I've been coming to Encasa for years and have only now realised that there's a deluxe version of the sangria that's significantly heftier on the alcohol component. I can actually taste the liqueur in addition to red wine and fruit - I've been missing out for so long.
I love the mish-mash, jumbled feel of Encasa sometimes. Not so when I don't have a bookiing, but there's just a feel of slight chaos brewing beneath the floorboards of the hectically busy restaurant, especially this particular Friday night.
We have a fair sized table of good eaters, and we order generously but sensibly. Which is why I'm a little perplexed that the waiter was bug-eyed and head-shaking at the amount of food we ordered. We showed him - mostly.
I'm so comfortable with the menu at Encasa that I often forget there are specials. This special salad is a first for me and a pleasant alternative to the goat cheese and roasted capsicum salad - which we also order. It's a simple assembly of rocket, artichokes, cherry tomatoes and shavings of a divine manchego cheese that just works effortlessly.
Before long, a procession of tapas start heading towards us - mostly in multiples for sharing among our group. The garlic mushrooms are vegies made fun - not that they're norrmally not - but these just pop with a firm juiciness in a celebration of garlic.
As much as a sad stereotype as it may be, it's not really a tapas experience for me without patatas bravas and Encasa's version rivals that I had in a Barcelona laneway. With lashings of a spicy tomato salsa and creamy garlic mayonnaise, it's comfort food that behaves well with the sangria.
From my sangria-soaked memory, the chorizo isn't the best I've tried, although that accolade is still waiting to be awarded, I think. This sausage tends a little dry and salty, and lacking on the spice kick just a little.
The huge bowl of tender-as mussels also comes topped with a spicy tomato salsa, of which none goes to waste with our handy bread roll mops. The mussel meat is superbly tender and not at all fishy - it looks so easy, yet not always so in the home kitchen.
Undoubtedly a crowd favourite, the prawns in spicy tomato salsa are extremely crunchily firm. A lot of restaurants could learn from this. One would think that the 'spicy tomato salsa' is getting a bit repetitive at this point - but it's not. There are varying degrees of spiciness and consistency that just keep everyone dipping and sopping up all that tomato-ey goodness.
The lamb skewers are mostly tender and less flavour-intensive than most the other tapas dishes. They're sort of cooked to a well-done point, which is acceptable but makes for a bit more chewing and a bit less juiciness.
At this point, I start to think that maybe we should have heeded the waiter's apprehension. Just after I have that thought, I find myself reaching for one of the last slices of the freshly cooked pizza. Elected from the traditional rather than gourmet menu, this has a bit of everything going for it - vegies, meat and just enough cheese on a crusty woodfired base.
A collective "Oooh..!" greets the paella - a serving for four that looks more like a serving for ten. The huge king prawns have their meeting of minds amid roast capsicum and pipis, surrounded by an audience of mussels and lemon wedges. After a light shower of lemon juice, the meeting is broken up into servings of the fluffy saffron rice and crunchy browned bottom crust. Full as we are, we appreciate the super fresh seafood so much that we take half of it home to appreciate even more the next day.
Dessert doesn't rate a moment's thought although we're easily convinced that we need more of that deluxe sangria. By this point, the restaurant is seriously hopping with no sign of slowing. It's a bit chaotic, it's very festive, and it's just the sort of almost homely atmosphere that one would miss being away from.