For the past decade Las Tapas de Lola has both quietly and loudly established itself as the best place in town to enjoy the many and varied pleasures of those original ‘small plates’. Tapas – an entire food culture born of a desire to keep bugs out of the booze. Viva España, even if that story is apocryphal. I say quietly because the internet critterati only want to gush about the new thing, and loudly because of what the room sounds like at nine bells of a Friday. Like it’s everybody’s birthday and they’re giving it away for free. It’s agreed then. Tapas is a good idea. Good tapas is a party. I personally never reviewed the place because I share a (chef) friend with owners Anna Cabrera and Vanessa Murphy and didn’t want to perhaps stir the pot with a negative comment. I’m a mensch like that. I also worry too much – subsequent visits made it apparent that it’s a great place to eat, there wouldn’t be any negative comments to speak of. So I slated Las Tapas de Lola in for review in the new year. That’s when the stories began to circulate about a sister restaurant around the corner called La Gordita and now I needed to know about the new thing. Turns out it’s less like a sibling and more like a nepo-baby with strong opinions and a work ethic.
The space on Montague St was previously home to Gerry’s, a beloved greasy spoon never visited by Lucinda O’Sullivan. It was a place where you could get a fortifying fry-up if you still had a shirt on your back after a night riding the slots in the ‘casino’ across the way. No such dress code remains. In fact the place now boasts a cloakroom for surplus garments. Go figure. The narrow space is defined by an elegant white marble bar that runs along the right of the room. It’s entirely possible that there are, right now, some very pleased people beginning their evening at that bar with a €65 Euro preparation of (sustainably sourced) Granadian Caviar and Potato crisps. Bully for them. I’d humbly suggest a couple of pours of Champagne Drappier NV (€22) to cut the richness of the roe and their richness generally. As a party of four (or more) you’ll find yourself seated at the back of the room where a couple of high-stool tables overlook the kitchen. You want to be at the bar but this is fine. It’s a compact space, what the French used to call a boîte, but not so tight that you find yourself reaching into someone else’s trouser pocket for a toothpick.
We start off with some dry, Granny Smith-tart glasses of Raventós i Blanc. This generations-deep Catalonian producer doesn’t like to use the C-word to describe their stylish sparkling wines and I respect that, although you should feel free to contact the editor to confirm that you guessed right. The menu opens with a selection of Pica-Pica, just as Lola’s does. You’ll find well curated conservas, olives, gildas etc, delicious things to engorge the appetite. Our server sent out a little sample of the house Jamon Ibérico de Bellota from producer Arturo Sánchez and apart from ascending to the papacy (unlikely) or the White House (who knows) this is probably the noblest fate a pig could aspire to. Pair it with a cold glass of Palo Cortado sherry (flinty and rich) and tell me I’m wrong. We also enjoy some top-drawer anchovies, the kind that you once picked up at your neighbourhood shoppy-shop that now languish guiltily in the cupboard awaiting an occasion to match the extravagance of their price tag. These ones, laid out on house-made crackers atop a sliver of Valdeón blue cheese butter seem to shut down the part of the brain that calculates worth and value. From the Entrantes (starters) I’m pleased to see sweetbreads (Mollejas) on the menu. Those are thymus glands from young lambs and simply pan-fried with garlic and lemon are tender and more delicious than you might think. The Tortilla vaga del dia (open omelette) on this particular dia, featured a handful of good, garlicky prawns and arrived to the table quivering and wet, gently stiffening in the heat of its cast-iron pan. What’s not to like? If you find the €15 Euro price tag too rich for your blood then the Bombitas de Morcilla are a snip at €9.75. That buys you a quartet of deep-fried Spanish blood-pudding bon-bons with a goat’s cheese centre sitting on a squiggle of intense tomato ‘jam’. They vanish instantly but would be even better if the kitchen showed a freer hand with the seasoning.
Moving onto the mains you’ll note that presentations are spare and unadorned. The simplicity is confident and refreshing. When you order those Lamb ribs with potatoes (Costillitas de Cordero) thats just what you get – three perfectly pink chops (little fat ones!), kissed with the perfume of the grill and sitting pretty on a bed of mandoline-thin patatas. The Galtas (pig’s cheeks on the bone) won’t be to everyone’s taste and were a first for me. The general way with such hard-working muscles is to braise them into fork-tender submission with heat, liquid and patience. It seemed to me that these were simply crosshatched and roasted, producing a yielding if flavourful flesh that required a good steak knife and some determination. I can’t say that it shouldn’t be so. Also new to me was the Bogavante de Formentera, apparently a fisherman’s breakfast dish from that island. It comes out looking like a fiesta in a skillet – a broken down half lobster nestled amongst those patatas, a handful of padrons and a couple of fried eggs. There’s fun to be had in cracking, wheedling and scraping those screeds of sweet flesh from the shell before mixing the whole together. Maybe not everyone’s idea of a good time but I’m a sucker for a dish that requires specific tools. I enjoyed it immensely but couldn’t stop looking toward the centre go the table for a bottle of (wholly inappropriate) hot sauce. A final word for the Tarta de Manzana, an apple tart that came out mahogany dark, very much like a rustic French galette, with caramel sweetness and pastry so delicate that it appeared to be held together with a spell.
There’s a lot to like here, for me it’s an antidote to the fussed-over small-plates places that come freighted with attitude and the natural wine problem, enervated by the need to be cool. Chef Maria Luisa Moraleda (ex Clanbrassil House) celebrates regional tradition and quirk with the surety of an original thinker. Although described as bodega style La Gordita is very much a restaurant, and one with a minimum order requirement too (a starter and a main). These are the realities of making the numbers work in a restaurant in the here and now. How sweet it would be to just belly up to this bar on a whim, order a plate of that superlative jamon and sip oloroso for a golden hour. For that kind of experience I’m afraid you might need to go to the source of this place’s inspirations. We’re not quite there yet but here offers a pretty good view. Salud.
6 Montague St
Words: Conor Stevens