You'll be surprised to read this but I have a huge amount of time for restaurant chains. I love the odd Mcdonalds. Wagamama is a favourite spot for a juice and chilli chicken ramen. You'll do a lot worse than a Milano's Pizza in Dublin and fat boy Jamie Oliver does very decent Italian in his chain in Dundrum. Travel to the UK and you can't cross a street without coming across some sort of chain of pubs or restaurants. Chains go against everything romantic notion about opening a restaurant and all the hippies eating organic food and drinking carrot juice in a bistro designed like your granny's living room will be up in arms about the big corporate types stealing market share. Remember a restaurant is about making money though and commercial realities mean that chains of restaurants have more buying power, better marketing and access to more finance so they have a better chance of success. New Tapas restaurant Zaragoza on South William Street isn't a chain but more about that later...
When I walked in to Zaragoza the place was still shiny and new. It smelt really fucking weird though as soon as I stepped through the door and when I asked my mate "can you smell that?" he confirmed my worst fears and said "yeah it smells of piss". It was the same smell you get every time you walk through that Alley way over by Dawson Street that used to lead to Renards... stale piss. Now instead of this being the smell of a homeless tramp pissing all over the walls and sleeping in their own vomit it turned out to be the new leather on the seats or some of the upholstery giving off the pungent aroma. It quickly faded but as introductions to new dining experiences go it was an epic fail.
The beauty of Tapas and the reason why we are seeing it spread to all sorts of cuisines (watch out for the hot new Indian Tapas concept coming to Dublin soon) is that people are pissed off eating huge plates of food. Smaller with lots of flavours is better for everybody. We got a lunch menu which at 15 Euros is seriously good value. My pork burger was a lovely size and oozing with piggy goodness. If you don't like 2 types of pork inside a light bap with some sauce then I'm sorry but you are a gobshite. Patatas Bravas is one of the simplest Tapas dishes you will comes across featuring deep fried potatoes and a rich tomato sauce but I've seen so many places fuck it up that I've nearly given up ordering it. Thankfully they nailed it here. Bang on.
Chicken skewers did exactly what they said on the tin and were simple but delicious. Another barometer for Tapas is how good the paella is and the portion that came in a little mini skillet with mussels, prawns and chicken was seriously impressive and made me crave more. Top notch cooking.
The last dish was a salad that my mate Barry ordered. Nothing more to say than it was a bag of shit. Salsa yes. Salad it wasn't. To be honest there was so much going on with the meat and the lovely paella that we didn't even touch it. No biggie and probably just the gods above teaching two blokes having a man date together to not be stupid enough to order a fucking salad.
So all in all the food was good. So good that this restaurant is made to be turned into a chain. You can tell everything about it from the large seating areas. The location just off Grafton Street with heavy footfall at all times outside the door. The uniforms. The large investment that it has clearly taken to get it this standardised on day 1. Food doesn't get this uniform and consistently good from day 1 by accident. Most people will groan about yet another chain but I for one am happy. I'll be blown away by way better food in other places with far more personality but I've had so much shit tapas over the years that this ticks a box for me. If I can walk in every single time and the paella is this good I'll be coming back and so will a ton of other people. Expect this to be a long term success, more of them to pop up (possibly in other countries) and people to flock to it. Now if they figure out to not have the place smelling of stale piss for the first week after opening they'll do even better.