Lola's cool new sister puts on the bodega style, Sunday Times Review

Food is a love language in this newly-opened Dublin restaurantFood is a love language in this newly-opened Dublin restaurant


"After tapas, Anna Cabrera and Vanessa Murphy introduce us to the sophisticated side of Spain, say Russell Alford and Patrick Hanlon"

"The dark frontage and barrel tables scream 'Spanish siren perched on a corner eyeing up a good time"

We need to invest in a burner phone. Dialling up to chance a table in an hour at a newly opened restaurant in Dublin, it’s not our names (or aliases) that give us away, but our phone number. After a few seconds of phone silence comes, “Oh . . . Hello, Russell!”, followed by an excitable change in tone, “I thought I recognised your voice . . .” We’d been foiled.

We shouldn’t have been so green — Anna Cabrera and Vanessa Murphy are shrewd, razor sharp and detail orientated. It’s what makes their OG baby Las Tapas de Lola on Wexford Street run with such slick precision. At their newly opened sister spot La Gordita — a one-minute walk away on Montague Street — that clockwork and detail combination seems to apply even before we’ve walked through the door. We feared we might get special treatment as our cover was blown but everyone gets special treatment here.

Where Lola may be the entry point for palates with a taste for tapas, Lola’s sister La Gordita (“little fat one”) is resolute in being a bit challenging and mature.

Gordita flung open her doors a week into March and Cabrera and Murphy call it “bodega style”, the kind of dishes and vibe they miss from the cool bodega bars across Spain. Just one glance at the beautiful, rich, dark polished wooden frontage with its barrel tables to one side screams, “Spanish siren perched on a corner eyeing up a good time”.

Berenjenas fritas
Berenjenas fritas

Inside, a marble-topped L-shaped bar runs nearly the length of the room and there’s exposed brick, moody black paint and industrial elements. It’s contemporary and modern yet attractive, the bijou bathrooms with their dainty netting bringing a soft, feminine touch.

Three areas separate dining styles — counter seating, banquettes and low tables to the front and high tables to the back by the kitchen, which is peek-a-boo half-open and a dazzling glare of smart stainless steel.

Perched counter-side we start with the queen of pintxos, the gilda. The bite-sized flavour bomb is surprisingly simple: an anchovy, guindilla pepper and olive pierced together (piercing or pinching is the action pintxos are named for) in one hot-sweet-salty-sharp mouthful. More anchovies next, this time lounging on blue cheese butter perilously perched atop flyweight-thin crackers. There’s something about the heavenly pairing of creamy fattiness of butter and the oily, umami depth of anchovy, especially chased with the American oak barrel-aged viura from Rioja we’re recommended.

Plump, petite Carlingford oysters come embellished in an unusually sweet mignonette, which may annoy purists but will enthral first-time oyster guzzlers by softening mineral saltiness. We had two but we should have ordered six each.

This pica pica nibble-y grazing at the counter is what we feel Gordita was birthed to become, but the menu is also mapped out in a sort of starters-mains-desserts format.

Aubergine has seen the mandoline and fryer before a devilish dressing in miel de cana (molasses), making a delicious bar bite. Snack on them while perusing the menu, but they’re not a starter. More substantial is a tumble of tiny lamb sweetbreads, mollejas, pan-fried and singed by flame but soft and melty; a spritz of accompanying lemon jolts awake the taste like leaping from bed when you’re late for work.

The daily-changing tortilla is a must-order, served hot in the skillet, oozy in the middle, on this occasion strewn with prawns and as pale as Irish skin meeting Andalusian sun.

Sharing mains — rib-eye and salt-baked sea bass — wink at us but we forgo for the galtas (pig cheeks on the bone) and a high-end hash from Formentera, which pairs lobster and piquant padrons with fried eggs and crisp, thick rounds of fried potato. Both are a bit DIY but it makes for a joyful plate of egg yolk-lavished lobster.

The pig cheek, gnarly-crusted and reminiscent of chicharrones, is tender but doesn’t convince us frying it is superior to meltingly slow-cooked. We still gnawed away with glee, though.

Cabrera and Murphy’s particular brand of hospitality is all about love.

Desserts are a see-saw of sweet and savoury with cheese and smoke coming to the playground. Torrijas is like French toast on holiday — an almond milk-soaked sweet bread slice on siesta, luxuriating in a pool of almond cream finished with smoked oil. Beguilingly and brilliantly bananas. To finish, we just can’t resist the allure of sweetened queso de cabra (goat cheese) with quince and walnut.

Cabrera and Murphy’s particular brand of hospitality is all about love. Their eyes looking lovingly at their staff, how they shower regulars in kisses on the cheek and big bear hugs, the way each dish they describe feels like a new lover in their lives they can’t wait to dish all the details about. What they serve and how they serve it is their love language.

Just like in Lolas, the meal ends with a mini packet of Love Hearts. We’re besotted once again.