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Basque For Good

Whoops, i survived Christmas! Someone ought to market a button badge with that motto on it.

No more false bonhomie; no more turkey and ham; no more up to your oxters in wrapping paper; no more Alka Selzer at 5am; no more dancing to Abba, for another year, anyhow. Sorry, don't mean to be a killjoy but I have my own deeply ingrained reasons for not 'doing' Christmas.

One of the problems I have with the so-called 'festive season' is the difficulty of leading a normal life. At this time of year the fickle two fingers of fate seem to single one out for special attention. Imagine a restaurant where, having booked a good while in advance, the manager rings you on the morning of your projected visit to advise that the leisurely lunch you and your colleagues have planned is a no-no, they want the table back in two hours. Take a bow, Diep le Shaker. Then there was the restaurant which dished up cold food on cold plates and, when taxed, pleaded the excuse of 'seasonal pressure'. This happened in Il Segreto, a Merrion Row Italian that a regular dining companion of mine has dubbed "The Unicorn, minus the craic".

Take a bow, Roly's of Ballsbridge, a restaurant that is becoming fashionable for certain critics to knock. Sorry, but I really don't get this carping. Here's a restaurant that serves decently priced food, nicely cooked and presented, and has mastered the art of turning tables over without making anyone feel short-changed. The kind of place to which you could happily take wife, mother, daughter and mistress (though ideally not on the same night); an 'all things to all people' establishment. Okay, perhaps the menu is a tad formulaic but hey, this is the Basie Band of Dublin dining -- reliable, enjoyable but it ain't going to break new ground. You want Dizzy and Bird, you go to Thornton's and pay more for the privilege.

Honourable mention to Zaytoon on Camden Street where they fettle the only kebab you can possibly eat sober, where I found myself, late doors, after the Herald party. You meet interesting people there, too. That just about covers my seasonal dining out except for a dash uptown last Saturday. On an eeny-meeny-miney-mo basis, Sibella and I swung into Bar Pintxo on Eustace Street for a nap hand of tapas. Pronounced 'peen cho', the Basque word apparently means 'on a stick' although most of the examples we encountered were served on toasted bread. Pintxos, as far as I could tell, are like tapas only smaller. Regular tapas also feature.

The place looked inviting with a big rectangle of Christmas flitter-glitter hung around the front door. Inside it's quite dark but atmospheric rather than gloomy. The bogs are a talking point -- rather OTT, I can see Del Boy installing a similar throne for his year as the Pearly King of Peckham. We ordered a mix of pintxos and tapas -- toasted Galician bread surmounted by garlic, tomatoes and olive oil (ghastly, the tomatoes were nigh on frozen); seared foie gras on slices of apple and served with a Pedro Ximenes sherry reduction (pretty damn good and a bargain at a fiver); paella (gruesome, rice had the consistency of soggy cous cous and a curious brown hue, thanks probably to turmeric overload); marinated sardines, grilled and served on toast (fine) and calamares rabas, squid in batter with lemon and aioli. These were excellent, the batter, crisp and ethereal, the squid within, tender and tasty. We ordered a second portion. We also took a small portion of a very decent lamb stew and some patatas bravas, miles better than I had in Puerto Banus recently. We finished on a high: very well made churros, Spanish doughnuts, with a full-flavoured chocolate dip. Quibbles? Well, while I wouldn't know 'Galician bread' from, say, Valencian, the bread accompanying some dishes bore more than a passing resemblance to a 'Tesconian' baguette. And a blisteringly hot and tart espresso.

Pintxo has a fair selection of Spanish and a few Portuguese wines by the glass (120cl and 250cl) and bottle. If you are trying a few, as we did, progress upscale rather than down. The Jean Leon Terrasola, for instance, makes the house white Rioja seem very anaemic indeed. Service-wise we were well looked after by caring, efficient staff.

Verdict: Not perfect, but Dublin's best stab at a tapas bar -- by the length of the Camino.


Bar Pintxo, 12 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Tel: 01 672 8590