Breads and Cheeses

Sometimes you find really nice places in the most unobvious of locations.

I don’t go to Cabot Circus in Bristol that often, but when I do I am somewhat surprised by how busy the restaurant places are. There are loads of people queuing to eat at Nandos, Bella Italia always looks packed, as does Yo Sushi.

Though I have to say I was somewhat surprised to find out the other day that La Tasca at Cabot Circus had closed (and will be replaced by a Wagamama). I went to La Tasca last July and said back then:

It wasn’t awful, it was just okay, nothing special and I do think that the restaurant could have done a lot better.

I finished off by saying:

I think it might be a while before I go to La Tasca again…

I wonder if my experience was similar, as a result there was a lack of repeat custom and if you are losing sales, it makes sense to close.

It might be more that people have fallen out of favour with tapas and have moved onto other things… Nandos judging by the queues if you were to ask me.

We went to La Tasca back then, as we didn’t want to eat at the restaurant in Harvey Nichols, as my wife put it “she didn’t want to have a celebrationary dinner in an upmarket BHS or Primark!” So it was somewhat strange that on our most recent visit to Cabot Circus we did end up in the bar at Harvey Nichols.

This was a really peaceful haven from the hustle and bustle of the shopping quarter and it was nice to just sit down, relax and be waited upon.

We weren’t there for a meal, just a glass of wine and a snack. The wine list was comprehensive and interesting, and I thought very reasonable, a lot cheaper than I was expecting and anticipated. It was also very nice wine.

In terms of snacks we ordered the rustic homemade bread with Harvey Nichols olive oil and balsamic vinegar was a nice bar snack at just £3.50.

 rustic homemade bread with Harvey Nichols olive oil and balsamic vinegar

We also splashed out and went with the cheese board, artisan cheeses, served with Harvey Nichols chutney and homemade bread, which was a little more pricey at £8.00.

 cheese board, artisan cheeses, served with Harvey Nichols chutney and homemade bread

The breads were really nice and interesting. There were ciabatta style breadsticks, focaccia, and some very unusual gingerbread style bread (not quite gingerbread, but similar). The cheeses were really nice, there was a farmhouse cheddar, a type of brie and a hard Spanish cheese. The chutney was nice, not too strong, but still full of flavours. Alongside came some celery and apple. Both snacks were really tasty and complemented the wines we had chosen.

Now they do that thing, which I don’t really like “a discretionary 10% service charge will be added to all bills” and to be honest I don’t understand. Either include the “service” in the prices or let the customer make the choice about rewarding good service. Using a term like “discretionary” implies that it is a choice, but unless you had really terrible service, you wouldn’t likely say that you were going to not pay it. I also think it stops people tipping more!

Just as an aside really, what I did notice was that (even with the discretionary 10% service charge) many of the prices were quite reasonable. The different coffees available were cheaper than those you would find in a high street chain nearby, and unlike those where you would have to wait at the counter for your coffee, here you would have a waiter deliver the coffee to your table. Much more civilised, wouldn’t you say?

Overall this was a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle that is Cabot Circus and recommended for a quiet drink, whether that be wine or coffee.

La Tasca, no hay amor más

Though my plan to celebrate my anniversary with dinner at the Second Floor Bristol, in Harvey Nichols was scuppered by my wife who decided no matter how nice the restaurant looked and how interesting the menu, she didn’t want to have a celebrationary dinner in an upmarket BHS or Primark! Anyway the Second Floor Bristol is a really stupid name for a restaurant. Okay so it’s on the second floor, I get that. It’s in Bristol, I get that. Why though is it named after where it is? Are they so confident about the food and the location, that they don’t think it needs a proper name? Well after my wife turned down this choice of mine, I needed to choose somewhere else.

So having to make a quick decision, I decided on La Tasca. My last few visits have been okay and I do like tapas. The end result wasn’t as good as I remember and certainly I don’t think we’ll go again. It wasn’t awful, it was just okay, nothing special and I do think that the restaurant could have done a lot better.

As it was a Sunday they had their Foolish Feast special, so we went with that. I chose that, partly to be cost effective, but in the main it was easy. I almost laughed at the photograph on the back of the menu, which appeared to be of an authentic Spanish tapas bar and thought, now that would be wonderful, however I knew that in reality the stuff we were going to get would be nice, but it wouldn’t be genuine in the way a proper Spanish tapas bar can be. I wonder why now, why we even went in there…

As we discussed the menu, we both realised that a Greek meze place would probably have been a much better choice, but it was late, we had sat down, we had ordered coffee. A bit too late to do anything then.

La Tasca

The special was £14.95 per person. You start off with the Tabla Especial – to share between two Serrano ham, bread and mixed olives, served with an extra-virgin olive oil & sherry vinegar dip.

Good ham, nice olives and measly amount of bread…. really you needed a bit more bread than you got.

The Paella Valenciana ‘La Tasca’ with chicken, Galician mussels, king prawns, squid, lemon wedges, char-grilled aubergine and peppers; could have been so good, but was let down because it was reheated. As a result the rice was stodgy, the squid was chewy, as were the mussels. I can appreciate that it can’t be easy to cook paella for these kinds of menus, however either do it properly or don’t do it all! Reheating paella is not how it is done in Spain. It kinds of puts me off going to La Tasca and ordering a “proper” paella in case that is a reheated dish. The flavour was okay, but the textures let this dish down.

We ordered one of everything and waited for it to arrive.

This is one dish which really you shouldn’t get wrong, it’s a really simple dish. Patatas Bravas is deep fried potato, with spicy tomato sauce. However they did a bit of a botch job. The potato wasn’t crispy enough and some of it was well undercooked too.

I did enjoy the Albóndigas, beef & pork meatballs, in a rich, slow-cooked tomato sauce. They had good texture, nice flavour and a good sauce. Well it was a good sauce until we worked out that it tasted like the tomato sauce in tinned spaghetti hoops!

I also enjoyed the Croquetas de Pollo. These were hand-crumbed with chicken breast and served with roasted garlic mayonnaise. They were crisp on the outside and lovely and soft on the inside. They melted in the mouth and had a really nice flavour.

The Spinach Tortilla, a spinach omelette served with a spicy red pepper tapenade and roasted garlic mayonnaise was okay, but I did feel it lacked flavour.

Apart from been a little too salty, the Pescado Blanco Frito which was deep-fried white fish, in a special-recipe San Miguel batter, served with homemade paprika & roasted garlic mayonnaise and lemon. The batter was crisp and crunchy, but I did feel that the fish needed more natural flavour. You really needed to dip it in the mayonnaise.

As you might expect you couldn’t really mess up the Baby Leaf Green Salad, served with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil dressing on the side.

Overall there were some really nice dishes that we had at the table and alas there were some that really didn’t work out very well. I think it might be a while before I go to La Tasca again, I really do need to find a proper local Spanish tapas bar.

Lunch at La Tasca

I do like tapas, but haven’t eaten at La Tasca for a while. It’s a great place to go in a group, but unlike a few other places I could mention, it’s not a place I often go to when eating on my own or needing a quick place for lunch. However needing a quick lunch, I did notice walking by that La Tasca had a lunch deal on, two tapas dishes and bread (or salad) as an accompaniment for £5.95, that to me seemed quite reasonable. I had considered going to Jamie’s Italian which was close by, but they don’t appear to do a lunch menu and the main menu was a little expensive for a quick lunch.

PaellaFor my two dishes I went with Calamares Andaluza, crispy squid, served with a roasted garlic & paprika mayonnaise and Paella Valenciana, a paella with chicken breast and mixed seafood. Alongside I went with the bread, the Pan de Barra, freshly baked white baguette, olive bloomer and caramelised onion bread, served with an extra-virgin olive oil & balsamic vinegar dip.

Not sure how freshly baked the bread was, but though it may have been freshly baked at some point it didn’t feel that freshly baked to me. Probably because I have been spoilt by going to the Royal Well Tavern where the bread is so fresh that it is still warm when it arrives at the table! However it was nice to have three different kinds of bread and my favourite out of the three was the olive bloomer.

CalamaresThe calamares and paella arrived together. The calamares was nicely cooked, crisp batter and tender in the middle. The mayonnaise complemented the squid well. I enjoyed the calamares and was certainly one of the better dishes of squid I have had from La Tasca, so was impressed.

On previous visits to La Tasca, when I have had paella, usually as part of a special offer, tapas for a tenner, it wasn’t that special. I thought it was a bit of a risk taking the paella, but I thought why not. I was quite pleased though, it was very pleasant and certainly much better than previous paella I have had at La Tasca.

Overall, good service, nice food and value for money, just what I wanted for lunch.

Not quite…

La Tasca

A few weeks ago I went to La Tasca in Leeds for meal with some friends. It was a Monday evening, so not the busiest evening to go out. The place was reasonably empty, so expectations were high that things would be good and that we would get some good service….


Not quite…

Though our waiter was quite enthusiastic about taking our orders for drinks and food, the service we had afterwards left a lot to be desired.


Our initial order of tapas dishes, seemed to take a long time to arrive and when they did, they were warm, as though they had been left somewhere for a while before they arrived at our table. Now I know that authentic tapas are just warm, so it could be argued that they were suppose to be like that… We had ordered two selections of tapas from the menu, and two additional dishes. The second selection arrived just as we were finishing the first. These were hot and straight from the kitchen.

As for the other two dishes, well we had to ask for them, and it would appear that they had gone to a different table! So our final two dishes arrived somewhat later.

So what of the tapas themselves. Well the calamari was nice, fresh with a crunchy batter, but slightly let down by an excessive sprinkling of sea salt. If you brushed that off, then it was quite nice. There was a nice creamy chicken dish that I liked, but no idea what it was or the name. I did like the deep fried anchovies, think of whitebait but with a stronger flavour. Alas this was one of our missing dishes and arrived last and I was quite full at this point. To be honest I enjoyed most of the dishes and they had flavour and texture. Some things were very good, some were good and some I know could be a lot better. For example the “sample” paella dishes are not paella as I know it should be, but then maybe one day, I should just order paella at La Tasca to see what they do with their standard paella. The fritata was okay, but not sure if that was just me, or it’s suppose to be like that! At the end of the day I have had much better tapas dishes from La Tasca and as a result I was slightly disappointed.

However as with any “dining experience” it’s not just about the food (though the food is important) it is also the atmosphere, the ambience and the service.

Well the people I was with were excellent company and I really enjoyed the evening, so from that perspective it was great.

The service on the other hand was, well variable, sometimes good, sometimes downright awful. An example, very few deserts were available as they had run out of vanilla ice cream… Now this was in the centre of Leeds, a Tesco Express was just around the corner, was it really too much effort for someone to get a tub? Well knowing how these chains work I suspect that if they did, there would be hell to pay from senior management over staff using non-standard ingredients. I also guess that they wouldn’t be able to re-claim the cost of the ingredients. Yes processes and guidelines are in place there to make sure the business runs smoothly, but when those processes fail, as in this case the supply of vanilla ice cream, there must be contingency plans in place to give staff the “freedom” to improvise to ensure that the customer can get what they would like. As in our case, so that the customer can get the desert they want without finding out that none are available because the supple chain failed, and procedures stop improvisation (by getting in some ice cream) to fulfill that need.

So I did indeed have a good evening out, the company was excellent, the food was good and yes I would go again to La Tasca, well maybe not in Leeds.

Tapas for a Tenner

I have been meaning for ages to visit La Tasca. I really like tapas and I really wanted to try their paella – more often then not I am very disappointed with the paella that is offered at other places.

So today I happened to be in Regent Street and popped into La Tasca for a (very) late lunch.

I decided to do the Tapas for a Tenner deal. This deal allows you to eat as many tapas as you want for just £10! The deal varies across the UK, but here it was available until 5pm, whilst in Bristol it is available from 5pm!

Tapas for a Tenner

I went for six dishes in the end.

Patatas Bravas – Fried potato, topped with a spicy tomato sauce.

A Spanish classic and a tapas favourite. The tomato sauce was spicy, but rather too salty for me. Whilst the potatoes were soft and not crispy, slightly oily. A bit of a disappointment for a dish which should be relatively simple to make. It felt like it had not been freshly cooked and left around for a while. For me tapas should be freshly cooked.

Paella de Pescado – Paella with squid, prawns and mussels, served with lemon.

This was a well flavoured dish, but again like the patatas bravas did not taste fresh, felt like it had been cooked a good hour earlier.

Calamares a la Andaluza – Deep-fried rings of squid, served with roasted garlic mayonnaise and lemon.

Now this is a dish which again is simplicity, but oh was so wrong. The rings were overcooked so were rubbery in texture. I got the feeling (and I may have been wrong) that these were not freshly prepared, but came from a packet or even the freezer. Good calamari should be cooked using fresh squid. Alas they covered the calamari in salt – if I wanted salt I would have asked for it.

Chorizo Frito al Vino – The spicy Spanish sausage, sautéed in red wine.

This in my opinion was perfect, great chorizo cooked in red wine, bursting with meaty flavours and with a great depth provided by the red wine. This one I would have had second helpings of.

Selección de Embutidos – A selection of cured Spanish meats.

Can you get this wrong, no, and La Tasca didn’t. Three slices each of three different kinds of cured Spanish meats.

Paella Valenciana – A Valencian-style paella, with mixed seafood and chicken.

A different paella to the first tapas, but a similar story.

Overall I kind of had what I expected. La Tasca is a chain (not a family run restaurant) and probably cooks to a system. I did enjoy the meal (despite the disappointing food) and the ambiance and the atmosphere was pleasant, and you have to remember this was a very busy Regent Street.

Will I go again, possibly if I was stuck and there was nothing else to choose from.