In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, this restaurant shuns etiquette, and diners are visibly bemused when - instead of being offered the wine list - they’re presented with a bewildering choice of nearly 80 different gins. Amazingly, this apparent mismatch works simply because the quality of the gin is completely off the scale and the idea so out of the box. Russian, Polish, Finnish . . . some of the world’s best varieties are stocked here, and it’s no wonder that Taberna Moderna is noted as much as a snazzy gin joint as it is an eccentric place to eat.
The mismatched interior of Taberna Moderna — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
So what about the food? Well, again, it’s about mixing and matching. Essentially, this is a tapas bar. The assortment of bite-sized morsels radiate color, are beautifully textured and taste delicious. But they’re a canny lot in the kitchen. While the Spanish flavour is carefully maintained, there’s more than a dash of the orient about this place. For example, the Japanese tuna tataki, seared to perfection and seasoned with ginger and a sublime miso and wasabi paste, is one of their most popular plates. The menu also lists a selection of Japanese sushi.
Portuguese culinary influences are never far away, though. The menu highlights a number of classic staples, including a perennial favorite, arroz de polvo. Actually, it’s the national dishes that do perhaps shine better with wine: a crisp, citrus-infused white works wonders with the aforementioned octopus rice. Likewise, the rich, hearty pork and beef options scream out for an earthy red. The menu also draws on the Mediterranean for inspiration, exemplified by their cracking mushroom risotto. (Yes, the “Modern Tavern” is seriously vegetarian-friendly.)
This kaleidoscope of gastronomic styles and tastes is probably why none of the furniture is coordinated. Instead, the jumble sale chairs and tables appear as if someone has thrown the whole lot in the air and set them where they fell. Great idea! The result is an attractive hodgepodge of wood, wicker and plastic, assembled under costume jewelry chandeliers and stainless steel lamplights. Wall mirrors amplify the space and reflect the scene as if it were a wacky parallel universe.
Service is slick and sociable, and if it’s not too busy, customers are given a guided tour through the menu. And this is when the G-men come in handy. The bartenders know their stuff, and while a long, tall gin might not be everybody’s idea of a surrogate wine, these guys are pretty good at persuading you otherwise. Remember, Taberna Moderna is all about experimenting with the odd, the unusual and the unconventional.
But if you’re still not convinced, order one of their specials with ice and a slice and chill out on the pavement terrace beforehand. As the aperitif works its magic, Taberna’s hypnotic character will lure you in like a pike on a fly and you’ll be hooked.
Incidentally, this useful outside holding bay also works as a popular after-hours venue. Beware, though. The jazzy hot spot gets crowded, frequented as it is by a loose affiliation of young, good-looking fashionistas; silk-tied business types; and, increasingly, blog-savvy tourists.