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Malaga Tapas

Malaga Tapas

213-215 St Andrews Road,

0141 429 4604

Price Rating: 2

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££ – mid-price
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Moorish small plates

Review published on 05/03/2013 © Sunday Herald

As I discovered last year on a rail trip that took in Madrid, Cordoba, Toledo, Granada and Seville, it’s not as easy as you might hope to track down good tapas places in Spain. It’s as if they don’t need to advertise, because their customers already know and cherish them. Often they have only narrow entrances leading into semi-basements, offering just a glimpse through steamed-up windows of an animated throng.

In Madrid, it was easy to walk past tapas bars. The noise of a seething crowd of people socialising was more of a clue that you were in the vicinity of a popular one than any visual clue. And those tapas bars that were recommended in guides were frequently already booked. Who would think that you need to book for tapas, the essence of informal dining? But forget walk-ins. Everyone else in the city seemed to have beaten us to it.

Miraculously, Malaga Tapas in Glasgow’s Pollokshields is quite true to type. On a Saturday night, it really did look and feel like a proper Spanish tapas bar, with a log jam of would-be diners blocking the doorway. Once we had squeezed in, we found ourselves basking in an ambient temperature that was more Costa del Sol than Glasgow south side. We were entertained by the chorus of Spanish dialogue between the kitchen, which was going at a fast, furious, yet remarkably unflustered pace, and front of house, where staff shuttlecocked between tables, delivering and taking orders.

This atmosphere is infectious. It’s almost enough to make you throw caution to the wind and order a jug of sangria. Next to us, there was a table of six out to have a laugh for a 30th birthday. Their high spirits seemed to light up an otherwise more demure table of sober types nearby. Then a diner at another table, a Scot, picked up his guitar, and started singing in that haunting Spanish way that does not demand a mute audience, but provides a musical backdrop for conversation.

Choosing from the blackboard of specials, we went straight for the rabbit in an almond sauce and fish croquetas. They were sold out, which was frustrating, but there were plenty more possibilities. First up, whole baby cuttlefish, stewed to gentle, subtle fishiness in their own ink. Then a fillet of some fresh, flaky white fish, steamed in the Andalusian way with olive oil, lemon juice, slivers of golden-fried garlic and chopped coriander. Salmorejo is Cordoba’s take on gazpacho, but thicker and smoother because it uses more bread. Malaga Tapas’ salmorejo was fresh and authentic. It took me right back to that beautiful city with its airy Moorish buildings and orange blossom-scented air.

They make their own sausages at Malaga Tapas, and you can tell that they didn’t just come from the cash and carry. The morcilla (black pudding) was glossy black like treacle, chewy like liquorice within. A dressing of sharp-sweet pomegranate molasses set it off brilliantly. And while your standard orange-red chorizo mugs the taste buds with too much salt and a blockbuster dose of smoked paprika, the Malaga Tapas version was much subtler, suffusing earthy green lentils with its rounded, porky presence.

Less interesting was the jamon. It didn’t have the sweetness and blissful fattiness of Spain’s fabled iberico hams. But then those wonders cost a small fortune, and a serving of jamon here (much bigger than a tapa if you ask me) costs only £5.95. Malaga Tapas would have to charge twice that to put a substantially superior ham on the plate. Unexceptional bread and briny olives let the side down, and squid rings, although soft and sweet, could have done with a crispier batter.

They do a fair crema Catalana here, distinguished from its French cousin (crème brulée) by its distinctive lemon peel and cinnamon flavouring and the fact that the custard is set by chilling, not baking. And it seemed to me at the time that the mouth-filling Navarra red by the glass was better than quaffable. But then perhaps we had become intoxicated with the atmosphere. Put it this way, Malaga Tapas tends to put a smile on your face.

A specials relationship

Review published on 04/04/2011 © Sunday Herald

This is one of those moments when time slows down, when minutes seem like hours. We’re standing just inside the restaurant door and can clearly see all the staff, but they don’t see us. That’s because they’re through a kitchen hatch, babbling away in machine-gun Spanish, plates flying to and fro, hands flashing up and down.

We wait. And wait. And wait, looking uncomfortably into the restaurant that social etiquette says we cannot enter, gazing at the many empty seats we simply can’t occupy, hearing ayeeee, bang, bang, bang, flamenco being played far, far too loudly over the speakers, seeing a handful of diners eating smugly from little ceramic pots beyond that invisible social barrier.

Then, just as we’re about to leave, a head turns in the kitchen, the chat stops and we’re spotted. The waiter comes birling out and time speeds back up. Suddenly we’re in the door, on the seats and clutching menus, and he’s taking us through the specials at full speed. “Chips again,” I say with a sigh as he outlines the third dish. “Ah, yes, sir,” says the waiter. “We try to do the Spanish bar food, sometimes with cheeps and salad.”

I’ll be frank. I look at Cal, he looks at me, and we’re both thinking: did we body-swerve a delicious bowl of spaghetti aglio oglio at home for this? At this point things are not looking good for Malaga. In my head I’m composing a long, slow lament to the tune of Andy Williams’ Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – in Spanish. Because that’s what’s now drilling into my brain courtesy of the restaurant speakers.

And then the tapas come. Far too fast, I think. The table fills up. Plates are being squeezed into every inch of space, and Luca stops playing with my phone to announce: “Mum gave me tea.” Grr. I fork up a meatball. Yawn. A dollop of patatas bravas? Interesting sauce, but we’re still not moved. Then a pile of red pepper salad is heaped on my plate. Wow. Hang on – this is good, a dressing of wine vinegar, olive oil and a pinch of salt drenching everything. This is all it takes to turn some deadly dull leaves into something special. As I lean over to try the main course dish I’m thinking: why can’t British chefs ever make a decent salad?

Reverse ferret, as we used to say in newspapers. This is also bloody good. Cordero con patatas, or lamb and pepper stew with cheeps, is what it says on the blackboard. It’s a tender, melting heap of delicious lamb, the juices infused magically with the flavours of rosemary and nutmeg. There are crisp, thin, salty chips on the side and another perfectly dressed salad. I am now thinking: why can’t British chefs ever make chips well? It’s simple. All the chips have to be is crisp, like these. Within seconds we’re calling for bread to mop up those fabulous flavours.

After this? Taste buds fired up, Cal and I fight over the tapas dish of mushrooms in roasted garlic, which looks nothing special but tastes wonderful. The chicken in garlic is reappraised. It’s pretty good. The prawns in batter are searched for and we realise they are posted missing. While the waiter goes to fetch them the woman at the next table, who has just ordered extra food too, leans over and raves about what she has eaten.

She’s right. In the end a crema Catalan is brought to the table, the sugar on top blowtorched to a crisp, crunchy disc as we wait to try its delicious flavours. The waiter offers some free Spanish hooch to wash it all down, but we make our excuses and leave.

The verdict: the quality of the tapas varied, probably because some of the dishes are pre-prepared, but some were very good and that cordero with the chips and salad was fabulous. Neither pretentious nor fancy, but the sort of dish you would probably rave about if you had it in a roadside bar in Spain.