LOLA ROJA: NUEVO NO NO ON THE NORTHCOTE RD
I am a man of simple tastes. Particularly as I get older. I want simple decent food that has not been fooled around with too much. Food which is a testament to good sourcing rather than an example of the chef’s three years in catering school.
The greatest of all sins is to take a great quality ingredient and then smother it with extraneous ingredients because you don’t know how to leave well alone.
Today was a prime example.
A blousy Glaswegian of my acquaintance invited me to join her for lunch at Lola Roja and relatively new Spanish place on The Northcote Rd (apparently now dubbed “the Ludlow of South London” because of the sheer number of restaurants and food stores.)
It is an appealing, light airy little space and the menu reads well in a slightly “Nuevo Tapas” kind of way with about four each of hot, cold, meat and fish tapas on offer.
We began with a plate of Jamon, naturally. Paler than most Iberico, but beautiful and beautifully carved with layers of fat and marbling. A perfect start.
Croquettes were evidence of excellent frying but slightly dry inside as were small balls of cod which cried out for something to dip them in.
Majorcan bread topped with anchovies and olives reminded me of a pizza I once made from a recipe on Blue Peter.
All standard enough to this point, but it was when the more substantial plates began to appear that the inability to leave things be became apparent with swirls if this and splodges of that leading to improbable combinations which failed to convince but succeeded in masking good main ingredients.
A confit of mackerel plopped tasty slabs of fish on top of an unlikely combination of mushrooms, aubergine and sun dried tomatoes. Good fish, the rest entirely pointless.
Suckling pig had a lovely tasting piece of soft pork with excellent crispy skin entirely swamped by a vanilla apple sauce and a bizarre Thyme sorbet all sat on a sprinkling on vegetable crisps. Hurrah for innovation.
The only dish that worked was a coulant of octopus with crushed potatoes, rich with olive oil, surrounding a soft poached egg topped with Galician style pulpo sprinkled with paprika. It worked, the others did not. Simple as that.
Puddings were an equally odd mix. I left most of a white chocolate soup to my companion because it was cloying and I made sure she got the salty bit of that most odious of combinations, chocolate, salt and olive oil, a dish I have never quite got my head around.
I half expected them open the bottle of red from Navarre and mix it with Tizer just to see what would happen, but thankfully, it was one of the few elements of the meal not messed around with.
We ate quite a lot and my chum thought the bill for £81 represented good value. I didn’t. The service, while friendly enough, was haphazard and we had to remind them more than once of things they had forgotten and, while we certainly ordered enough dishes most of them were, well, not very good.
After lunch, we strolled along looking at the myriad other restaurants on Northcote Rd. Some of them even looked worth visiting. Lola Roja,unfortunately, isn’t one of them.