Until I discovered the magic of tapas, I never realised that my food ADHD and my Spanish upbringing would make the perfect dining combination. My lack of ability to order a single dish and consume it wholly often puts me in ordering jeopardy when I’m dining out. I find it difficult to resist the temptation to sample everything that jumps out at me from restaurant menus because my internal adventurer has a bigger pull on my mental stability than my logical self. But tapas—and Tapeo, by extension—is all about variety.
Tapeo, a casual tapas bar at The Fort Strip
And I couldn’t have had better.
Mon Acosta Urbano and Theodore Day Salonga, collectively known as MonDay Chefs, are culinary consultants and bonafide Spanish food aficionados. “After five years of being in the consultancy service, we decided to put up our own place,” Day shares. “We noticed that most of the tapas bars here in Manila are lounge-type establishments. We wanted to bring in the real Spanish bars, which, in summary, can be defined as turo-turo. In Spain, people get tapas, which are appetizers served on bread, place them on top of their sangria glass, and go from bar to bar to mingle with other diners. Of course, we don’t have the privilege to go tapas bar hopping here in the Philippines, but Tapeo is a very casual place that is hopefully, reminiscent of that.”
The word “tapas” is derived from the Spanish verb, tapar, which means “to cover.” Everyday, from 2PM to 9PM, adventurous folks from the Metro can avail of eat-all-you-can tapas at the open bar for only P400 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and P450 on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. “Customers love to dance, too,” Day says with a laugh. “Even with the limited floor space that we have, they find a way to do it.”
To start things off, I was invited to try some of Mon and Day’s favourite tapas. To me, this feature was like coming home because I was born and bred in a Filipino-Spanish clan, and many of the tapas were incarnations (albeit in smaller servings) of food that I grew up with. Here at Tapeo, traditional dishes such as fabada (Spanish bean stew with ham, chorizo and spices), lengua (ox tongue) and callos (ox tripe) are served on nearly bite-sized pieces of bread, giving you plenty of opportunity to resume your turo-turo regimen bite after delicious bite. Mon and Day also experiment with their recipes, bringing some unique flavours such as artichoke tapas into the fold.
Croquetas and empanadas also reign supreme here at Tapeo. Plato de Croquetas (P100 for three pieces; P195 for six pieces), served with aioli sauce, come in a variety of flavours. To me, the spinach and cheese, and the anchovy ones, are clear bestsellers. The Plato de Empanadas (P120 for three pieces; P235 for six pieces), on the other hand, are an assortment of savory patties served with romesco sauce. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch their clam-flavoured empanada, which is something quite rare in these parts.
Aside from tapas, Tapeo also offers meal portions of well-loved Spanish classics. The Tortilla de Patatas (P160), a Spanish potato omelet, and Paella ala Tapeo (P275) meshed right in with the assortment of tapas served to us. Tapeo’s special chicken, shrimp and chorizo paella is seasoned with saffron, spices and herbs, giving it a unique, distinct taste. The Albondigas en Salsa (P195), or fried spiced meatballs, is a drool-worthy dish for carnivores. The meatballs are cooked in a rich tomato sauce and served with potatoes, carrots and crusty bread.
Tortilla de Patatas
Paella ala Tapeo
Albondigas en Salsa
This would not be a legitimate tapas bar experience without the sangria. Tapeo has one of the most delightful sangria concoctions that I have ever tried. At P175 a glass or P750 a pitcher, this will serve as the perfect companion with your tapas, just as the Spanish meant for it to be. Mon took the opportunity to show me how their nifty little invention, the tapas plate, worked with the drink. “Some people are sensitive about the tapas style because the breadcrumbs fall into the sangria,” he explains. “So we devised a way for them to keep enjoying the tapas style without having to worry about stray breadcrumbs.” Their tapas plate, designed to fit into and over the rim of the glass at the same time, keeps things nice and clean for Tapeo’s customers. I also accepted an offering of the Chiquita (P175), a delicious smoothie-like, alcohol laced banana drink. To end it all, they let me try their Churros con Chocolate (P145) one of my favourite—if not my ultimate favourite—Spanish desserts. These churros are fried till golden brown, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and served with Spanish chocolate. To be able to have them homemade is indeed a blessing.
Tapas on top of sangria
Churros con Chocolate
Tapeo now stands in what used to be a banking area. Mon and Day have successfully managed to make use of the small space, maximizing the seating capacity and sectioning off a small area to serve as the choose-your-own-tapas section. Their wine cellar, to my delight, was the bank’s old money vault. “It’s like you were meant to be here,” I told the MonDay Chefs. “Everything just fits so well into the kind of business you’ve always wanted to run.”
That, of course, was something we had to toast to.
Additional images courtesy of Tapeo.