Life

Eating Out: Tapa the world, Ma

2Taps in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter – tasty, friendly, sociable and not over-priced Picture: Matt Bohill

2Taps, 42 Waring Street, Belfast, BT1 2ED   Tel: 028 9031 1414

I COUNT myself a very lucky woman in that my best friend lives on the Costa Blanca, making trips to the sun little more than a cheap flight away. This frequent-flyer activity means that I also have access to the best in Spanish cuisine, fresh fish, great wine and tapas on tap.

I have yet to recreate that experience anywhere on the island of Ireland but that doesn't stop me looking.

There is a distinct lack of tapas bars in Belfast and beyond, despite this being increasingly how people like to socialise; little plates of loveliness all placed in the centre of the table for people to dive in, taking what they like leaving what they don't.

Waring Street in Belfast is the centre of the fashionable Cathedral Quarter; 2Taps wine bar is situated in a prime spot facing the Merchant Hotel. I was there once before but was half cut at the time and so my memory of it is hazy.

This time I was on a girls' night and along with four other wonderful women called in without a booking, living in hope that they'd fit us in. It was midweek and late on so the place was quiet and the waitress, who immediately found us a great table, didn't flinch at the prospect of seating such a large group.

The interior is mock Spanish, nice warm colours lots of wooden furniture. There was an attractive couple facing us who appeared to be on the most awkward of dating site dates. Thankfully the communal nature of the food allowed them to make small talk – otherwise I was going to offer the girl a lifeline and ask did she want to join our table.

We ordered a bottle of Pinot Grigio; one girl went for a Grey Goose cocktail and another a bottle of Corona. Sorted.

The great thing about tapas is there will always be at least one thing liked by even the fussiest of eaters. The menu in 2Taps is extensive. There are starter suggestions and then it is separated into meat, fish and vegetable dishes. Most sit around the £4.50/£5 mark, with a few exceptions. The scallops are £8 so were ruled out as not cost effective for such a big group.

There are some things that undoubtedly shouldn't be on the menu at all and seem to be a sanitised version of tapas for an Irish customer base. I don't think they are necessary at all and it would be better kept strictly authentic.

We ordered the flat bread and dips – more Greek than Spanish, with hummus, tapenade and sun-dried tomato paste – which were all delicious, the bread fresh and piping hot. A platter of starters with wings and serrano ham, some smoked salmon, Spanish meatballs, prawns in hot seasoned oil all arrived on a rotating wooden board.

We also ordered the ham croquets, calamari, chicken skewers, and an interesting Empanada de Carne with a pan-fried hake dish, the table at this stage groaning under the weight of little earthenware dishes all carrying delicious little treats, colourful, fresh and hot.

The meatballs came in a rich tomato sauce, the beef dish tasted of deep, slow-cooked oxtail, the prawns were plump, the croquets were amazing – hot runny cheese centre with salty ham in a crisp coating – but the calamari were disappointing and a little tasteless. It was my only complaint.

The hake was a triumph. Topped with a kind of pesto, it was served on a plate of pickled vegetables that were stunning – I could have a bowl of those on their own.

There was lots of chatter and much passing of bowls and dishes – "Taste this" and "What do you think of that?" Tapas is such a sociable way to eat and pass an evening.

And the real treat came with the bill – £73.50 to feed five with drinks, less than £15 each, in the middle of the often overpriced Cathedral Quarter.

The weather may be sadly lacking but 2Taps is a great antidote to those of you yearning for your summer holidays, and at a very modest cost.

THE BILL

Corona £3.75

Pinot Grigio £15.95

Grey Goose cocktail £6.95

Mixed platter £17.95

Flat bread £4.95

Croquets £4.75

Calamari £4.95

Chicken skewers £4.50

Beef dish £4.80

Hake £4.95

Total 73.50

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