23 January 2008

Basque non-separatist

Tapas caught on in a big way in Celtic Tiger Dublin. Of course, it being Celtic Tiger Dublin -- the capital of Rip-Off Ireland -- prices are generally ridiculous (if you want to pay €6 for a dish of patatas bravas, Salamanca on Andrew Street is your only man) thus missing the point of tapas as quick, cheap, high-quality food.

Thankfully, The Porterhouse has come to the rescue. Not content with saving us from macrobrewed beer in the last decade, it's now tackling the Great Tapas Swindle. In 2006 it opened The Port House in a dark South William Street basement. There are pintxos at the bar and a full tapas menu in the main restaurant, with dishes in the €3-€5 range: hardly Spanish prices, but very good for Dublin. The quality of the food is excellent (particularly the churros with hot chocolate), and there's an extensive list of wines, sherries and ports. A second branch, called Pintxo, set up on Eustace Street in Temple Bar last year.

Even before these places opened, The Porterhouse was importing Pagoa beers from the Basque country for sale in its bars. Naturally, these constitute the beer list in the new tapas joints, though I think they have Birra Moretti for the lager-heads too. It was in Pintxo that I sampled the Pagoa Zunbeltz stout I reviewed for November's Session, and I was back to try another a few days ago. This time I went for the red ale, Gorri.

On first tasting I was disappointed: it's a very dry affair with quite a pronounced dusty musty flavour. Musing on this, I munched on some chorizo al vino, and took another sip. The difference was incredible. When put next to the rich meat-and-wine flavours, the beer becomes much smoother and rounder. The sweet malt flavours that one expects from a red ale come right to the front, while the dryness remains at the end, maintaining the balance and making the whole experience very pleasant indeed.

I can see why the management moved this one from their pubs to their tapas bars. I'm very sceptical about the whole beer-and-food pairings thing that our American cousins enthuse over, but this beer simply doesn't work without the accompaniment of bold Hispanic flavours. I'm prepared to allow that, just this once.


  1. Ah. Pintxos.

    Gorri wasn't my fave of the Pagoa beers, but as you say, it does seem to go well with tapas.

    And 3-5 euros doesn't sound all that unreasonable, even by Spanish standards. Whereas the cheapest decent tapas in London you're talking at least £5 AND you have to go to a restaurant rather than hang out in a pub.

    I'm envious.

  2. I don't have much of a frame of reference here, but I do remember a little place in the back streets of Barceloneta (which is, admittedly, entirely composed of back streets) where tapas were a euro a go. Now that I think about it, that probably is fairly untypical.

    I wouldn't class either place as a pub per se, and Pinxtos doesn't even have a proper bar. But they are very tolerant of customers who just want drinks with nibbles.

    It's the sort of common sense that's mostly missing from catering in Dublin, and London too by the sounds of it.