Until now.
For me the key to making tapas is that Iberian staple, the Spanish tortilla or omelette (VND30,000 for a small portion / VND60,000 for a large). It’s one of those oh-so-simple dishes that is surprisingly easy to get wrong. Yet the mark of a good kitchen is one that keeps their tortilla moist, not overly garlicky, slightly sweet and soft. It musn’t be dry. Guim’s chef does this with aplomb and served up with bread scratched with tomatoes and olive oil (pa amb tomaquet in Catalan), the dish ticks all the right boxes.
Another of Guim’s dishes, the pulpa a la Gallega, the Galician octopus (VND71,000 / VND142,000), is also excellent. Served with slices of boiled potato and with the whole dish drizzled in olive oil, Spanish hand-carried-into-Vietnam paprika has been sprinkled on top together with rock salt to give it some bite. The octopus itself is exceptional — supple, meaty and far from chewy — making this into a to-die-for dish. With some imported rock salt rather than the local version, it could taste even better. I tell Guim as much and he agrees. Yes, it may be worth seeing what he can get brought in from Spain.
My other pick are the garlic prawns or gambas al ajillo (VND90,000 / VND168,000). I’m not going to mince words — they are sensational. Garlicky, sweet, melt in the mouth and yet still slightly tough, the prawns are served up with the butter sauce in which they are cooked.
“I have a group of Germans come in here to drink beer,” says Guim. “They order dish after dish of the prawns. They love the stuff.”
As the food gets cleared away, the conversation returns to the naked bike ride. Guim is obsessed.
“Will it actually happen?” I ask.
“Of course it will,” he smiles. — Nick Ross
THBC Spanish Tapas Bar is at 44 Lane 31, Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho, Hanoi