date of visit: Saturday 3 March 2012
After our very happy start to the evening (at Cork) we headed off to our 8:30pm dinner reservation at Mesa Lunga. I’d rung to book at the last minute and been offered a choice of 6pm or 8:30pm. I’m always a little bit nervous about later reservations (even though that’s when I prefer to eat) because there’s plenty of opportunity for tables not to turn as quickly as the restaurant expected and that will mean I’ll end up standing at the bar.
While this wasn’t the case for us, it was for the couple in front of us who, reservation-less, were offered the chance to hang around and wait for a table that might be 30 minutes or so away. All credit to them for doing that (I certainly wouldn’t have!) but it did mean that front of house took far too long to acknowledge us and get us seated.
Mesa Lunga’s layout is based around two long tables which can be divided by low pot plants. I guess that what they’re aiming at is the Spanish communal style of eating while acknowledging that people can be a bit funny about being sat next to strangers. Be aware that this means a reservation for 2 will mean you’re sitting next to each other. Some people can find both of these things a bit off putting … but not me, I like it.
From the outset (that’d be the hanging around to be seated part) service at Mesa Lunga was best described as chaotic. I’m not sure whether they were short on waiting staff or just really disorganised. We had to wait quite a while to place a drinks order (not only bad service, but also bad for the bottom line) and when we did order our bottle of Albariño it couldn’t be found … The waitress explained that they either didn’t have it in stock, or they couldn’t find it and the Spanish wine manager (not sure if the individual was Spanish or perhaps he/she manages only the Spanish wines) was on holiday. But we could have the other Albariño at the same price. Absolutely fine (of course!) but we probably didn’t need the complicated story …
The internet reports that the tapas at Mesa Lunga is very good but we were hungry and went the entrée-main course route. We started by sharing some charcuterie and boquerones which was very good. Obviously, it’s quite hard to stuff up slicing some sausage but the anchovies were served layered between some house made potato crisps with some salsa and they were really very good.
For main course, Andy chose the seafood paella and I opted for the fideuà. Fideuà is sort of paella but made with fine pasta instead of rice. I’ve only had it once before, in Barcelona, where the dish was a lot drier than that produced by Mesa Lunga. Mesa Lunga’s had the sloppiness of pasta coated in a tomato sauce. I have no idea which is more authentic (I’m sure there are tons of chefs in Spain who produce less than authentic dishes) but at Mesa Lunga I felt a bit like I was just eating pasta. If I’d wanted Italian I would have ordered a pizza (yes, bizarrely, Mesa Lunga does offer a pizza selection) or even gone to an Italian restaurant. On the plus side, the dish was topped with 3 or 4 massive scampi that were perfectly cooked, juicy and sweet.
There were no complaints about the seafood paella. I will say that both of us could have done with a finger bowl …
Wrapping up our main courses our thoughts turned to dessert and coffees. To be honest, I’d been lining up the churros from the time we looked at the menu. Unfortunately, dessert really was the icing on the bad service cake.
We ordered and our coffees arrived while we were still finishing our wine. And then we managed to finish our coffees before the churros arrived. Then there was the exciting first bite into the churros – the expectation being a gorgeous crispy hot doughnut, with a delicious chocolate sauce. Oh dear. Even with my piece of churro being doused in chocolate sauce I could tell that these little babies hadn’t been cooked in clean fat. In fact, Andy pronounced it positively fishy. We looked at each other in dismay. Andy had a further mouthful, I tried another mouthful or two both with and without the chocolate sauce … and then we gave up, leaving all but one of the churros untouched.
Well, the meal was over. Service around us was as chaotic as it had been at the outset and Andy had to wave someone over to get the bill. She saw the untouched dessert but I guess she didn’t notice it because she never asked if there was a problem. When the bill arrived, our card sat on the table for what seemed like an age, as unloved as the churros. Finally, Andy decided we needed to just get up, pay and leave.
Our main waitress was at the till and took our account. We commented that the churros had been cooked in less than fresh oil. She looked disappointed and said we should have said something and she could have dealt with it. But how long would we have had to sit, staring at our churros before someone checked if everything was OK?
We left full, but not particularly happy. While there are things to recommend Mesa Lunga (an interesting wine list is definitely one of them) we’re not in a hurry to go back. And if we do – I’ll be sticking to tapas and steering clear of dessert.