Paolo Tullio: Join the tapas revolution
Restaurant Review: Las Tapas De Lola, 12 Wexford Street, Dublin 2, Tel: 01 424 4100
You can't help but notice trends when they keep repeating. For example, tapas. Go back 10 years and tapas were something people who had visited Spain had heard of, but were otherwise unknown here in Ireland. Today, they're rapidly becoming one of the commonest themes of restaurant, and of all the recently opened restaurants, tapas bars have to be a large proportion.
The growth of tapas is not the only trend. Another is the relentless colonisation by restaurants of that thoroughfare that runs from George's Street to Camden Street. There cannot be a road anywhere in Ireland that has as many restaurants per 100 metres as this one does.
And here's another trend – when it comes to announcing a new restaurant's arrival, it's now done through the social media. No more advertisements in the press; instead you tweet, you tell your friends on Facebook, and you fill your restaurant.
This week I ended up in a new tapas restaurant in Wexford Street and the two lady owners had done no classic PR, but had made their restaurant known through the various social media. You could say they'd ticked every box of the latest trends.
For a new restaurant it was absurdly busy, even though this gathering was early in the week. While we were eating, a queue formed at the door as the demand for tables was outstripping their availability. Well-established restaurants would be delighted if they had to cope with queues like these.
The restaurant was called Las Tapas de Lola and you can find it at the junction of Wexford Street and a small lane called Protestant Lane. There's an area outside that seats maybe 20, and inside there's room for maybe 50 more.
The decor is fairly basic and the comfort levels are also a bit spartan, but tapas are not designed for a long, lingering dinner. Instead, they were traditionally used in Spain as a way of eating on the move. Each bar that you bought a drink in would give you a tapa; consequently, if you spent an evening moving from bar to bar, you would end up with enough to eat and very probably too much to drink.
I was there with a large group of travel journalists gathered for a meal organised by The Travel Department. As soon as we sat down we knew what was on offer, as our place mats were made by a large sheet of buff paper, which carried the menu.
The menu was divided into sections: meat tapas, paellas, salads, fish, sharing platters, extras and desserts. That totalled more than 50 dishes, so one thing's for sure: you won't be stuck for choice.
But we didn't need to choose – what had been organised for us was that lots of different tapas would come to the table for us to share. That's exactly what tapas are designed for: communal eating.
As a result of this, I got to taste quite a few different dishes. The first that came my way were the croquetas, or croquettes. Spanish croquettes differ from Irish ones in that they're not made from potatoes. Instead they're made from a thick bechamel, or white sauce. The ones that came to me were described as 'granny's croquettes' and were made with chicken. I thought they were very good.
Next to arrive were the classic prawns with garlic and chilli, which is such a good combination of flavours that it accounts for the popularity of this dish. Mind you, it's such a good combination that I suspect that just about anything flavoured with garlic and chilli would taste good.
There were bowls of olives on the table and I picked at these before more dishes arrived. They were mildly spiced black olives and did exactly what olives are designed to do – they piqued the appetite.
Mussels in a marinera sauce arrived and with them came calamari served with aioli. You may know aioli as a garlic-infused mayonnaise, but the Catalan version omits the egg yolk, so it doesn't have the consistency of mayonnaise; rather, it's a thick liquid with a very strong garlic infusion. Anyone pouring this over their food would need to be a lover of garlic.
One of the dishes I particularly enjoyed was the lentils – lentejas – which were cooked with chorizo, black pudding and bacon. It proved, if it needed proving, that pig fat and lentils go well together.
While others around me had begun crema Catalana, a kind of creme brulee, and churros – deep-fried pastry fingers – dipped in chocolate sauce, I found myself talking to Myles McWeeney beside me about kidneys and liver.
"I'd love to taste those tapas," said Myles. "So would I," I said, so while the others finished their meal with desserts, Myles and I finished ours with offal. Of the two dishes I preferred the kidneys, which were sauteed with onions.
While we ate, I watched a queue form just inside the door, which is a sight I haven't seen in a Dublin restaurant for a good few years. It says something for what's on offer in Las Tapas de Lola.
With very little publicity, they've managed to fill the restaurant almost entirely by word of mouth. That's quite an achievement, but it doesn't surprise me. The tapas taste like the real thing and the prices are good. With a combination like that, I suspect Las Tapas de Lola will be a winner.
ON A BUDGET
There are dishes on the menu that are filling, tasty and inexpensive. For example, there’s the typical Catalan pa amb tomaquet, which is bread with chopped tomato and olive oil, at ¤3.75, or the classic Spanish potato omelette at ¤4.50.
ON A BLOWOUT
As is usual on the Continent, it’s the fish dishes that cost. There’s the old favourite pulpo a la Gallega, or octopus done Galician style, which, at ¤11.95, is about double the price of the other tapas. It’s a dish I like, so if you’re feeling flush then give it a try. HIGH POINT The authenticity of the cooking.
Having to leave the table for the next sitting