Maybe it’s the atmospheric cobbled streets? Maybe it’s dining in the shadow of one of the country’s most beautiful buildings?
Eating out in Durham City always feels a bit more special than popping into Sunderland city centre for a post-work meal.
So it is with La Tasca too. Though it’s part of a nation-wide chain, the Durham branch of this Spanish-themed tapas restaurant manages to provide a dining experience that’s so much better than the norm.
The welcome is as warm as any I’ve experienced in Spain and the food was suitably Mediterranean too.
We visited on a Thursday night and had fortunately booked ahead.
The place was filled to its wooden rafters with the chitter chatter of dozens of diners.
We managed to strike lucky with a table over looking Saddler Street, always a pretty view.
Though the view outside maybe be quaint English, inside is a tribute to our Spanish cousins with rustic trinkets and splashes of Moorish patterns.
The menu, meanwhile, is a moreish melting pot of tapas and paellas and it took us a while to pick our way through the options.
We finally managed to choose three tapas dishes each, which is around the recommended amount for a main meal.
As an added bonus, the restaurant has introduced Especiales, Del Dia – that’s daily specials to me and you. We chose to add the Thursday special, Berenjenas Fritas (£4.95), to our order.
We were presented with a dish of perfectly crisp aubergine slices coated in chunky chickpeas to give them extra bite.
Dunked in the accompanying garbanzo and bravas dip, it was a taste bud treat and is one that’s perfect for vegetarians, who are often left to fend for themselves at the bland end of the menu.
Our other choices proved to be a cocktail of palate-pleasing morsels all priced between the £4-£7 mark.
Highlights included our sharing platter Tabla Española (£8.95 for two people), a wooden board loaded with Spanish cured meats, mixed olives, Manchego cheese, ciabatta and an extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar dip.
We also enjoyed tucking into our Gambas Gabardina (£4.95) – chunky, meaty king prawns in a San Miguel batter which was complemented perfectly by a light garlic mayonnaise dipping sauce.
We were also intrigued by the sound of the Huevos Cabreaos. Billed as the Spanish take on eggs and chips, it was just that: matchstick-esque chips topped off with a fried egg which you cut up together so that the runny yolk smothers the chips.
It was a basic, yet tasty dish – perfect for people who don’t want to dip into the more adventurous features of the menu.
The mini burgers are also a must-have. Forget McDonalds’ flimsy meat offerings, these were chunky burgers that, though small in size, were big in flavour.
The only let down was the calamari which was a bit too soggy compared to its counterpart I’ve sampled on the continent.
Still, it was a mere glitch in a food fiesta.