REVIEW: Sláinte to a Spanish way of food

Dog and Partridge, a selection from the Spainish themed menu
Dog and Partridge, a selection from the Spainish themed menu

Salt and pepper, fish and chips - even garlic with bread - there are some foods just made to be together.

But serving Spanish food in an Irish boozer? I’d certainly never heard of it.

And that was the reason why we ended up at Bia Comida, the new food franchise inside the well-known, traditional drinking hole The Dog and Partridge on Trippet Lane.

It was a story too intriguing to resist.

As we found out, it all began as many things do, in the pub.

New owner Conor Smith, and chef Jimmy Lawless were chatting over a pint when the idea came to light.

“Jimmy was at a party for one of his friends back in January and food came up in conversation”, said Conor.

“From my point of view, I have the lease and I think you have to have food in a pub now but I couldn’t spend all day in the kitchen, so we decided it would be a good idea to franchise the kitchen out.

“He came to me a few weeks later and said he had an idea, showed me his menu and it looked just like the sort of thing you want to eat when you are having a few drinks.”

He’s right.

There’s a tricky art to eating a hearty meal and carrying on with the ale.

The menu at Bia Comida - which means ‘food’ in Irish and Spanish - is designed for sharing, for nibbling and snacking.

It ranges from tiny plates of pinxtos, typical bar snacks at £1 a go, to tapas plates, sharers and main dishes.

All have a balance between the traditional Celtic and Catalan ingredients - think soda bread and black pudding versus paella and empanadillas.

This is not the first time an ‘exotic’ food has been on offer though, as a burrito bar run by Street Food Chef was previously in the kitchen.

Decor-wise, it is still very much a low-key, comfortable pub and not a sleek modern restaurant.

There’s the tiny bar, a few low wooden tables and the padded booth, which is where we sit, near the kitchen.

The way we were welcomed meant it was quite tempting to sit at the bar for a chat along with the chorizo - this is a place you could go alone, and find a conversation in five minutes.

Conor, who is originally from Dublin and took over the pub earlier this year after transforming The Beehive on West Street, added: “A lot of people seem to think an Irish pub is what has been stereotyped in every city centre apart from Ireland.

“This place used to be like an Irish embassy more than anything, because it was where all the Irish community used to come.

“But in Ireland the restaurants are now as cosmopolitan and up to date as anywhere else in the world.

“The times have changed, and what’s Irish about us now is the hospitality and the welcome.”

We order on recommendations from the bar staff, opting for the sharers rather than the main plates.

One plate is called the ‘chips of doom’ - again, too intriguing to resist.

Chef Jimmy charmed us when he popped out of the kitchen to ask whether we wanted them ‘more doomy’ or less.

The more chilli, the better, in our case.

Brummie Jimmy, whose dad is Irish but has worked as a chef in Mallorca and Lanzarote, said: “People don’t always want to come to a pub now and have a massive plate of microwaved stew now.

“Everything here is home-made and quite traditional , I make my own soda bread, everything is fresh.

“I’ve never heard of anywhere in England doing this combination of food.

“The two cuisines might seem different but when I look at what I’m cooking, in both there is a lot of egg and potato and bread.

“ The stodginess and the spice work well together.”

So, those chips.

They were slathered in hot sauce, jalapeño and cheese - the kind of dish you pray for on the way home from a night out.

Finessed it was not, but flavoursome, definitely.

We ate them alongside a bodega board, the Spanish half of which included chicken and ham croquetas, which melted perfectly in the middle.

Soda bread doughballs were a clash of concepts but somehow worked with an extra garlic dip - topped by Jimmy’s home-made saffron syrup - the highlight of the meal.

A selection of very standard meats, Serrano ham and chorizo, was alongside the olives, caperberries and cornichons.

And then to mix it up again there was both white and black pudding discs.

I’m not a fan of either, but a taste revealed both were cooked well.

The board costs £10 on its own but can be combined with a choice of wine for £20.

Our bar snacks were Spanish by name, Irish in presentation.

Calamares are great circles of squid in plenty of saffron beer batter.

They were served a-la-chicken-in-a-basket but tasted like the real deal.

Albondigas meatballs were indeed home-made, the beef well seasoned, but we thought much more chilli and less spring onion was needed in the tomato sauce to give it a proper Spanish touch.

More of the dish that brought us here - chorizo doughballs with actual chunks of meat in the bread - took us to a grand total of £32.95 including wine.

Bia Comida, The Dog and Partridge, Trippet Lane. Call 0114 2706156.