Sometimes attitude counts for a lot more than authenticity. My favorite tapas bar in Tokyo is run by a Geordie who puts C.C. Lemon in the sangria. But the food is fantastic, and the setting so casual that most diners don’t even bother to look at the menu: they just sit back and let the dishes come.
La Valenciana, which opened in Omotesando in June, could do with a little of that breeziness. I’m not sure if there’s a Japanese textbook for tapas bar owners, but if there is, you can bet that this place followed it to the letter. The room is all brick walls and romantic lighting, with a few tables and a counter crowned by a leg of jamón serrano. The food and drink menus tick all the right boxes, without ever so much as threatening to catch you by surprise.
And, heck, it isn’t all that bad. Our friendly waiter starts us off with a round of sangria (¥550), which tastes like amber nectar after a sweltering day on the streets of Tokyo. Not a hint of C.C. Lemon, either. Glasses of Spanish wine go for ¥500-¥700, and even the cheapest red turns out to be perfectly drinkable. The only draft beer on offer is Asahi Super Dry (¥500), but if you’re determined to keep things Iberian, there’s also bottled Cruzcampo or Alhambra Especial available (both ¥800), along with a limited selection of sherry and Cava, all priced at ¥750 per glass.
The food menu is comfortingly familiar, to the point of feeling slightly bland. The Champiñones a la Segoviana (¥780), mushrooms stuffed with garlic, herbs and bacon, pack a decent punch, and the Tortilla España (¥500) is satisfying, if hardly the best rendition of the dish we’ve tasted. We follow up with the Paella of the Day (¥1,680), which on the day of our visit appears to have descended straight from the upper echelons of carnivore heaven, so laden is it with chicken and minced chorizo. It’s tasty but slightly too dry, and while the portion we get might fill one person up, it leaves us peckish when shared between two.
Paella aside, there doesn’t seem to be much by way of daily specials, which for a tapas bar is an oversight. The staff at La Valenciana appear to enjoy what they’re doing, but they could afford to let their hair down a little—to depart from the rigid template dictating what places like this are supposed to be like and start imposing their own personalities on the proceedings. Throwing in some culinary curveballs each day would be a step in the right direction. As it is, La Valenciana is an agreeable—and, by Omotesando’s standards, affordable—joint, but one that leaves barely a dent on the memory once you’ve left.