Zaragoza: Tired and tasteless tapas on South William St.
You can see where they spent the money on this venue. Sadly you can’t taste it
Dublin’s South William Street went from a garments to gambas district quicker than you can say “still or sparkling?” It was once the heart of the rag trade, where country drapers went to load clothes into vans. Now it’s the city’s hottest restaurant strip. All the big names are here. Premises are like hens’ teeth and the newest opening is one big mother of a molar.
Zaragoza is huge – more tapas barn than tapas bar. It looks like like a coffee bar with tables outside. It’s such a large addition to the streetscape that you can see passers by doing a double take before peering at the menu.
Inside, the cafe feel continues with honey-coloured parquet flooring, enormous plywood lampshades, white tables and smart chairs. It’s clear from the menu this is not high-church tapas. It’s tapas in quotation marks. There are Spanish staples but there’s a smattering of other things too like an Asian mango and papaya salsa.
Restaurants are this season’s mixed-use developments, the place where people put their money nowadays. Zaragoza is backed by a syndicate who have lobbed €1 million into the pot, according to reports. You can see where the money went (try the €1,200 Dyson taps that dry your hands with a blast that could fell a tree). Sadly you can’t taste it.
First up on the roll call of mediocrity is the tomato salad. It’s a small bowl of yellow and red cherry tomatoes that have all the flavour of fridge-cold water blisters. The yellow tomatoes are so dull they look like potatoes. Chewy cherry-sized mozzarella balls have been added in and the whole lot is stirred together with unpleasant pesto. It’s a bad sandwich-bar staple and it costs €7.50.
Some rubbery gambas come tightly packed in a muddy oil with flecks of chilli in it. The papaya and mango salsa has been made with unripe fruit so each finely diced piece sulks to itself in rubbery isolation rather than becoming part of a happy juicy mingle.
A lobster dish that looks great when it arrives turns out to have way more salad than lobster in it. The Russian Salad is a potato salad with cold grey-green peas in a small tower balancing on thinly sliced beetroot rounds. Some lobster meat has been draped on top and there’s some scrambled egg too (described on the menu as “quail’s egg sprinkle”). Nothing works together and there is none of the deep rustic rightness you get from great Spanish food.
The patatas bravas are the lowest point. The cubed chips are okay, but they have a nasty chilli sauce that tastes like the tomato sauce that comes in baked beans. The nicest thing on the table is a platter of soft, sweet-salty pata negra ham with three triangles of Manchego cheese, a tiny cube of quince paste and (weirdly) a halved strawberry. If I had to eat here again I’d order that with a glass of the house white.
To finish, a crema catalana has too much sugar and the lid has gone from glassy to tooth-sticking toffee apple consistency. The homemade ice cream is fine but it’s been loaded with syrup like a kid’s birthday party dessert.
Service is friendly and fast but our messy table is left unwiped and dessert menus are left on the splodges in a way that makes my inner-OCD lady want to whip out a wipe.
Zaragoza looks like a chain franchise in the making. “Explore, Eat, Enjoy” is the catchline. But its slick finish and ordinary food gives you the impression of an airport tapas bar, as removed from the real thing as a dusty sombrero in a charity shop window.
Dinner for two with two glasses of
house white came to €79.25
THE VERDICT: 4/10
A restaurant concept that forgot about the flavour
Zaragoza, 18/19 South William Street, Dublin 2, tel:01-679 4020
Facilities: Swish, with those startling hand-dryers
Music: Pop. Everywhere
Food provenance: Commitment to Irish meat and “sustainable source” fish
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian options: Lots of options