★★★☆☆ / Spanish

La Bola review – one trick pony?

This review of a Madrid restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.

La Bola is just a stone’s throw away from Madrid’s opera house and the official residence of the Spanish royal family so it gets more than its fair share of tourists. Other than the staggering number of non-Spaniards passing through its doors, one of the most striking things about La Bola is its decor. The colour red is everywhere from the painted exterior to the tablecloths while the decor is dominated by wood-panelled walls decorated with tiles and a seemingly endless array of photos, paintings and other paraphernalia. You’ll either love it or hate it.

Yikes.

Like La Posada de la Villa, La Bola mostly concentrates on traditional Madrileño food but does so a bit more successfully. On my first visit I started with some jamon jabugo, a thinly sliced Spanish ham with a glossy, waxy appearance that gives little indication of the pleasingly fatty, slightly salty taste. They’re good little slices of pork, but I’ve had better elsewhere.

Nice.

The main event was a traditional stew consisting of chorizo, pork, chickpeas and vermicelli pasta brought to your table in a massive pot. The chickpeas are a bit too soft for my liking, but there’s no denying this is a very bold, hearty and stocky dish with a meaty, salty taste to it thanks to the fatty chunks of pork and chorizo. Passing staff members who suspect you’re running low on sauerkraut-esque stewed cabbage will bring you more whether you want it or not. I wouldn’t want to eat it all the time, but the stew was a tasty success.

There’s plenty more where that came from!

The dessert was less impressive. I opted for bunuelos, but the dish I was served at La Bola was completely unlike the Mexican version I had at Benito’s Hat back in London. Here two thick slices of apple had been deep fried in a thick buttery batter, covered in honey and then served with chocolate chip and vanilla ice creams. Sadly the batter was too thick and stodgy for my taste, the honey was utterly forgettable and the ice creams tasted as if they’d been bought from the bargain bin freezer at the supermarket. Disappointing.

What. Is. This?

Second time lucky?

As much as I enjoyed the stew at La Bola, I hadn’t intended to go back if it wasn’t for the fact that another restaurant lost my reservation. In any case the friendly, portly proprietor recognised me from the night before and was happy to seat me. The service on my second visit was a lot more responsive than it was on my first from bringing me my menu to settling the bill, although the waiters are just as terse and rushed as they seem to be throughout Madrid.

I started off with the manchego pisto, a dish which doesn’t have anything to do with manchego cheese. It’s actually more like a ratatouille, the famed French vegetable stew. Here it contains chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and celery in an inoffensive, unidentifiable sauce. It’s not a bad way to get some much needed vegetables in an otherwise meat-heavy restaurant, but it’s an utterly unremarkable dish with little to make it stand out.

Ratatouille by any other name?

My main course was once again a hearty, meaty affair – tripe. I’m a big fan of tripe and I enjoyed the soft tender strips of stomach with its slightly coarse, dimpled texture while the fatty chunks of chorizo provided the flavour. Sadly the oily sauce didn’t have much flavour of its own, but at least it wasn’t as viscous as the sauce accompanying the tripe at La Posada de la Villa.

Tripe!

I’m almost as fond of rice pudding as I am of tripe, so I had to see what, if anything, was unique about La Bola’s version which is served cold. While it was pleasantly creamy, suitably lumpy and sprinkled with more than a dash of nutmeg, there’s nothing interesting or different about La Bola’s rice pudding compared to rice puddings found elsewhere in the world. Oh well.

Hello puddin’.

The Verdict

I feel a little bad giving La Bola a merely satisfactory review given the helpful, friendly and warm proprietor. There’s no getting away from the fact that La Bola is a one trick pony though – apart from the enjoyable hearty chickpea, chorizo and pork stew the dependably and inoffensively average food won’t excite your tastebuds and at this price I expected so much more.

Name: La Bola

Address: Calle de Bola, 5, 28013, Madrid, Spain

Phone: +34 915 476 930

Web: http://www.labola.es/ 

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 13.00-16.00 and 20.30-23.00. Sunday 13.00-16.00.   

Reservations: highly recommended.

Total cost for one person including mineral water: approx. €51 (approx. £45 at time of writing)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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