THE Quayside was buzzing the Saturday afternoon we decided to try out La Tasca. It was Junior Great North Run day, the sun was shining, and the streets lining the river were choc-a-block with runners and their families.
The atmosphere was fantastic, but it was definitely a day not to bring the car as the other half dropped us in the vicinity of the restaurant and attempted to find a space in town.
La Tasca, like the other eateries and watering holes on the Quayside, was doing a roaring trade.
Diners happily soaked up the sun – and the ambience – on the terrace as they ate al fresco and a few big family groups descended for impromptu tapas lunches.
I must confess I’ve never had the pleasure of eating at this chain. The dining offers pop up seemingly every week in my email inbox so I reckoned we were well overdue a visit.
The cavernous interior sports dark wooden tables and floors, huge lights suspended from chains, decorative plates and vases are dotted around and paintings of Spanish scenes adorn the walls.
With the dark red and orange walls and all the knick knacks, there’s no mistaking the Spanish vibe.
While hubby was grappling with one-way systems I ordered a glass of fruity sangria and a chilled bottle of San Miguel, which was waiting for him when he walked through the door.
With plenty of dishes to choose from including starters of breads, olives, salted almonds, and myriad tapas sharing dishes, paellas and salads, we had our work cut out just deciding.
We did get our order in fairly quickly for one of their famed paellas, though, as it takes chefs a minimum of 20 minutes to prepare.
For starters we decided on a very tasty sharing platter, £8.95, consisting of Spanish cured meats – Serrano ham, chorizo and salami – mixed olives, delicious strong-tasting Manchego cheese, made from ewe’s milk, with slightly gritty texture, soft Spanish ciabatta and extra-virgin olive oil sassed up with sherry vinegar dip.
Our younger daughter was lunching with us that day – having missed the deadline for her Junior Run application! – but she reckoned she was there in spirit supporting the runners.
She chose from the children’s menu, offering three mini tapas from a choice of 13, a dessert and a Capri-Sun drink for a competitively-priced £5.95.
Like us, after much dithering, she opted for chorizo and chicken paella, pork ribs served in a tangy sauce, and French fries with tomato ketchup. They were served up as very small portions, on a wooden board, with a pot of crunchy mixed peppers, cucumber and carrot sticks.
She did enjoy, though, singling out the paella, with its moist and sticky rice, as her favourite. There wasn’t much meat on the pork ribs – daughter’s a big meat eater – but what there was, she savoured.
Our tapas arrived with a flourish, the earthenware pots and bowls soon covering every inch of the table. We served up on brightly patterned Spanish plates.
The deep-fried white fish, £4.75, in San Miguel batter, was recommended by our waitress Debbie, and was good. I never quite caught what fish was actually used in the dish but it was excellent, very moreish.
It came as four strips of fish in an excellent batter, crispy and so light, which we dipped into paprika and roasted garlic mayo.
Pork ribs in tangy, sticky sauce, £4.75, were finger-licking good; goat’s cheese and tomato salad, £4.95, fresh and appetising, giant slices of beef tomato, drizzled in basil, garlic and olive oil dressing, with soft, melting goat’s cheese and olives; the patatas bravas, fried potato cubes with punchy spicy tomato sauce, £2.95, catching the back of the throat!
The piece-de-resistance, though, was the paella, which arrived a few minutes after the tapas, served up in a traditional paella pan.
Our choice was a meaty one with liberal amounts of chicken breast and chorizo and chunks of red and green peppers, onion slices and a topping of grilled aubergine slices. The rice was well cooked, the whole dish well seasoned, and beautifully moist. It was a fantastic feast of pick-and-mix food.
I can never resist churros with chocolate, and La Tasca’s doughnut twists, served with strawberries and a cup of rich chocolate sauce for dipping, £6.25 (serves two) did not disappoint.
The doughnuts were freshly cooked, still warm and sugar-crusted, and so light and melt in the mouth.
The daughter finished off with simple fruit salad from her children’s menu. The other half’s Spanish-style rum and raisin gelato, £5.25, with shot glass of Pedro Ximenez Triano to pour over, which he tried just a drop of, came highly recommended.
We liked the busy restaurant and what they do, crowd-pleasing Spanish dishes in a jolly setting, coupled with dining offers, they do extremely well.
Address: La Tasca Kitchen, 106 The Quayside, Newcastle, NE1 3DX. Tel: 0191 230 4006.
Open: Monday – Sunday, 8am-11pm.
First impressions: Big stand-out setting next to Malmaison. Diners enjoying lunch and drinks on the sunny terrace.
Style, design and furnishings: Rustic décor, wooden floors and tables.
Cuisine: Spanish tapas.
Welcome: Warmly greeted by manager at door.
Value: Good. Keep an eye out for regular dining offers.
Disabled facilities: Accessible.