La Bodega1120 South Street,
0141 581 3401
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
A little of what you fancy
Review published on 21/06/2010 © Sunday Herald
Sometimes Glasgow seems so small and dull. Then one day I'm on the dreary Clydeside - not the Byres Road bit. Further on, past Partick, past Whiteinch, driving by scrapyards, garages, low-rise, low-rent industry, and suddenly there are tables beside the road with umbrellas like flowers.
Inside there are handwritten signs, a big shaggy dog wandering about, a burst ball under a sound system, a stage at the bottom of the room, for Gawd's sake, and the higglediest-pigglediest collection of tables and chairs I've ever seen.
I'm looking at the bare plaster walls and the big unfinished bar facing the door, trying to find a sign - a poster, maybe even a painting or some piece of touristy tat - to indicate that, senors and senoritas, this is indeed a Spanish tapas restaurant.
There's absolutely nothing here. In fact, it's a bit of a mess. But somehow... as the light floods in the low windows and through the open door while I spoon a salad of chunky tomatoes and cucumber dripping, as it should, in a seasoned oily, vinegary dressing on to my plate and slice into tender grilled chicken fillets deliciously marinated in rosemary, it feels like I'm in a roadside village bar in Spain. In Glasgow.
I'll go further and say that already I'm feeling there's something indefinably right about this place. Something genuine. Is it just the light? Maybe. It's a beautiful day, warm and bright. Yes, I can see the bus depot across the road; yes, there's a scrap merchant next door; and yes, trucks are rumbling by, but it's another world, far removed from the tapas restaurants run by Scots, Italian restaurants run by Indians, Irish bars run by industries, and the whole spend-a-fortune-on-the-theme-forget-about-the-food craze that is beginning to overwhelm the city just down the road.
On the menu are pepitos, baguettes with marinated beef, and bocadillos - baguettes stuffed with Spanish omelette or chicken and herbs. On the table there's a bowl of small, wrinkly-skinned potatoes with deliciously fresh and spikey made-in-here dips of coriander, cumin, garlic and roasted red pepper. Beside that a dish of boquerones frites, the deep-fried whitebait I watched being floured through the kitchen door a few moments ago, and another bowl of squid rings in a light and crispy batter.
Best of all? A few moments ago a whole freshly made tortilla arrived, still steaming from the frying pan, squat, fat, bursting with dry floury potato and crisp onion, seasoned with just enough salt and pepper and completely impossible to stop eating. Even though I have already stuffed my fat face.
Is it all good? Well, the chicken heaven - a stew of peppers and chicken billed as originating in Granada and flavoured with mango - was wet, ordinary and dull, but, in the same way we haven't a clue how to make a salad in this country, I've yet to eat a stew from a hot country that was any good.
And the service is good. The chef cum waiter cum owner (I presume that's what he is anyway) comes from the Canary Islands, he tells me, and is a decent guy. He has been back and forward with dishes and apologised for having no spinach and feta pie, and for still being in the process of preparing today's Russian salad that I really wanted to try. He also has a slightly alarming habit of bowing as he leaves the dishes, but we'll not hold that against him.
I said I liked this place as soon as I started eating and I like it even more now I've worked my way through the menu and heard the bang, bang, bang of flavours popping in my mouth. It is simple and messy but unquestionably atmospheric. Of course there are better tapas bars in Spain, but there certainly aren't in Glasgow.