Restaurant Review: Las Tapas de Lola 12 Wexford Street, Dublin 2 Tel: 01 4244100 *****
The actor Eli Wallach once said having a critic praise you is like having a hangman tell you you've got a pretty neck. Wallach knew all about hangmen. He played Tuco, or the Ugly, alongside Eastwood's the Good and Van Cleef's the Bad in Sergio Leone's classic spaghetti western of the same name. Cowboys and critics. I could write the lexicon for both. Or could I?
Criticism flows from a reviewer's pen, but praise has a tendency to gush and splutter. Only when I come across a restaurant as faultless as Las Tapas de Lola do I find myself lost for words. Or more worryingly: spoilt for clichés.
It is all of them: stunningly, stonkingly, wickedly good. A culinary tour de force, a revelation. It is that rare thing. You should beg, borrow or steal to eat there. It's mouthwatering, it's moreish, and it's yummy. Did I mention delicious? And toothsome? And (God forgive me) nyom. It's the bee's knees, the cat's meow, the dog's bollocks. It is all these things – and so much more. It is superlative.
And now for something you may actually find useful: make a reservation before you go.
Do not assume (as we did) that a new tapas joint on Wexford Street will be easy to get in to – even on a Tuesday night. We had to put our names on a waiting list and spend 45 minutes drinking some class of bitches' brew in the pub next door.
It gave us time to ponder the mystery of what makes a restaurant work. Location, we agreed, was key. Publicity – though I hadn't received any PR guff about the place. Ui Rathaile added timing to the list, and I flattered myself by including good reviews. And then there's good old-fashioned word of mouth. Most people can't keep their mouths shut when they're first to happen on something new and brilliant. And that is why, within a few weeks of opening, Las Tapas de Lola has gone viral.
And so I am going to tell you about it as though I were a trusted friend. Please forgive me if the occasional sinful or moreish slips into the narrative.
Las Tapas de Lola has a lovely dining room. The lighting is warm and low, the tables are set a civilised distance apart, and the music is unobtrusive. It's filled with smiling, chatty punters, who are enthusiastically sharing bowls of food. There's a lot of dipping and mopping going on, and the wine is flowing. The menu is printed on brown paper place mats. Wines by the glass are written on a giant blackboard. I like not having to wait for a waiter to give me a menu. We have waited long enough.
And besides, Lola has one of the longest menus I've ever come across. There must be 50 dishes on it. Hunger and indecision are bad enough alone, but together they're unbearable.
I took to the menu with a biro and put Xs beside the dishes I thought we should order. There was the typical: chorizo, meatballs, patatas bravas, paella . . . Then there was the unusual: oxtail casserole, lamb kidneys, scallop and white fish gratin . . . In the end my menu had more Xs than a teenage Valentine.
In an attempt to be ruthless, I picked two Xs from the meat menu, two from the seafood menu – and the paella del dia (when it's gone it's gone).
It was gone. Curses. The waitress suggested we try the Cazuelita de fiduá (��6.95) – Catalan seafood pasta. Bueno – we were on our way.
Ui Rathaile ordered the wine: Artuko Rioja – a dark, plummy red with a soft, smoky mouthfeel that tasted of black cherries and leather. A stunner.
It arrived with a small dish of marinated pig's cheek – slow-cooked until the meat was meltingly tender, infused in its own sweet juices and finished with fresh, grassy parsley. We didn't order it, it was a teaser that did its job perhaps too well . . . nothing could taste better than this. Pig's cheek – if you don't mind.
Oh but how wrong we were . . . it was followed by a pageant of exquisitely fresh, expertly cooked dishes. Lentejas (€5.50) – puy lentils with chorizo, black pudding and bacon was, by turns, muddy, gritty and chewy, with mingling flavours of smoke and spice that filled me with a carnal urge to eat an entire pig.
But Ui Rathaile wasn't going to surrender control of the pincho moruno (€5.50) – skewered chunks of marinated roasted pork loin – without a joust. I distracted him with some calamares (€5.50) and moved in for the kill. The pork was moist, sweet and underscored by aniseed flavours that we couldn't quite believe were from fennel alone.
The calamari, meanwhile, were a case study in crispness. When you bit into it, the squid was so fresh, it sprang back into its golden shell with a 'ping'. Doused with lemon and dipped into a kicking aioli, the calamari were a mouthful of summer. They were also our cue to get stuck into some white wine.
We chose a fresh, zesty blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viura from Lanzos. It had a hint of lemongrass that worked particularly well with our next dish: grilled prawns with olive oil, garlic and chillies.
Half the fun of eating chillies is in not knowing which mouthful is going to nail you, and boy when these gambas nailed you, they nailed you good. It was a game of roulette, where you hedge your bets between succulent, sweet and incendiary.
If I had to choose a favourite dish (and it would be cruel to make me) it would be the cazuelita de fideuá (€6.95).
A bountiful stew of mussels, prawns and crunchy vermicelli in a simmering tomato, olive oil and garlic broth.
It transported me from Wexford Street to the Catalan coast. And I really didn't want to come back, but the maître d' was standing over our table, apparently looking for a verdict.
I was catatonic with pleasure, so Ui Rathaile took over. It was probably for the best, I shudder to think of the clichés I would have come out with. Mouthwatering . . . moreish . . . nyom?
How would somebody unencumbered by the hackneyed excesses of food writing praise Las Tapas de Lola?
Oh how would I know? Just go. It's probably the best restaurant in Dublin right now.
TYPICAL DISH: Marinated pig's cheek
RECOMMENDED: Catalan seafood pasta
THE DAMAGE: €81.90 for five tapas and seven glasses of wine
ON THE STEREO: Spanish lounge
AT THE TABLE: Happy punters
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