Small plates aren’t over – they’re just evolving.
Back in the 19th century, dishes arrived on platters for guests to take bits that appealed to them. Fast forward, and we got to a point where dishes were plated. For a long time, this didn’t change, except certain cuisines that incorporated shared dishes like Indian and Chinese started to gain popularity.
This type of small dish dining and sharing has been around in other cultures forever: Japan has izakayas, after-work bars serving snacks, and of course, Spain has had its tapas, the antecedents of small plates, since the Spanish civil war. These finger foods were designed for nibbling between 9 and 11 pm while socialising.
It is said that the first tapas (tapa meaning ‘cover’ or ‘hide’) was simply a chunk of bread which was placed over the glass to keep the flies from jumping into the drink. As the tradition developed, these “little dishes” became more of an elaborate event, with each region in Spain developing its own specialities as the personalities of thousands of bar owners stamped them with the identities that they have today.
Coastal cities boast fresh seafood; cheese, ham, and olives are prized all over. But in the north, the Basque country that prides itself in heartier bites tends to imbue its own style to everything they do and tapas are no different. There, they are called pintxos and are commonly served on skewers. Popular examples are a gilda (a skewer with an anchovy, olive, and hot pepper) or a piece of bread piled high with an ever-changing selection of ingredients, often starring cod.
Rise in small plates
The National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot Culinary Forecast listed small plate menus as the fourth biggest restaurant concept trend of the year – and it’s still not expected to change anytime soon. Soon savvy diners began to understand that the appetizer section is where chefs take the most risks so they began to order starters en masse to share and this sensibility led to the rise in small plates.
Restaurants can take this idea to the next level with shareable portions that allow guests to sample more items on the menu and give chefs the creative culinary freedom they desire. There are even different categories of tapas: fried, cazeletitas (cooked in earthenware dishes), pinchos (grilled and served on skewers), cucharada y paso arras (spoonfuls) and bien me sabe (tastes good to me).
So what is it that’s making diners flock to small plate restaurants? The answer is multifaceted, but it includes the lack of risk, the scope of dishes available to sample, and ordering a social media-friendly plate.
According to Executive Chef Kerry Kilpin of Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg Farm, the ability to taste a variety of flavours in different dishes and eating without overindulging due to the smaller portions are core reasons why small plates are proving so popular.
Chef Kerry’s style of tapas is greatly influenced by her travels to Thailand and Spain, where she fell in love with the flavours and traditions of these countries. Add these flavour influences to her classical French training and a unique tapas experience will be guaranteed.
A tapas teaser
Here’s a taste of the trendy tapas Kerry’s created to share and offer at Bistro Sixteen82:
Poached pear, tender greens, truffle honey, pumpkin seed & granola crunch
Ethically-sourced Abalobi Fish
Shiitake & tamarind vinaigrette, lemongrass mayo & carrot salsa
Seared beef, truffled corn, shimeji mushrooms, wild rocket, soy, chilli & mayo
Beef Pot Stickers
Red cabbage & mangetout salsa, sesame, aioli, ginger & soy vinaigrette
Spinach, Pea, and Goats Feta Croquette
Wild rocket, chipotle mayo