Recipe for success in Ranelagh

There’s a lot of things to like about a new tapas bar, but it’s cave-like interior isn’t one of them, writes CATHERINE CLEARY…

There's a lot of things to like about a new tapas bar, but it's cave-like interior isn't one of them, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

KEEP IT SIMPLE. Make it friendly. And open it in Ranelagh. It’s the three-point plan for restaurant success these days. It’s as if Ranelagh residents all ate in Monaco during the boom and are now slumming it in the neighbourhood places. Whatever has happened, the Dublin village is hopping. I’ll bet it’s had the largest number of new restaurants opened per square foot than any village in Ireland in the past 12 months.

And one of the newest is a tapas bar called La Bodega. There’s lots to like here, the cooking for a start, barring one strange ingredient. And there’s the buzz of a full restaurant which has hit the ground running and created its own crowd in the face of plenty of other offerings.

It’s a proper summer’s evening when I arrive late and Rosita has been ensconced for a while. I leave the summer night behind when I step in as it’s Spain of the dark and Moorish variety rather than sundrenched whitewash in here. They are slightly hamstrung with the building, which like most places in this terraced street only has light coming from the front.


This is fine for most nights of the year when you want a cosy place to step into out of the cold, but we both find it a bit cave-like. “Why would you put black wallpaper on the walls in a city that’s dark and where it rains a lot?” Rosita asks.

She also isn’t a fan of the leatherette high-back chairs and banquettes that look like they might have been sourced from a 1997 hotel restaurant. The final quibble (and yes, there is good stuff to come) is the noise level. The waitress has to lean in to hear my order.

The food that comes is good, and simple. There are light bites that you might go for if you wanted to treat this place like a wine bar, tapas (small plates costing between €5.50 and €8.50) and raciones (larger plates at between €9.50 and €12.50) and salads. We order a wide selection. The stars of the night are the boquerones, or marinated raw anchovies (€4). They’re a much needed makeover for this tasty but plain fish, which normally comes served as a brown mush.

Here the raw fish have been sliced lengthwise and marinated to a china whiteness. They’re laid out in a star shape and garnished with a spring onion. I could eat several plates of them.

Another light bite of bread with ripened tomatoes and olive oil, pa amb tomaca (€4), is slightly mushy but has an oil that tastes rich and olive-y in a way that cheap oils simply don’t.

My La Bodega Salad (€6.50)of rocket and goats’ cheese with ham and honey mustard is good, but for one strange ingredient, a stewed apple that’s simply too sweet and way too plentiful to be pushed aside. Crab cakes with coriander (€7.50) are tasty, and a chorizo and chickpea dish (€5.50) gets points for really punchy chorizo and well cooked chickpeas, but loses one for the fact that the chunks of chorizo are too big. I would like to have had the kitchen do some finer chopping, so I didn’t have to.

The other great dish is a portion of two lamb chops on a small bowl of couscous (€7.50). The chops are teeny, a line of bone on one side and a wedge of fat on the other, so that there are really only two mouthfuls of meat. But what mouthfuls. It’s meat that’s sandwiched between the flavoursome pairing of bone and fat. The couscous is also tastier than this staple can sometimes be.

A crema Catalana (€5.50), way too large for one person to eat, is shared and it’s perfect. The Spanish take the traditional crème brûlée and add lemon to it. This one had the burnt sugar lid done perfectly. No ice-axe required to get to the smooth, lemony, baked cream beneath.

We had two glasses of prosecco (€6 each) and a bottle of the house Viura (€21), plus a glass to finish, and a tea (€2.50). Dinner for two with drinks came to €82.50.

In a perfect world I would eat this tasty food and drink the reasonably priced wine in a sun-filled room. Apparently they opened an outdoor eating area the evening of my visit, so that’s a big help for those rare (and therefore all the more precious) summer evenings.

La Bodega

93 Ranelagh Road, Dublin 6, tel: 01-4975577

Facilities: Clean and pleasant

Music: Gypsy Kings et al

Wheelchair access: Yes

Food provenance: None

Coeliac-friendly? No specific dishes

Tea and sushi

Cake is my default answer to the question "tea and . . .?" But Wall and Keogh, the quirky tea shop on Dublin's South Richmond Street, has paired tea with sushi as an alternative lunch to the white ham roll that can leave you slumped over the keyboard by 3pm.

To try it out, I brought my four-year-old, who can grab enough conveyor belt plates in one sitting to make sushi an expensive outing. Typically, I eat the fish and he eats the rice.

Here, we sit in the courtyard with its perspex roof that keeps us dry in the rain, and the boy lounges on the old iron beds that act as seats. A Japanese green tea is recommended for me and a blackcurrant and hibiscus tea called Smurf Island for the small fella.

The nori rolls (nine of them) are generously sized and filled with a choice of marinated salmon or cooked tuna, crunchy carrots, cucumber, folded rocket leaves and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. I'm advised to eat them in one mouthful, which feels as elegant as stuffing a Wagon Wheel in your mouth. Cheeks bulge, but it's worth it to get the flavours in one go. The rice doesn't have that super-sweet cloying texture that lots of sushi rice has. And, as it's made by a Korean, it doesn't come with wasabi (my least favourite condiment) or pickled ginger (one of my favourites). At first I miss the ginger, but then I don't.

My dining companion sips his tea and threatens to eat only the rice. A shard of seaweed passes his lips and he announces: "Seaweed is yummy." We lounge and chat. Wall and Keogh is a place where you are encouraged to linger, but the parking meter is ticking outside and we drag ourselves away. It's one of the most relaxing €7.50 lunches you can find in this busy part of town and well worth a detour from the sandwich queue.

Sushi and tea for two is €15 (a special introductory offer). After that the price will be €9.75 per person. Wall and Keogh, 45 Richmond Street South, Portobello, Dublin, tel: 01-4759052.