Come hungry and with friends, so as to make the best out of this fun-loving establishment. Inspired by Hispanic food markets around the world, La Boqueria’s menu comprises a wide selection of regional cuisine. Who knew that hot fried olives would be such fast friends with edamame? Tapas bars normally conjure up images of endless small plates, but the size of their ‘Son of a butcher man’ dry-aged primal cut steak is overwhelming. In fact, all their mains are more than generous at best and that doesn’t even take into account the ‘Feasting’ section. There’s something on this menu for every appetite size, be it a white anchovy snack on toast or 10 groaning grilled Queen prawns covered in caper salsa fresca.
Make sure you still have space for dessert, though, because although they made name for themselves with their white-chocolate hazelnut gelato cookie Whoopie pie dessert, the G&T tart and chocolate nemesis dessert are equally formidable choices.
Their focus and pride comes from their small-batch and natural wine from across all our beloved regions. Each selection extends across the palate to a feeling such as ‘quench’, ‘nourish’, or ‘cleanse’ rather than by the grape. There are tons of names you’ve undoubtedly never heard of but can get by the glass anyway.
Welcoming, knowledgeable and always there when you need them. And, considering how busy the place gets, that’s a feat unto itself.
Tapas and good times should be shared and you can do all that swimmingly at this establishment. It’s always packed full of bright buzz, whether inside with the murals and odd tree or outside on the expansive deck.
A catch up and a drink with friends
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The menu is divided into nibbles, bruschetta, ceviches, fried street food, skillets, soul bowls, live-fire barbequed dishes, kebabs and paellas – it’s a culinary journey that stretches from Japan to Mexico, from Italy to Argentina. The menu can be a little confusing in its breadth and variety, but once you understand the formula, you’ll enjoy the ride.
To start, there’s a selection of cured meat platters, scallop/fish ceviches, oysters, bruschetta and more traditional Spanish-inspired tapas. We choose a mint, sumac and parmesan crusted sardine dressed with a caper-parsley aioli, and the five-pepper barbecued squid with white wine, lemon, chilli, garlic and salsa criolla. The sardine is plump and palatable, encased in a crisp, light and flavourful crust, and topped with a deliciously herbaceous aioli. The calamari is tender, well spiced and seriously saucy.
For mains you’ll find yourself umming and ahhing between a selection of flame-grilled steaks and lamb, chicken, pork belly, rump ‘kebobs’, paellas and very in-vogue soul bowls. We opt for the seafood paella with prawns, mussels, white fish and octopus in saffron rice, as well as the 300g Crying Tiger rump kebab marinated in soy, chilli, lime and oyster sauce, and served with a roasted red-pepper relish and salsa criolla. Neither disappoints. The paella is huge, and could easily serve two; and the two enormous queen prawns that top the tower of crisp calamari and mussels seals the deal. The rice is stock-full of flavour, with generous pieces of fish and octopus throughout. My only qualm is that the mussels have dried out in the oven; they should consider adding these morsels just before serving, as well as a few more lime/lemon wedges, as one is just not enough.
I generally don’t order kebabs at restaurants in fear of the dry and lifeless skewers I’ve become accustomed to at so many Greek and tapas restaurants, but the La Boqueria beef ‘kebob’ holds three 100g pieces of tender and succulent rump, and comes served with hand-cut chips and a moreish red-pepper relish – I’ll be back for this.
Having looked over the menu again, I recommend sharing the Crying Tiger pan of prawns (10 queen prawns), the Crying Beef rump kebab, chips and salad for R340.
Dessert sees a toss-up between the traditional churros with a hot chocolate pot and the whoopee pie ice-cream sandwich with Nutella and toasted marshmallows.
If you go the tapas route you’re probably looking at around R150–R200 a head, whereas most mains are cost between R105–R160.
Winos across Joburg will squeal with delight at this excellent selection of small-batch, boutique, South African wines. You won’t find a bottle under R210 or a glass (175ml) under R45; it’s a drinking spot for connoisseurs rather than quaffers, and I think they like it this way. There’s also an ample selection of craft beers, with Castle Light, CBC and Stella Artois on tap, and a beautiful bar if you’re in the mood for just drinks rather than dinner.
Waiters are confident, easy going and efficient; they’re well-versed on the menu and great at offering suggestions. We have a few small teething issues with getting cutlery before mains are served, but the team will soon find its rhythm. Management is hands-on and more than happy to ensure that every need is met.
The setting is impressive, with double-story, vaulted ceilings creating a lovely sense of grandeur. The fashionable restaurant and bar, including the upstairs section, probably seats around 150 people. La Boqueria has real trees as part of the interior, which is a beautiful touch, and the parquet floors, chic furnishings, soft lighting and great acoustics make it an exquisite space.
There’s a large outside deck area that will be fantastic in summer.