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Restaurant reviews: Paolo Tullio on Las Tapas, Co Dublin and Spice Cottage, Sallynoggin


Most evenings that I spend at Marian Kenny's house, we get handed a meal cooked by a proper chef. That's her son Max, who is starting out on his cooking career having finished his studies. Sadly for us, there are evenings when he's working, so that means either cooking ourselves or, in moments of laziness, getting a takeaway.

By now, we've tried most of the takeaways in the Dalkey area; some are okay, some poor and some too expensive for what you get. But this week, we found Spice Cottage in Sallynoggin, which is in a row of shops off the main road, just behind Power City. I say 'we found', but it was a suggestion by Gerard Carthy of tasteofireland.com that prompted us find it. Gerard spent quite a long time in Goa, so when he said that the Indian food in Spice Cottage was both good and authentic, I believed him.

Spice Kitchen is run by a father and daughter team, and they take their authenticity seriously. 'No microwave cooking' is on the front page of their menu and everything is cooked to order. That means a small wait but, frankly, it's worth it.

There are set-meal options -- a meal for two with eight different elements is €25, or there are set meals for one for €14 or €16. We ended up taking away a Haandi Gosht, which was lamb cooked with peppers, onions, tomatoes and chilli, and a Tarkari Makhani, a vegetarian dish in a cream and tomato sauce. Pilau rice and naan bread gave us more than enough to eat and it came to €18.50. Great value and, we discovered a few moments later, really delicious. We'll be back.

Chef Max has been keen to do a review with me for a while, so we arranged a visit to Las Tapas, which is a café/bar in Cabinteely that has been open for a year or so. We arrived quite early and got a table near the window, where sunlight poured in, giving the place the sort of light that tapas get in their home country. The menu has plenty of choices, so it took us a while to decide.

Nearly all of the tapas are in the €5-€6 range, so you have a chance to order quite a few without breaking the bank. We really went for it and ended up ordering 11 -- probably more than sensible people would have ordered. There were other options: we could have chosen from set tapas selections for two, priced at €38, €44.50 and €49.50, or there was a choice of four paellas for two, each priced at €18.50.

There's a pretty good wine list and it's fairly priced, offering plenty of Spanish wines, but my eye fell instantly on one -- the Manzanilla La Goya. Manzanillas are made like fino sherry, but they're made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, on the coast a few miles from Jerez.

People with more discerning palates than mine claim to taste a saltiness in Manzanillas caused by the sea air. All I know is that I like it a lot. All of the Manzanillas that I've seen on the Irish market are called 'La' something. You can find La Goya, La Guita and La Gitana, all of which are delicious and, frankly, as an accompaniment to tapas, perfect. This half-bottle was priced at €18.50 and we also spent €11 on two large bottles of sparkling water. Curious that a bottle of water cost as much as many of the tapas.

For the first tranche of our order, we got the seafood: Andalusian calamari (simple deep-fried rings); gambas pil pil (king prawns in a garlic and chilli oil); mejillones a la marinera (mussels in a cream and wine sauce) and, lastly, a simple salad and some bread with an olive oil and balsamic dip. These were all well done, but I particularly liked the sauce on the mussels -- it was expertly done.

These were good and filling dishes, but we decided that we needed to try some of the meat tapas, so the second tranche of our order went like this: a Basque stew; pork chops; meatballs; lambs' kidneys and fried chorizo.

The Basque stew (estofado Vasco) -- a beef, potato and red-pepper stew -- was good but not memorable. The pork chops had been roasted in a sauce, so they had retained much of their moisture, unusual in a pork chop.

The meatballs (albóndigas a la jardinera) were done in a tomato sauce and were pretty good, the sauce nicely flavoured and the meatballs well seasoned. The lamb kidneys (riñones al Jerez) were cooked in a cream and sherry sauce, which was flavoursome, but to my mind kidneys are best cooked in halves rather than in small pieces as they easily toughen up, which was the case here.

The last dish to arrive was the fried chorizo slices which Max had ordered. I hadn't considered this dish, since I thought that a fatty chorizo would be even more fatty when fried. I'm glad he ordered it, because I was wrong. The fattiness of the chorizo becomes less as the fat renders and the meaty part crisps up, making it a dish that we almost fought over, picking at the pieces greedily with our fingers.

What surprised me about Las Tapas was that there's not a Spaniard to be seen. The owner is Turkish, there are two chefs -- one Czech and one Irish -- and our excellent waitress was Portuguese. At least our waitress had a connection to the Iberian peninsula. I'm writing this having just got back from Barcelona, and I can honestly say these tapas were as Spanish as any I ate there.

Our bill came to €94.60. Expect more tapas reviews next week.

The verdict

FOOD 9/10



TOTAL 25/30

Las Tapas, Cabinteely Village, Co Dublin

Tel: 01 236 9869

Spice Cottage O’Rourke Park, Sallynoggin

Tel: 1890 668 899

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