Thursday, 20 October 2011

La Tasca - Menu relaunch

Please note La Tasca's restaurant on Greek Street Leeds has now closed. 

Over the years I have had a bit of a love hate relationship with La Tasca. There have been three occasions in total where I have left after my meal feeling less than satisfied with the food and the service. After my last experience of soggy Tortilla Espanola and limp salad I said I wouldn't be returning. So when I was contacted about a blogger event to be held at La Tasca I was a little wary. However it was quickly explained by the lovely Becca that this event was coinciding with La Tasca's relaunch and new look... I was curious. I decided to go with no expectations and a clean slate (they were offering free food and Sangria I felt I owed them that much.)

The evening consisted of a Sangria making class and Jamon Iberico carving master class, as well as taster of their new and improved menu.

I arrived a little early but was pleased to see that there were some people already there and I wasn't the first. I wasn't so happy to see the host who has been there quite a while seems to be moody any day of the week, he didn't even wait for us to step properly through the door before announcing table for two and turning around to get menus...

One we explained we were with the blogger group and were directed to the bar. Becca immediately greeted us and gave us name stickers with our names, twitter names and blogs on. I thought this was a good idea as at the last event I went to everyone just ended up tweeting during the presentations to see who was who and wasn't paying much attention. Becca asked the barman Tom for a glass of Sangria for me. We had a quick look at the drinks menu to see what was on offer on your average night.

Once everyone had Sangria in their hands and had gotten to know each other a little better the Sangria making class started.

The charismatic Tom took charge, he explained the history and journey of Sangria. Two types of Sangria demonstrated were: a 'traditional' La Tasca Sangria (Sangria Tradicional), they have their own slight twist on Sangria but who doesn't? Along with a Sangria de Cava.

All Sangrias differ in alcohol content but due to the UK's weights and measures laws they are restricted to the mere 25ml a shot. Sangria doesn't have to be made with red wine, as demonstrated in the Sangria de Cava, however Sangria translates to blood/bloody which is why you will find most are made with red wine.

I was hoping for some audience participation but when we learnt that we would have to replicate it in front of the whole group quite a few shied away... including myself... I hadn't had enough Sangria yet.

However a couple of willing volunteers eventually piped up and popped up behind the bar...

What a fabulous demonstration they put on for us and according to Tom they tasted good too.

Next was the Jamon Iberico master class. We rounded the corner and was confronted by a whole leg of Jamon Iberico.

I was impressed I was expecting just a chunk of ham on the table waiting to be sliced.. maybe by a slicing machine? I was very wrong!

Tom introduced to the session and then introduced us to their Spanish waiter (I can't remember his name!) hisEnglish wasn't the best but he was the best Iberico carver.

This is not a cheap piece of ham, it was described last night as the 'prada' of ham. The reason it so expensive is due to the time and effort that goes in to producing it. The source of the meat itself is of paramount importance because it's derived from select pigs that eat predominantly acorns (or acon as the friendly Spanish guy pronounced it... to which puzzled looks spread and a translation was given) off the Forrest floor. It's a free range product and as the Spanish waiter said 'They have a saying in Spain that flavour comes from happy pigs'. The colour of the pigs hoof determines the quality, Iberico ham has black hoofs which detonates it is of good quality whereas a pig with a pink hoof would be of lower quality.

We all tried a bit and were given tiny bread sticks to wrap it around too... as this is supposed to be the best way to eat it. I was quite happy eating it on it's own. And oh my... it was good. Oddly though I noticed, as well did others, that it has a sort of parmesan taste to it which we assumed was due to it's long curing period.

The prices if you were to buy it in La Tasca are £8.95 for a small platter and £15.95 for a larger platter.

I decided to be cheeky and ask how much they paid for a leg of Iberico Ham... the answer: £650 a leg... you will notice that as a part of the refurb the Iberico is hung around the restaurant to add to the decoration, the manager assured us that these were strongly tied down.

A lot more people decided to have a go at the Iberico ham carving as people were milling getting stuck in to the carved ham and you were less in the spotlight

Once we had massacred their expensive meat enough we were told to head down stairs where we would be served some tapas from their new and improved menu.

Bloody spiral staircases! What are restaurants' obsession with these things! Yes they look pretty but they scare the hell out of me... Paris was a nightmare when we went up the Arc de Triumphe and Notre Dame spiral staircase galore..

We sat down at the table and were met with menus and olives.

A little confused by all the menus we were given, we were then given some more once they explained their weekly deals. We were informed at this point too that they would no longer be doing the deals vouchers... you know which ones I mean.. the 50% off all tapas vouchers. However there was a Sangria recipe card which was nice.

The olives went down well I think by this point everyone was starting to get a little peckish. Amongst us on the tables were jugs of Sangria, and these were topped up frequently throughout the meal.. Loved this.

The Tapas was brought out and distributed amongst us. Sharing amongst strangers is a great way to get to know people. We were all very British and there were no major fights or fall outs over food, everyone was courteous and polite. It was really nice to have some of the restaurant staff including the managers sat amongst us talking and eating too.

There's Declan the general manager at the end of the table.

Unfortunately I didn't get pictures of every dish as some were half eaten by the time they made it across to me. Here's the ones I did get a quick snap of.

Pescado Blanco Frito - Deep fried white fish in San Miguel Batter

A Festival of Mushrooms - Chestnut, button and oyster mushrooms sauteed in garlic and white wine topped with garlic chives. 

Albondigas - Beef and pork meatballs in tomato sauce

Goats cheese & Tomato Salad 

The fish again but with most of it remaining and the paprika sauce that comes with it. 

And everyone's favourite the Patatas Bravas. (Divine) 

Other dishes I can remember eating are..... Chorizo (which was lovely the pieces seem larger than I remember too), Pork Belly (this didn't last very long), Croquetas de Pollo (this are an improvement on the mush served previously under a similar name), Chicken wings, mixed bean, orange and mint salad. There were prawns making their way round too but I'm not keen on prawns... I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to have one of my favourite tapas dishes, the Tortilla Espanola... may be a good thing as it this wasn't to my high standards I wouldn't have been happy and the tone of this post may have been different.... I don't like to bear grudges though...

The food was good, there wasn't anything I didn't like. Some of the dishes may be posed as new but I think they are more of a refresh of what they previously were. Menus should be changed in restaurants, it allows alternative options and it gives restaurants the chance to improve on what they have learnt. I know this can be a little hard in chain restaurants but others do manage it and manage it well in my opinion.

The atmosphere was really relaxed, I felt at ease whilst being excited. It was lovely to put some faces to the tweets I've exchanged over the last few months.

I think this would be a really lovely event that they should look to offer to the general public too. A dinner with added extras of Sangria making and Iberico master classes. It would be a great corporate event as tapas is a very sociable meal.

As I stated at the beginning of this post... my last experience this summer had left me not wanting to return to La Tasca, there are other tapas restaurants within the city centre that I would have favoured over this one. I will however now hold a little soft spot for La Tasca as I had such a good night and the people that work there are really nice down to Earth people. The food was good and it was made greater by the company and I think that is something they should really play on.

One of my first experiences in La Tasca was for a birthday party and we were a large group... and it was a complete disaster.. dishes were missing and we were blamed for this by the waiting staff... the food was shoddy and everyone ended up eating at different times. They have shown to me tonight that it is possible to host a large group and I do hope that when a large group presents themselves on a busy Friday or Saturday night they can handle it better than previously.

I do like their new look, its opened the place up. It was very dark before and highly decorated which was nice on a quiet evening but during busy hours or high summer it didn't quite fit and seemed crowded.

The weekly deals they have in case you were wondering are....

Three tapas and a glass of wine £9.95

Spanish Feast which is four dishes per person plus unlimited Patatas Bravas... £10.95 (I will be doing this one I think!).