Sunday, September 25, 2011

La Tasca - the party's over?

Any posts about food and drink would usually be found over at Random Ramblings, but in this instance I felt that it would be more appropriate over here, as it fits in very nicely with this blog’s obsession with all things European.

Our 10 year love affair with La Tasca began in 2001, when we began visiting La Tasca in Glasgow. Coincidentally, that was also the year we visited Spain for the first time (Barcelona) so it was a good introduction to tapas, a type of food which we were previously unfamiliar with.

Although it was a chain restaurant, La Tasca had a unique personality and ‘buzz’ about it. Every trip to La Tasca was an assault on the senses, every space on the bright orange walls was filled with bullfight and flamenco posters, paintings of bulls, and all kinds of Spanish-related artefacts, coloured plates and ornaments; wrought-iron chandeliers, dark brown wood panelled walls with bright orange/yellow Spanish tiles, and dark wooden chairs and tables. Then there was the music - a non-stop party soundtrack of the Gipsy Kings’ greatest hits, as well as Ricky Martin, Alejandro Sanz, Juanes and the Spanish pop hits of the day. You’d also hear Brazilian or Cuban music too; it all just added to the atmosphere. A visit to La Tasca was a sun-soaked escape from a cold, rainy day, a little piece of Spain in the middle of the city.

Back in those early days we also had our favourite waiting staff....La Tasca was a ‘hot’ destination in more ways than one :)

But what about the food? OK so it may not have been "gourmet" but who needs that? You were always guaranteed some tasty tapas, and for an almost-veggie like myself there was a good choice of vegetarian options in addition to the red meat/chicken/seafood tapas on offer. A good selection of Spanish wines and beers were also available, and of course the all-important sangria to bring back the memories of a Spanish holiday. Maybe that’s why La Tasca was so popular in Glasgow and elsewhere - you could uniquely recapture the summer holiday feeling.

Maybe it was this need to recreate that holiday experience, or just the unique buzzing party atmosphere, but whatever it was kept the crowds coming back, time after time. We were proud to call ourselves "regulars" who visited over and over again. The prices increased over time which drove some customers away, but then the various deals were introduced and they came back. There were some changes over the years - a slight decluttering of the walls, a change of menu, the departure of our favourite waiters/waitresses....yet it was still ‘our’ La Tasca. You knew what you were getting every time you walked through those doors, yet familiarity never bred contempt. We even tried other branches, at the Silverburn Shopping Centre and also in Edinburgh. Those were also very good, and I have some particularly fond memories of the waiters too ;)

We hadn’t been to La Tasca recently so it was inevitably time for a return visit. But then on Friday I discovered this article which brought the dreaded news that the powers that be think La Tasca is a ‘tired’ brand and it’s time for a rebranding and makeover. Oh really? Well they say ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. La Tasca ain’t broke, not in our book. There was lots of life left in the old-style La Tasca, which has influenced many other tapas bars which have sprung up in recent years. We’ve tried some of them, they are good but they just didn’t have the magical atmosphere of La Tasca.

But now, out goes the old decor and in comes the dreaded ‘contemporary’ styling. In my book, ‘contemporary’ in restaurant terms equals bland and personality-free. We like the decor of restaurants to reflect the cuisine served there. If we’re in an Indian restaurant we want pictures of elephants and people in traditional Indian dress on the wall. If we’re in a Chinese restaurant, bring on the dragon murals. And if that sounds tacky, so what? Better than the dreaded ‘contemporary’, all laminated floors, cream walls and beech wood tables = blandsville. The article said that Glasgow was going to be one of its first group of restaurants to get the makeover.
One day after discovering the news of the makeover, we headed to La Tasca to grab one final tapas lunch before it became this unrecognisable place. But it was too late. The restaurant was closed to the public and was in the middle of the makeover. White chairs and tables and a giant mural of red chillies on the wall, workmen going in and out. It’s La Tasca, but not as we know it. Even the name has been changed to La Tasca Spanish Tapas Bar & Kitchen...all very ‘contemporary’ indeed.

The main reason for visiting a restaurant is for good food of course, but the La Tasca experience was so much more than that. It was a Latin party and everyone was invited, but now it looks like the party’s over and La Tasca will never be the same again. We can only hope they’ve kept our favourite menu items, and haven’t swapped the likes of "Djobi Djoba" for contemporary restaurant snoozefest music, with Adele on repeat. We will give the new La Tasca a chance, and reserve our judgement until our next visit, but I fear the worst. (Anyone want to reassure me otherwise?)

In the meantime, remember them this are some photos which I took between 2006 and 2010 in La Tasca in Glasgow.

Above: three of my favourites - champinones al ajillo, patatas bravas, patatas a la pobre.

Above: tapas by night, December 2010.

Above: Christmas lights, December 2010.

Above: Pisto manchego.

Above: the iconic patatas bravas.

Above: more champinones al ajillo.

Above: faithful travelling companion's bravas, montado de lomo and calamares andaluz.

Above: February 2006. Wine bottles recycled as candlesticks :)

Above: November 2008.

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