I’M not often a fan of chain restaurants – they sometimes lack the extra touches which turn a restaurant experience from mundane, to something special.
La Tasca’s chain in Durham, however, proved me wrong.
Set on one of the historic city’s most famous cobbled streets, it’s managed to carve a character of its own: making you feel like you’re sitting in an intimate eaterie in the Med, not in a chain consisting of 42 UK restaurants.
The furnishings are authentically Spanish-looking with splashes of Moorish patterns which helped to provide a cosy, welcoming atmosphere on a snowy Friday night in Durham.
We had booked ahead and it’s best to do so as the place was packed with diners lapping up the laid-back atmosphere over a leisurely meal.
Despite the steady stream of hungry mouths pouring through the doors our waiter was super attentive, giving us tips on which wine would complement which dishes.
Pretty soon we were supping on an exotic-tasting Torres “Fransola” Sauvignon Blanc.
It went down a treat with our starter. We’d ordered the Tabla Española (£8.95) from the sharing platters section.
One thing I love about Spanish food is that you can tuck into titbits of everything you fancy and it didn’t take long before we were tearing into a fresh ciabatta, dunking it in olive oil, and smothering it with Manchego cheese and cured meats.
I’m never quite sure how many tapas dishes to order, but our waiter advised us three dishes each was a good guideline to satisfy our rumbling tums.
You’ll be spoilt for choice with options such as vegetable cassolo (butternut squash, red onion, chickpeas, celeriac and cannellini beans in a spicy tomato sauce topped with crushed almonds and parsley) for £4.75; pork ribs in a tangy sauce for £4.75; pescado blanco frito (deep-fried white fish, in San Miguel batter, served with homemade paprika and roasted garlic mayonnaise and lemon) for £4.75 and slow-cooked pork belly, served with rosemary herb-scented beans for £5.55.
After much deliberation, we managed to come up with six dishes between us, which all arrived pretty promptly.
The croquetas de manchego, (manchego croquettes priced £4.35) are a firm favourite of mine and never disappoint. On this occasion they were complemented by a tasty, yet light, garlic mayonnaise.
We also snapped up the mini beef burgers which tasted of a much higher quality than their £4.95 price tag.
As if we weren’t stinking enough of garlic already we ordered the gambas al ajillo which was butterfly king prawns, sautéed in a chilli and garlic oil (£5.85) and spicy chorizo, which arrived in a moreish sauce which I couldn’t get enough of (£4.45).
I’m not a big fan of meatballs, but Georga gave the beef and pork meatballs a big thumbs up (£4.95)
Finally, a goats cheese and tomato salad (£4.95) helped to counteract the rich meaty dishes we’d consumed.
We got so caught up in our Mediterranean dining experience that we ended up doing as the Spaniards do and taking our time with a meal, munching mouthfuls in between our conversation.
It was all washed down with a second bottle of the sublime Sauvignon Blanc.
Though we ended up staying for two hours in total we felt under no pressure to free up our cosy corner.