Exciting, original Spanish cooking, in a Bodega-style setting
What do we need to know about La Gordita?
It's the second, more "grown-up" opening from Las Tapas De Lola's Anna Cabrera and Vanessa Murphy, just around the corner. It's been pitched as 'bodega-style', but they're not actually looking for people to pitch up at the bar sipping sherry and eating olives. Instead this is somewhere to settle in for a three-course meal with all the wine, and leave feeling spoilt.
The head chef here is Maria Luisa Moraleda, who was cooking with Killian Walsh at Clanbrassil House before being nabbed by the Lola girls, and he's clearly a fan. She seems to have been a brilliant and perhaps lucky hire, being on the ground, ready to make a move, and fitting the restaurant's spec so perfectly, coming to Dublin by way of Sevilla and Donostia. We'd imagine the opening menu is a collaboration between Maria and the owners, but she seems like someone with a strong style and a lot of confidence, so we can see her fully taking the reins before long.
Where should we sit?
It's a long, narrow room, with a few tables for two, four or six, and the rest bar seating. You know the story. Solo diners will love the bar option, as will a lot of couples. Any more than two and you're probably better off at a table for conversational reasons. They're aren't many though, two in the front and three in the back, and the maximum booking they can take is for six people.
When we booked the website said there was only bar seating available, even though there were empty tables when we got there, and a staff member told us they're trying to keep the tables for bigger groups. If you're a two and would prefer a table, it's worth giving them a call to ask.
Two of the tables in the front offer a great people watching vantage point onto Montague Street, while the ones at the back will give you views right into the kitchen. Again if you have a preference it's worth calling and asking if your preferred area is available.
What's the lowdown on the menu?
Something that may or may not come as an unwelcome surprise is the stipulation that you must order a main course, as part of a minimum two courses per person. A minimum order is never an issue, but when faced with 18 snacks and small plates before the "main deals", each sounding better than the last, being forced to use up so much of your budget and stomach space on the bigger plates might not be what you want.
Our server explained that "we're not a tapas bar, that's around the corner in Las Tapas de Lola", but as it's been pitched as 'bodega-style' we assumed there would be more flexibility around ordering, especially as we (and we know most of you) want to try as much on a menu as possible. We pleaded with our server that we'd already picked what we wanted online (three snacks, three small plates, the lobster main and two desserts), and after some back and forth he agreed to let us go forth and eat.
We know that being forced with a minimum spend on a menu doesn't sound great either, and that they can't survive unless people order an adequate amount of food, but would that many people really rock up and sit over a plate of almonds for a couple of hours? We don't know what the answer is other than trusting that diners who come to a restaurant actually want to eat, and if they don't having them justifiably removed by the heavies.
We started with a couple of gildas, which are the only way to start a meal in any respectable Spanish establishment. Pair with a Manzanilla sherry for the perfect opening to dinner. Before these came a little bowl of complimentary olives from Antequera in Spain, which were richly flavoured, salty and tangy.
Then the La Gordita version of garlic bread, or really garlic on toast. So simple, so perfect, so hard to understand why no one else has done this here. This isn't your 49c garlic from the fruit and veg aisle. Staff told us it's coming from Spain each week, and after a low, slow roast is so sweet, so savoury, so perfectly salted, squeezed out and slathered all over the crunchy toast.
Our love for vinegar-soaked boquerones runs deep, but the ones here weren't the best we've had. The best ones are bright white, with plump juicy flesh, tang and oil beautifully intertwined. These ones had clearly been doused in some quality olive oil, but were greying and on the tougher side.
An 'Asadillo con melva' - salad of roasted red pepper, melva tuna from Barbate in Cádiz, and garlic - on the other hand was simple and perfect. This is the good tuna, the one that makes John West look and taste like cat food, sitting on a bed of sherry vinegar marinated roasted red peppers and slivers of white onion. It tastes like sitting on a Mediterranean beach sipping a cold glass of white wine, feeling the sand between your toes and the sun on your arms.
We were advised to order the bombitas de morcilla, one of their most popular dishes, which are Spanish black pudding balls with goat's cheese, served with tomato marmalade. The excellent morcilla is silky soft, and while you might not spot the goat's cheese amongst all the black, every so often you'll get a pleasing whack of it.
We can never resist some berenjenas fritas con miel de caña (fried aubergine with sugar cane honey for the uninitiated), and these were very good but different to every other example we've tried. They're cut so finely they're more like crisps and you don't get any aubergine texture, but once you pop you won't be able to stop, and the sugar cane honey was the ideal consistency, not too thick and treacly as is sometimes the case.
For the 'main deal' we couldn't see past the 'Bogavante de Formentera' - fried lobster with potatoes, padrón peppers and fried eggs. It's €37 so it's a splurge, and you only get half a lobster so it's a tricky one to share - we wouldn't advise even attempting if there are more than two of you. It's a beautiful dish, the fresh Irish lobster just cooked, the potatoes cut thin as crisps, padrons oily and salted, and the fried eggs crumpled with all the right crispy edges, and oozing yolks. It's pretty plush, but you're worth it.
We'd ordered the patatas panaderas (because trying all and any form of potatoes as an Irish person is mandatory), but as the lobster already came with potatoes our server suggested we try the 'espinacas cremosa' - creamed spinach with pinenuts and raisins, and we scraped every last sliver from the dish. It's the type of side you might try to make at home for steak night, but yours never ends up as silky and creamy and utterly delicious as this one.
There are four desserts on the menu and a cheeseplate, but we think they've missed a trick not using the latter as an opportunity to showcase some of the incredible Spanish cheeses available in Ireland, like Manchego, Monte-Enebro and Cabrales. When we visited it was Comté, Delice de Bourgogne and Cashel Blue, which jarred with the rest of the menu and feels like an attempt at appealing to the masses rather than committing to the bit.
We were recommended the Tarta de Manzana, a Spanish apple tart not unlike a Tart Tatin, with richly flavoured rum & raisin ice-cream, and while enjoyable, it needed to have been cooked for longer to up the caramelisation - we saw another leaving the kitchen beforehand which was a lot darker and looked more like it.
The other headline-grabbing dessert is the Torrijas - almond milk-soaked bread with almond cream. It's a heavy choice to end a meal with, and one you might regret while walking for a taxi/DART/bus, but you'll have no regrets while spooning the burnished, milky, marzipan-esque toast into your mouth.
What about the drinks?
There are seven sherries by the glass, which is admirable by any Dublin restaurant's standards, but they're all Lustau bar one. Lustau makes some really great sherry, and the three we tried (a dry Palo Cortado, a 25-year dry Oloroso, and a sweet 'Solera' with dessert) were choice examples, but in a city where superstars like Callejuela and De La Riva are readily available we would have liked to see more breath.
There's plenty of interest on the main wine list too (more so by the bottle), but we would have loved to see them do a solo Spanish deep-dive like Grano or Apertivo have done for Italy, and left the people pleasing Picpouls and Pouilly Fuissés to the others. Our advice - stick to Spanish, like Raventós' cava-style (but better than most you've probably tried) 'I Blanc', Raul Perez's Godello 'Ultreia', or Comando G's cult Garnacha 'La Bruja De Las Rozas'. There's a classic cocktail list too, plenty of spirits, and beer from Estrella.
How was the service?
Delightful, charming, hospitality personified. You know immediately that they're going to build up a roster of regulars, whose likes and dislikes they'll get to know, who'll have their favourite spot at the bar, a comped drink before going home. It's just that kind of place, and was always going to be coming from the same team as Las Tapas de Lola, known for one of the warmest welcomes in Dublin.
What was the damage?
This amount of food which happily fed (stuffed) two with five drinks will cost you €163 before a tip.
And the verdict?
We always think the mark of a great restaurant is when we're walking out the door looking for reasons to return, and in a city of constant new openings that we're occupationally compelled to try, that's not often the case. We were thinking up excuses to go back to La Gordita before we'd even left, for the caviar and crisps, the anchovies with blue cheese butter, the lamb ribs, the octupus with romesco, the weekend arroz special. Head chef Maria's cooking is exciting, original, honest, and we want more of it.,
We'd love to see the must order main course stipulation changed to a minimum spend (or dropped altogether), but if this doesn't happen we'd suggest going as a four or six so you can try as many snacks and small plates as possible. Otherwise the sadness at leaving so much unordered may be unbearable. On the other hand it's an excuse for another visit, not that you'll have to try too hard to come up with one.
6 Montague Street, Dublin 2