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Striking Lucky with top tapas

My buddy Lucky Man works chaotic hours, amazing really when his terms of employment would allow him to put in a regular 9am to 5.30pm shift.

But Lucky likes to start work by 7.30am and knock off for breakfast just as his colleagues are arriving. Lunch is a moveable feast -- to be taken at a time of his choosing between 11am and 3pm, and invariably of at least an hour and a half's duration.

These days, his employers tolerate his eccentricities, though it wasn't always the case. Lucky has received many a final written warning for organising his day to suit himself, but, being exceptional at what he does, has always managed to avoid the reunion with his P45. It was down to me to find a venue to Lucky Man's specification -- "Gettatable by Green Luas /informal/serves lunch after 2pm/hearty feed". This found us in Ranelagh, headed for a steak. Then we spied La Bodega. "Let's go in here," he said.

La Bodega, in the middle of the dining strip, has a narrow frontage but goes way back. Comfortably got up, there are no bull-fighting posters and no sign of those curious vessels that permit the imbibing of wine by pouring it down your forehead, usually a sine qua non accessory of all non-Spanish tapas bars.

Senoritas

The only Hispanic concessions were a row of wrought-iron hanging lamps and some choccy box paintings of voluptuous red-lipped senoritas. Classical guitar music, not intrusive, pleased me in particular. Segovia is my middle name.

La Bodega's menu contained a special offer -- two regular tapas for €8. Sounded like a deal. From the pleasant lady who waited tables, we summoned up a bowl of mussels in wine and garlic, some baked prawns with chilli and, strange this for a tapas bar, an insalata caprese.

We also partook of wine, two glasses of a very decent, fresh and food-friendly Rueda. This went down a treat and we ordered an encore. "Did you like it?" asked the waitress, adding helpfully, "It got dissed by Tom Doorley." "Tom who?" said Lucky Man.

The mussels were excellent and plentiful. The bowl held more than I'd consider a large starter portion. We called for a spoon and some bread to dispose of the broth.

The prawns too were tasty, with the garlic rakishly overt. I imagined Lucky Man's colleagues reeling on his return to work. The caprese didn't disappoint; it was actually mozzarella di bufala and fresh too. Sensible people would have called a halt there -- these were tapas for heroes or gluttons, but we were The Lads who Lunch, calling for albondigas con tomate -- good meat balls served in a fiery tomato sauce.

Cure

At this point, Lucky Man spied a dish on the blackboard he fancied, endorsing his choice with a rubbing of his hands. Describing the dish, named Migas, I think, our waitress told us that the chef was from Valencia and that this was his mother's speciality. It came in a terracotta dish. What we got was a sludgy sea of delicious melty black pudding with islands of spicy chorizo, surmounted by a brace of fried eggs, white solid, yolks soft. "World's Number One hangover cure," opined Lucky Man. "Well done, chef's mum."

We ordered a glass each of a rather good Ribera del Duero to accompany the substantial fare.

Lucky commanded me to choose dessert. I plumped for baked figs, honey and ice-cream. The vanilla ice-cream was excellent, the figs under ripe. On mentioning this to the waitress (she did ask) the price of the dessert was immediately and commendably struck from the bill.

We finished with a respectable espresso. A word on service: two people working the floor, restaurant three-quarters full. All it needed to get attention was a glance. Excellent.

Lucky Man slung his hook at this point -- "Gotta get back to work". I hung on to have a chat with the proprietor. His views were interesting.

On the size of the portions -- "We discovered the Irish don't really go for this 'grazing' thing yet. They prefer to be fed, rather than do 'bit of this, bit of that', then move on.

On the wine list and in particular my query as to why they didn't go totally native -- "It's the ladies, mainly. They do expect their Italian pinot grigio and their New Zealand sauvignon blanc".

On Ranelagh -- "The Luas has helped make us. People go home after work, get changed and rock up here by 7.30 ready to party".

As well they might. La Bodega gets my nomination for Dublin's best tapas -- by the length of the Camino.


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