On a blessedly mild evening just last week, Blythe and I found ourselves at the book festival, yet again, awaiting the start of another Unbound event. We happened to run into our friend Tracey at the gates and we all decided to veer off to La Tasca to grab some grub before the event. It turns out that this was a fortuitous choice of restaurants, since one of the very first places that we went with Lunchquest was to a tapas place with the lovely Tracey as a guest.
Stepping inside La Tasca, it feels like we are stepping inside a bit of Spain. The colourful tiles and the ambiance makes me thing of something stereotypically out of a Mexican restaurant that has been wed to a Spanish restaurant and popped out a wee place near Charlotte Square.
We had a look at the menu and I was charged with choosing 9 items, since I am the most picky of the three of us. And my instructions were that “I must order the octopus, some fish and the calamari.”
So, I had a good long think, and when the waiter came to take our order, I spouted off as many as I could remember and then I gave up and let the others chime in. I ordered for us: chicken skewers marinated in paprika, chili, garlic and oregano; seafood paella; calamares; char-grilled green beans; Langostinos; 2 baby green leaf salads; octopus; and meatballs.
Soon enough, we were joined by our friend KB, who ordered a goat’s cheese and tomato salad (Valencia) and patatas bravas which arrived shortly after all of our dishes did.
Where to begin?! Well, I began with the meatballs, which I could compare to the meatballs I had at My Big Fat Greek Kitchen the previous evening, and they were more porky, which wasn’t my thing, but otherwise, they were similar in texture and tasty, but not memorable. Then I dug into the paella, which was similarly good with well cooked rice, but I admit that I didn’t taste the fish in it.
Then there was the quick and easy salads, which you cannot go wrong with. This was followed up with a taste of the langostine, which was big, impressive and came with a nicely charred half of lemon. This was quickly followed by, what was for me, my favourite dish: the octopus, which comes from the Galicia region and was slices of tender Spanish octopus, sautéed with potato and seasoned with sea salt and a pinch of smoked paprika. They were well cooked and tasty. I really enjoyed the flavour of the spicing with the crunchiness of the potatoes.
The green beans were lovely, with that grilled taste that gives the a big of black char that I love on dishes and was complimented by the flakes of sea salt. The chicken skewers were ok. I almost forgot to write about them, so there you go.
I didn’t taste the calamari, patatas bravas (since there were some with the octopus) nor the goats cheese, but KB says the latter two were really appreciated as one of the first nutritional meals she’d had in a while (bless the festival).
Overall, I liked La Tasca. It was a good choice for a night of festivalling. And, should I be in the neighbourhood and in need of some light and quick sustenance, I would return.
La Tasca has 70 outlets across the UK, so it’s a place with which you’re all probably very familiar. I have blind-spots with this territory, sometimes, but was not immune to La Tasca tentacles, not least because many friends and colleagues had suggested it was rather good. And by and large they are entirely correct.
With typical indecision, MJ and I were standing outside the Book Festival looking even more gormless than usual, when our friend Tracey appeared, in search of a misplaced scarf.
To be entirely truthful, I’m quite glad she has lost that scarf, as it awoke in me feelings of Isadora Duncan’s sad fate, and whilst that is certainly a dramatic and memorable way to shift off this mortal coil, I have no desire to lose Tracey to a similar fate.
But I digress. Tracey cut straight through our dithering and suggested that a full table of tapas selections would be a good way to deal with our between-show hunger.
Once we’d sat down in the place, our friend Kay came on the blower. She soon joined us, thus saving her from breaking the consecutive day Book Festival sandwich eating record, much to her relief and delight.
MJ showed some signs of incipient hunger rage (stand well back when that particular red mist descends!), so we quickly turned over the burden of menu choices to her. She ably steered the ordering ship, securing us (deep breath): green beans, green salad, calamari, octopus, chicken skewers, meatballs, paella, potatoes, goat’s cheese salad, and some lovely big prawns.
Dishes arrived promptly and were unfussily presented. This was simple, fresh food, with good accuracy of execution. I didn’t see much genuine spark of imagination in the dishes, but the watchword for chains is often “consistency”, so I imagine what we had here was dishes served in the “La Tasca style”.
Each dish was good or better than good. The calamari was nicely prepared, with excellent crispness. The prawns looked fantastic and were cooked as you would wish them to be. The chicken skewers came with a lovely red pepper sauce. And the goat’s cheese was really good.
The long and the short of it was that we left barely a single item on the various dishes. Plate licking was considered.
So, La Tasca served us rather nicely. The only beef I had with the place was that the décor screamed “chain restaurant”. When you have a place on South Charlotte Street, sitting beside the architectural jewel that is Charlotte Square, you’d think you could lift the gaze of “consistent product” just high enough to utilise the magnificent surroundings of the restaurant space in a somewhat more imaginative fashion. But in terms of the food, I was very happy with it, and would gladly pop back again, when quick communal dining was the order of the day.
MJ scores La Tasca
3/5 for food
3.5/5 for presentation
3.5/5 for service
3/5 for setting
giving an overall 13/20
Blythe scores La Tasca
3.5/5 for food
3.5/5 for presentation
3.5/5 for service
2.5/5 for setting
giving an overall 13/20
Today’s questers were: MJ, KB, Tracey, Blythe
We ate: salad leaves (2), char-grilled green beans, goat’s cheese salad, potatoes, octopus, prawns, meatballs, paella, calamari, chicken skewers
We drank: lager, orange juice, water
We wore: a warm glow of Book Festival delight
Total bill: £56