There are few things better than a group friends gathering around a bustling tapas bar for small plates of rustic bites and lashings of sherry and sangria.
We’ve been bringing our sunshine holidays to Spain home with us for years in the form of paella and patatas bravas and now even supermarket shelves are stacked full of everything from microwaveable tortillas to ready-to-eat manchego fritters.
But despite their enduring popularity, there is a distinct lack of really great Iberian restaurants in the area.
The team behind La Salsa hope to change that.
From the outside the restaurant, situated in a parade of shops off the main street in Horwich, is pretty nondescript but inside it’s been decked out with the usual rustic Spanish fabrics and terracotta pots to give it a charming, if slightly prosaic, feel.
Omens were good when we arrived at around 6pm on a Friday to find the queue literally out of the door.
As we waited we were handed a menu and discovered it would cost £15.95 each and we could order as much or as little as we liked from the extensive menu.
Although not usually a fan of all-you-can-eat deals (it usually results in half the quality and double the gluttony), it would at least give Mrs Tapas and me a chance to try more of the 42 dishes on offer.
A jug of sangria promptly ordered and it was time to pick our way through the menu. First us it was the usual suspects of marinated olives, patatas bravas, chicken paella and calamari to test the water.
First impressions were pretty good. The service was prompt, particularly as the place was full to the rafters and the food was, well, decent.
The black and green olives were tasty enough marinated in lemon and garlic; the paella was flavoursome and the chicken tender; and the beer battered calamari was excellent, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.
The patatas bravas, a staple tapas dish, however, was disappointing.
The potatoes were mushy and under seasoned and the normally picante sauce was generic at best.
The dishes were quite small too, even for tapas, but considering it is all-you-can-eat, it suits.
We ploughed through the menu with mixed results.
Championes Ajelo (mushrooms in garlic and oil) were tasty and the ubiquitous gambas pil pil (prawns in garlic and chillies) were so good I ordered them again but the carne espanola (beef with peppers) was chewy and the albondiagas A la Jardiniere (meatballs in a tomato sauce) were mushy and the sauce a lot like the same generic stuff that topped the potatoes.
In fact, the more we ate the more everything started to merge into one.
It seems many if the sauces and garnishes are shared between multiple dishes, I suppose, to speed up prep but it left everything tasting similar.
In fact, the more we ate the more everything started to merge into one. It seems many if the sauces and garnishes are shared between multiple dishes, I suppose, to speed up prep but it left everything tasting similar.
It’s easy to see why the kitchen might do that with more than 40 dishes on offer but I would prefer a smaller, more distinct menu.
I’d also like to see more surprises instead of the same tired combination of tortilla, paella and patatas bravas. There is also a lack of chorizo on the menu for my liking, with just one of the 42 dishes featuring the famous, paprika-filled sausage.
But at just £14.95 (£13.95 midweek), I can’t grumble too much after demolishing enough food to break a refectory table of reinforced oak. Plus the service was good, unfussy and friendly, and the busy weekend atmosphere was great.
La Salsa certainly doesn’t live up to the best tapas bars of Seville or Barcelona, but it might bring back some fond memories of sun-kissed Iberian holidays gone by and there are certainly worse places to while away a weekend evening with someone you love.