Wednesday, 8 April 2015

La Tasca, Leadenhall Market

The Tapas Bar, as it is known to the Legatus' friends and contacts, has served as my City office for some years.  It forms the top two floors of 27 Leadenhall Market and has excellent views over the market below.  I have been going there since it was just called the Leadenhall Wine Bar in the eighties. Then it became the Leadenhall Wine & Tapas Bar, then Ortega and is now a branch of the La Tasca tapas bar chain. 

It changed to a La Tasca last year and, of course, endured some poncification but in fact, as Ortega, had been owned by Tragus, who also own Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia, since 2007.  Now it is Britain's only Rioja bar, offering 19 different red, white and rose Riojas from Marques de Morano, at 18.95 a bottle to the Decanter magazine gold medal winning Viña Pomal Alto de la Caseta at £90.00 (which comes in its own wooden case).

As it used to be

For a number of years, in its Ortega incarnation, I went there so often (at least twice a week) that they let me go in there before they opened, to work, charge my phone or have a cup of tea.  I actually got 20% staff discount too!  As a result I introduced it to many other people and it was one of those I had lunch with this week; my Czech friend I.  She is always good to have lunch with as she doesn't stint on the wine or food, unlike the two girls who sat next to us who ate a small salad between them and shared a glass of wine.  Good grief.


Now the old Ortega was run by Poles.  Most of the waitresses were Poles and there were rather too many waiters for my liking.  Some of them, Agnieszka and Ulla (in particular), were quite lovely but more recently the standard and number of young ladies working there had dropped, much to my friends and my chagrin.  Under La Tasca's control, however, there are many more nice, and largely Spanish, waitresses there again.  I remember taking some Argentinians there once and they were appalled by the fact it had Polish waitresses.  Anyway, we had the cute Roser from Majorca and very friendly and efficient she was too.

Now I was on a diet (not a very serious one) but the sort that means she feels that if she adds vegetable tapas, like green peppers and mushrooms it will be healthier.  Unfortunately, then having a bottle of Faustino V pink Rioja followed by a bottle of  white Rioja rather offset the attempt at healthy eating.  One thing I have to say is that although the Tapas menu is smaller than it used to be, the quality of the food has much improved.

A lot of restaurants in the City are subterranean (such as the nearby rival Barcelona tapas bar) but the good thing about the main floor at La Tasca is that it has windows on two and a half sides so it is nice and bright.  If you get a table by the window you can spy on all the brokers and brochettes from Lloyd's outside the Lamb Tavern opposite.  Very good for people watching!

Leadenhall Market in 1881

Since the fourteenth century Leadenhall Market used to be the main poultry market of London, as Billingsgate was for fish and Smithfield was for meat.  When I first worked in the City many of the shops were boarded up and it was still mainly butchers shops.

At Christmas they used to hang fresh turkeys on hooks outside of the shops (I can remember some American visitors being shocked by this) and while the hooks remain, the butchers have gone.

The  Tapas bar is on the top two floors of this building

Today it is full of trendy restaurants and clothes shops.  It is built on part of the site of the old Roman Forum which was the biggest Roman building north of the Alps.  In the sub basements of some of the buildings you can still see some Roman brickwork.  The current building was erected in 1881 and has been beautifully restored, compared with the rather shoddy look it had back in the nineteen eighties.  Its Victorian splendour is popular with film makers and it appeared in the first Harry Potter and Tomb Raider films, among others.

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