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Dinner At: Bar Azita, Harpenden

PUBLISHED: 12:47 07 July 2014 | UPDATED: 12:47 07 July 2014

Azita Spanish Blend (platter of chicken shashlik, pork pinchitos and chorizo) with a side order of cous-cous

Azita Spanish Blend (platter of chicken shashlik, pork pinchitos and chorizo) with a side order of cous-cous

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Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne makes a Mediterranean discovery in Harpenden, complete with lizards

Azita, HarpendenAzita, Harpenden

Recent coverage of the growth of Mediterranean cuisine around our county led a reader to recommend Bar Azita in Harpenden. It’s not the newest of its kind but it is but one of the most enduring, set up by owners Nick and Julie Pike after they returned to the UK in 2007 after five years in southern Spain.

They seem to be doing something right. Azita has two sections, a tapas bar up front and a full-service restaurant, both doing good business on the evening I visited. Bright and modern, with lots of bare brick and good use of lighting, it is buzzy and informal but the menus show it puts value on authenticity too.

As you would expect from the owners’ background, the food offer is based heavily on tapas, backed up by a substantial list of hot and cold mezze, salads, meat, fish and seafood. As a regular visitor to Spain, I can attest to the authenticity of the first, while what I saw and sampled of the main menu more than vindicated the Pikes’ stated aim to offer the ‘laid-back Mediterranean style of eating fresh healthy food’.

Meat, fish and vegetables are supplied locally and cooked on a traditional charcoal grill to order, so food comes straight from barbecue to table. It was fast too – reflecting the conscientious service from our waiter throughout, time between ordering and the goodies arriving was less than 15 minutes, just enough to polish off a shared starter before starting the main event.

Dolmeh (vine leaves stuffed with minced beef, rice and squeeze of lemon)Dolmeh (vine leaves stuffed with minced beef, rice and squeeze of lemon)

The starter was dolmeh (£8.50) – vine leaves stuffed with minced beef, rice and a squeeze of lemon. With rich meat courses to follow, it was a good choice, light and refreshing. There is also a vegetarian option. Going native with the mains, we chose pork pinchitos (£12) for one and the oddly-named Azita Spanish Blend (£16) for the other. The pinchitos, two pork skewers marinated in a blend of Moorish spices with mushroom, onion and peppers, appealed to my companion’s exotic side as well as being praised for flavour and texture. Further proof of a confident kitchen came with the Spanish Blend (£16), a substantial platter of chicken shashlik, pinchitos and chorizo, with a side order of cous-cous (£3.25), tasty all round and more than enough for the average appetite.

Then there are the lizards.

If you needed proof of Bar Azita’s quirkiness, this is it. Colourful lizards made in Haiti from recycled oil drums adorn the restaurant walls and appear on the menus to indicate house specialities. The geckos are supplied by a member of the Fair Trade Federation and are for sale – £8 for a small one, rising to £36 for the king-size.

We found Bar Azita a fun place to be. It’s not fine-dining, but the food is good, the place is clearly popular and the whole thing is underpinned by professional and competent service.

Pork pinchitos (two pork skewers marinated in a blend of Moorish spices with mushroom, onion and peppers) roasting over charcoalPork pinchitos (two pork skewers marinated in a blend of Moorish spices with mushroom, onion and peppers) roasting over charcoal

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The cost of this meal for two was £52.25 including two glasses of wine, plus service.

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This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.

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