Tuesday 6 December 2016

Review: 'At Las Tapas de Lola I reckon that we punters deserve better'

Las Tapas de Lola, 12 Wexford Street, Dublin 2. (01) 424-4100

Katy McGuinness

Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30

Las Tapas de Lola
Las Tapas de Lola
Christmas dinner - concentrate on quality.

I booked via email, and therefore under my own name, which is not how it usually works when I'm working. I hadn't been intending to review Las Tapas de Lola at all. I thought it was old news, that it had been written about extensively already, and that everyone knew that it was good. As it happens, I'm certain we garnered no special "critic in the house" kind of treatment. So I decided to write about it, because I reckon that we punters deserve better.

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Las Tapas de Lola opened a couple of years back and was an instant hit. On the previous occasions that I'd tried to book a table, I had failed. But there was a birthday to celebrate, and that birthday happened to fall on a Monday, and there was not a huge range of options open to us in the city centre. We could have gone to 777 but we were wary of hitting the margaritas so early in the week. And we could have gone to L'Gueuleton, but the birthday girl said she'd prefer Spanish food to French. So that's how I happened to visit Las Tapas de Lola for the first time.

I don't know, therefore, whether it has changed much since it opened. I have no way of knowing if, when it first opened, it restricted bookings to a precise one-and-three-quarter-hour slot as it does now. The email confirmation of the booking said that a table had been reserved from 7pm until 8.45pm. On the day, a call came to confirm the reservation "at 7pm," said the person on the end of the phone "until 8.45pm". There was emphasis on the 8.45pm.

Our card having been thus marked, we arrived promptly at 7pm. We were shown to our table and reminded that we would have to vacate it "at 8.45pm". (More emphasis.) We all understand the economic factors that require restaurants to get the most out of their tables, but that has to be balanced with the need to convey a sense of hospitality. In any event, it did not make for much of a welcome, despite the complimentary inch each of tinto de verano and two little saucers of lentil stew.

We started with a half bottle of manzanilla between the four of us - or we tried to - but our waitress took some convincing. "We only serve sherry by the glass," she said with authority, despite evidence to the contrary on the menu, and there was an amount of huffing and puffing before it was brought to the table.

Anyway, better hurry up and get on with the food. Wouldn't want to run out of time.

Who does not love tapas? We've all been on holidays to Spain and delighted in the novelty of being able to eat small and delicious plates of food costing little money. The sun helps of course, and our critical faculties can be dulled by the excitement of being away from home. Unless you put in proper research, you can eat as badly in Spain as anywhere else. It's akin to visitors to Ireland raving about the full Irish, when we locals know that the quality of that dish around the country can range from excellent to execrable.

So what did we eat at Las Tapas de Lola? House salted almonds (tasty), jamon Iberico (underwhelming, dry, topped with mini-breadsticks), croquetas de la abuela (chicken croquettes, pedestrian), Catalan bread with grated tomato and extra virgin olive oil (dull, but it's not the season for tasty tomatoes, so our fault), puntillitas (fried baby squid tentacles, moreish - it's a texture thing), gambas al ajillo (prawns with garlic, chilli and olive oil, enjoyable, hard to go wrong), chorizo and morcilla (delicious), carrillada de cerdo (slow-cooked pig cheeks, tender), sautéed lambs liver with garlic and parsley (tough, over-cooked despite being ordered pink), Bomba de Barceloneta (a horrid spicy meat ball - the one-dimensional chilli kick like a sledgehammer, the whole doused in tomato and allioli sauces) and grilled goat's cheese with house tomato marmalade (recommended by our waitress, tragic).

The food arrived in a deluge rather than staggered, so some dishes were already cold by the time we got to them. There was little doubt in our minds that the reason for the frenetic pace at which the tapas was delivered was to facilitate the freeing up of the table within the allocated slot, rather than to suit us, the customers. We finished up with a shared portion of churros with a chocolate dipping sauce that were sweet and good. None of the dishes was any better than you would find at a run of the mill tourist restaurant anywhere in Spain. I wonder was the food better at Tapas de Lola when first it opened. Our bill for four, with that half bottle of manzanilla and three bottles of Musica en El Camino (€32.50), came to €217.70 before service. We felt that the meal had been rushed, that the food was mediocre, and that there was something inhospitable about the operation as a whole.

Anyway, everyone else seems to love Las Tapas de Lola, so what do I know? I'll steer clear and leave room for the rest of you.

On a budget

Chicken croquettes and lentil stew would cost €9.50 for one.

On a blowout

With tapas, it's how long is a piece of string, but if you chose chorizo cooked in white wine, black rice with seafood, squid ink and allioli, Galician style octopus with paprika and potatoes and a Malaga mixed fried fish platter, and a couple of desserts, you'd be looking at a bill of €48.90 for two before drinks.

THE HIGH POINT

The good company.

THE LOW POINT

Being allocated a one-and-three-quarter-hour slot for our table was bad enough, but being reminded about it several times was irritating.

The rating

5/10 food

5/10 ambience

6/10 value for money

16/30

Whispers from the gastronomicon

If you're the one in charge of getting Christmas dinner on the table this year, think about paring down the number of different dishes that you're going to offer, and concentrate on quality rather than quantity. So, rather than worrying how on earth you're going to make something appetising out of the leftovers, ensure that you are not over-buying. If you haven't ordered your turkey and ham already, try to support a local producer. I've ordered my bird from McNally Family Farm in North Co Dublin; they'll have a pop-up shop at the farm for collection on December 23.

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