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Monday, 8 November 2010

Lola Rojo: Living la vida so-so

78 Northcott Road
Clapham, SW11 6QL
tel: +44 (0)20 7350 2262

I used to dread meeting friends who were local Clapham-ites. Up until a few years ago, without fail, they would always suggest meeting in the dreadful meat-market that is the Slug and Lettuce directly beside Clapham Junction. But luckily, things have changed. Northcote Road, just a hop away from the station has become a bone-fide destination for foodies with its excellent independent cafes, butchers, and food stalls selling everything from fresh fish to cupcakes to organic bread baked that very morning. In recent years, some great restaurants have opened their doors too, including the Draft House, which serves a stunning array of hard-to-find beers and some of the best burgers in town.  Just a few doors down, is Lola Rojo, a modern Spanish tapas restaurant with IKEA-like interiors. It was opened in 2006 by husband/wife team Antonio Belles and Cristina Garcia. They've since expanded with a new branch in Fulham. So, something must have worked.

To be honest, it's no surprise. The tapas is fairly no-fail stuff, pretty hard to screw up. Take for example, the above: padron peppers with sea salt (£4.50). I make these at home all the time. All you have to do is fry the suckers in some good olive oil until slightly blackened and then sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Hard to screw up, yes? Well, apparently not. Lola Rojo served the padrons with some nondescript yellow sauce, but forgot the sea salt all together. It wasn't a good start. But while the peppers disappointed, the service did not.  A bubbly young waitress from Valencia told us how she had trained as a pharmacist in Spain, but came to London after she calculated that she could earn far more money waiting tables.  She was very sweet and was eager to recommend her favourite plates of tapas.

They included: marinated Seville olives (£2.20); prawns aioli (£5.75); fried chorizo with green lentils (£4.95); traditional Spanish omelette with romesco sauce (£5.20) and lamb cutlets with potato, paprika and spinach (£7.50). That was nice of her. But I'm going to be dead honest here. The only one of these plates which made me pause in admiration...were the olives. The OLIVES. When you go to a restaurant and the best thing you have is the olives, you know it ain't good. The other plates were skimpy and under-seasoned. I nearly sent back my joke of a lamb-cutlet, which was no bigger than mint leaf. In fact, I'm still kicking myself that I didn't. The Spanish omelette was bland and lukewarm. Even the romesco sauce couldn't save its sorry soul. The garlic prawns were okay. The chorizo was hideously overcooked. After every mouthful, I wanted to wash it all away. But to add to the misery, the house white wine was ridiculously sweet. It is a bloody miracle I did what I did next. I ordered dessert.

Enter the monstrosity that was arroz con leche, lemon jelly and cinnamon ice cream (£5). This was truly, the most disgusting pudding I have ever had. The texture reminded me of throwing up something and then holding it in my mouth and swallowing it again. The gloops of lemon jelly were putrid. The cold slimy rice tasted like something they might serve in prison. The cinnamon ice cream was okay - but unlucky for it, it was paired with the grossest combination in the history of desserts. Thank Jesus H Christ I ordered the suggested dessert wine: the Marti Fabra Garnatxa (£5). That was the best thing all night. I needed it like a baby needs its blankie - to help me forget the bad meal and soothe me to sleep. But the rude awakening came with the bill - over £80 for two of us. I wanted to pull a runner rather than reward the mediocracy that was Lola Rojo. Suffice to say, I won't be returning anytime soon. 

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