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Ron Mackenna: Cubatas, Glasgow

Faced with a bewildering array of choices and suffering from Scottish tapas fatigue, I wearily ask the waiter if there is anything on the menu that we can't get anywhere else.

Not only is the cooking at Cubatas exceptional, but the prices for such excellent fare are remarkable too. Photograph: Kirsty Anderson
Not only is the cooking at Cubatas exceptional, but the prices for such excellent fare are remarkable too. Photograph: Kirsty Anderson

I mean, tapas? Come on. It's the most weary word in the food world now, surely. Apart from the Scottish-Spanish tapas joints - based on what seems little more than a week's holiday in Torremolinos - there's now Indian tapas, Italian tapas and I'm sure I even saw a restaurant selling Polish tapas. Call me cynical, but the idea seems the same - small plates, big bills, and let's sand dance around authenticity.

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Oops. I strike a nerve with the man in front of me, who turns out to be from Spain. Though not Barcelona. Immediately he's pointing out dishes: fish skewers, chicken and pepper, and in among them are the words "curry" and "paella".

"Paella?" I foolishly blurt out. "I've never had a good paella in Scotland." In fact, though I don't dare mention this out loud in case I get an ear bashing, I've never had a good paella full stop.

"We're from Valencia," he replies, proudly pointing to the kitchen. "If you don't like our paella you don't pay for it." And, umm, I add, that curry? I'm thinking that given the number of Indian so-called tapas places this may be a cunning revenge attack.

In fact, he tells me, "This is the version we Spanish eat at home." Crikey. Onwards and upwards to the first taste of the night, then. It's a huge one. Skewers of chilli, anchovy and olives eaten in one salty, fishy, oily, spicy, fishy-again boo-yah take. I love it for its power, but be warned, it's big medicine. Almonds come fried crisp and flavoured with thyme and rosemary, comforting, irresistible and nibbled at non-stop throughout the meal.

Squares of tortilla next. Firm, full of crumbly potato and perfectly seasoned. A mashed potatoey Russian salad as good as the ones we ate in Spain a few months ago, while marinated white fish is packed with lemon and herbs yet supremely, some would say dangerously for Scottish tastes, lightly cooked. And that's just the warm up.

There's a juicy chicken kebab in turmeric, another dusted in what looks like crisp, crushed tortilla. There's also an oozing, creamy bechamel in those chicken croquetas and freshly made crepes are stuffed with aubergine, cheese and more chicken. And still the food comes.

Urged on by the low prices and the 10 tapas deal which works out at roughly £3 a plate, we have over-ordered. Anyway, by the time I get to the curry I've gorged on paprika-dusted patatas bravas, crisp and crunchy and served with contrasting creamy and tomatoey dips, and had a chat with the waitress who confirms that the terrible economic crisis in Spain is what, at last, is driving Spanish chefs over to Britain. A tapas restaurant with a Spanish chef? In Glasgow? In fact there are now a handful in the city arriving, ironically, as the genre slides out of fashion.

The curry, then? It's oily, super-richly spiced with what may be curry powder, full of more of that marinated chicken and has an intense, deep, dark, almost chocolatey flavour. I really like it.

I'm less blown away by the paella, though. Of course, I give it the coward's thumbs-up when asked as the rest of the meal was too good to start grumbling. It may well be 100 per cent authentic, and it is certainly nicely flavoured with oil and garlic and dotted with chicken and chorizo, but it just doesn't float my boat. Blame a more modern take on rice in a restaurant called Compartir in the Spanish town of Cadaques a while back, which was mind-blowingly infused with dark green herbs, liquorice flavours and fishy spoonfuls. But that's the only chink in Cubitas's armour tapas.

Are the Spanish finally opening good restaurants in Scotland? Yes. There's been a recent surge and this is one of the best.

Cubatas

103 Elderslie Street, Glasgow (cubatas.co.uk, 0141 243 2227)

Menu

Latest in the recent mini-wave of Spanish tapas joints to hit Glasgow, bringing a fresh Valencian twist. There's even a quirky curry. 4/5

Atmosphere

Looks a bit dog-eared from outside and slightly strange inside but don't let that put you off. Its elevated position and buzz compensate. 4/5

Service

We were served by one of the Spanish co-owners. From the refreshing chat emerged an obvious desire to do things well. 5/5

Price

Generally great value with most tapas around £4 or less. We had 10 dishes for £32. Hard to beat, given the quality. 4/5

Food

The real thing. Bursting with flavours and yet another answer to the pale imitation tapas joints that have mushroomed in Scotland. 7/10

TOTAL 24/30

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