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Tābú Tapas review: Joyously delicious tapas in a neighbourhood setting

Spanish chef with a flair for global flavours provides menu of interesting bites with a mix of classics

Tābú Tapas
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Address: Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, R95 EH33
Telephone: 083 164 1967
Cuisine: Modern International
Cost: €€€

I wouldn’t typically have a cocktail at lunchtime, but it is Saturday, there is a table of girls living their best life next to us, and although I’m not a brunch person, a bit of brunch energy infiltrates my system and I find myself pointing to a Pisco Sour (€11) on an interesting cocktail list that is getting a serious work-out across the room. Because, why not? For my dining companion, it is a chilled bottle of Estrella (€6).

There is something wonderfully joyous about Tābú Tapas, which chef Rodrigo Gonzalez opened with his ecologist wife, Dr Amanda Greer, a year ago in the pretty village of Thomastown, just 18km outside Kilkenny. It was previously home to Bassett’s and then Barrow’s Keep, but has changed considerably since the couple took over the empty building, inheriting just a deep fat fryer and two stoves.

Their equipment and eclectic assortment of plates were acquired at auctions, on DoneDeal and from restaurant liquidations. Their chairs, which they reupholstered by hand, were a fiver each, and they made their own tables. Tapestries from Cusco, Chancay burial dolls, Inca masks, a Puerto Rican tin rooster, a Māori hei-tiki and numerous Catrinas, the Mexican emblem for Día de los Muertos, are on display throughout the room, reflecting the extent of Gonzalez’s travels and signaling what to expect on the menu.

Born in Madrid and raised in Santiago, Gonzalez worked for Pia Leon of Central restaurant in Perú (currently ranked number 1 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list), followed by a stint with Martín Berasategui in the Basque country, six years in New Zealand, and a three-month stage in the fermentation lab in Noma. In Ireland, he worked at The Cliff House Hotel, Rinuccini and Zuni. These many influences contribute to his way with flavours.

As we nibble on the parsnip, Jerusalem artichoke and sweet potato crisps that are brought to the table, we decide to stick with tapas rather than go for any of the larger main courses.

Padron peppers (€7) are always good with a beer or a cocktail and they arrive gently charred, dusted with salt and cayenne pepper, served with a spicy red pepper dip which has a nice touch of acidity. The pan de yuca (€6) has got my attention, described as mini cheesy buns made with tapioca flour. Four of them arrive, they are quite dense but absolutely delicious with a filigree of frazzled cheddar around the edges adding to the savoury flavour.

The calamari with sorrel mayo (€8.90) is crisp, cut into strips, cross-hatched and deep-fried. Three cheese and prawn empanadas (€9.80) are in a golden pastry, with a good kick of garlic on the prawns. The patatas bravas, Tābú-style (€7.50), are hasselback Charlotte potatoes with a chunky tomato sauce. There are five of them, so there is quite a bit of eating in this plate.

Black Angus beef and pork meatballs (€9.50) are served in a little dish you would normally see used for escargots. They are surprisingly soft and yielding, tasting like they have been cooked in butter. They come in an arrabiata sauce and are topped with chopped chives and a flurry of grated Parmesan.

Baby Gem hearts (€6) are dipped in puffed quinoa (which is like puffed rice) and are served standing-up with a side dish of High Bank Orchard vinaigrette. It’s a different way to serve salad I guess, but I think I would prefer to have the leaves already tossed in the dressing. It is the least interesting of the dishes I try.

We finish with churros (€6), which are quite wonderful, piping hot with a crunchy exterior and aerated spongy centre, dipped into a generous bowl of toffee-ish dolce de leche.

At Tābú Tapas, Gonzalez seems to have a clear sense of what works in a neighbourhood restaurant. There are interesting bites for people who are looking for something a bit more unusual, and a good stalwart of classics such as Guinness bangers and mash, venison shank, lamb rump, flame-grilled burgers and fish and chips for people who prefer a starter, mains and dessert approach to their meal.

The summer menu will have landed by the time you read this, and apart from new tapas dishes such as beef tataki, grilled asparagus, soft shell crab bao buns and ceviche, Patio Tābú, the outdoor semi-covered bar area which seats up to 50 people, will ensure that this is one of the hottest places in the locality for the summer.

Lunch for two with a cocktail and a beer was €77.70.

The Verdict: Delicious global flavours in a fun room.

Music: Rainbow and a mixture of pop in the background.

Food provenance: Fisherman’s Market, Sysco, Riversfield Organic and Kilfane House walled garden.

Vegetarian options: Guacamole, baked sweet potato with black bean mole, cheese empanadas, tempeh sliders and harissa baked cauliflower steak.

Wheelchair access: Fully accessible with accessible toilet.

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