40 Fish Quay
0191 257 6986
Gluten free options? Yes
Until the end of August at least, Tuesday lunchtime was the new Saturday night. Based on the anecdotal evidence I’ve been able to gather over the last couple of weeks it seems like the Eat Out To Help Out (snigger) scheme has been a runaway success. I’m sure this will not have been experienced evenly - some of my own personal fave places aren’t even open Monday to Wednesday, and haven’t opted to do so during August - but there are sufficiently grim portents for the hospitality world for it to be impossible not to be cheered by a bunch of extra midweek bums on seats. Dishy Rishi - who seems to have the happy knack of being personally associated with some of the rare good news stories kicking around these days - understood one thing well enough; we all bloody love a bargain.
Some rare time off together on just such a midweek afternoon saw Mrs Diner and I take in the sea air during a very pleasant stagger along the coast, pitching up at rather gorgeous Irvin Building on the Fish Quay, the bottom floor of which now houses Californian-influenced Taco joint Lobo Rojo. We’d booked, the comforting certainty of which feels more important what with the ‘rona and everything than it ever did, and just as well too; trade was brisk.
The place has had a bit of a do-over since its days as Irvin’s Brasserie, which I remember being all open plan and light woods. Walls have been taken back to bare brick, the earthy tones of which now contrast nicely with soft greens and an enthusiastic quantity of on-brand vibrantly hued paintings. If you like Frida Kahlo then come on down. Here she is on the upholstery; over there on a portrait sporting boxing gloves, next to the loos on another portrait smoking a tab, like a right legend. The picture on the actual ladies toilet is of...you guessed it!
We kept our order taco-centric as most of the larger stuff - burritos, loaded fries and the like - seemed to consist of the same fillings scaled up to gut-busting proportions.
Some introductory guacamole had a pleasingly uneven texture and came zhuzhed up with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds. Tortilla chips were clearly made in house and were excellent, a promising sign.
Promise that was delivered on by some Yellowfin tuna tostadas which were just lovely; healthy chunks of pristine fish moistened by a soothing yet spicy chipotle crema, and a lime-spiked salsa, all heaped onto more crisped corn. Light, delicious and perfectly summery.
A whole flotilla of tacos swiftly followed. The basics are in good order. Tortillas are made in house from masa harina, and it shows. They had a lovely pronounced cereal flavour and were pliable little discs of fun, the better to grab and messily devour. For the most part the things that came perched on them were equally good.
Pick of the bunch were the fish tacos and the carnitas. The former featured crisp fried fingers of cod, the crunch of raw white cabbage and the zip and vim of a fresh pico de gallo salsa.
The latter was all about the depth of flavour that can be obtained from pig, slow cooked down to a tangle of fibres, brightened up by vivid green sauce and more of that excellent chipotle crema stuff.
We also enjoyed a shrimp job that featured thumping big prawns cooked in some sort of moreish blend of spices that I would be more specific about if I hadn’t I preceded my one of these with a healthy dip of some scotch bonnet salsa that had a kick like a luchador. There aren’t a whole bunch of options for you vegans, but some thought and care was evident in a cauliflower taco that accessorised fried nuggets of the titular veg with some bassy black beans and crisped kale. Not bad at all.
The one slight dud was the chicken mole, in which the sauce lacked the trademark depth and breadth of flavour that comes from the painstaking process and cupboard full of ingredients needed to make a really great mole poblano sauce.
We had been talked down from ordering a steak quesadilla on account of us overdoing it somewhat, which was fine; it shows that the waiting staff are engaged and know the dishes. So anyway, we smashed through all the tacos and re-ordered it. It was a cheesy, meaty, bready mess of a thing. Delicious, in other words.
Churros - you’ve got to really, haven’t you? - were hot, crisp, covered in cinnamon sugar and came with a bowl of nice chocolate sauce, so they absolutely hit the spot. Bonus points for arranging them in Jenga format. People don’t do that with chips any more, do they? I miss the 90’s.
It being the afternoon, and us having things to do, drinks were limited to one Modelo for me and some Jarritos for her. There were some interesting sounding wines, in particular a Californian bourbon barrel aged red. Next time, maybe.
And there will be a next time. Our bill came to a meagre £70, not including the August discount. Even without the taxpayer coughing for twenty of that, Lobo Rojo is still very good value. I had slightly cynically read the “lads go on road trip to California, eat great food, come home and open restaurant” spiel and suspected that Lobo Rojo might not necessarily be terribly good.
Au contraire. Clued-up and enthusiastic service, a thoughtfully if enthusiastically done out room - which felt comfortably spaced out, by the way - and really, really tasty tacos done to a standard that you just didn’t see round these parts until Barrio Comida showed us what was what. It’s about as high a complement as I can give to Lobo Rojo to mention them in that esteemed company. I’d encourage you to keep helping out by eating out, even though Rishi’s August bargain season is but a memory.