Rioja was buzzing at 9.15 on Friday evening. We were shown to our table, passing the cocktail drinkers lined up along the bar, by a slick waiter from Spain and most of the other staff seemed Spanish too. The interior is 'wan of they eclectic wans' with mismatched everything, lots of upside down lampshades and a menu chalked up on giant boards... and what a menu. Finally a Glasgow tapas joint where I want to try everything. The three of us ordered three dishes each to share and spent the next hour and a half along with everyone else there eating, drinking and chatting loudly. This place has a great vibe.
Now for the food.
The mussels baked with garlic butter had been separated on to the half shell with a little bit of bread crumb on top and were absolutely delicious.
Padron peppers that came unadvertised with the squid were perfectly griddled with olive oil and sea salt. About one in five of these little green chaps is hot, none of our lot were. The squid was a little overcooked and underseasoned.
The pickled anchovies came in their own little kilner jar and tasted spot on.
If you like ham croquettes Rioja's are a fine enough example, a light crisp exterior giving way to a soft gooey interior, again though they could go a little more seasoning.
The octopus was absolutely superb, grilled till the skin caramelised and sweet as a nut
Then came a real show stopper: slow cooked pigs cheeks with mash and crispy parsnip. A stunning dish where every ingredient worked together lifting the whole to another level. Beautifully textured moist pig cheek, a deeply flavoured unctuous sauce- verging on sweet and sour- yet perfectly balanced, a lick of savoury mash and the crispy sweet sensation of parsnip. Perfection.
After that the poor old oxtail suffered, it was nice enough but just had the misfortune to follow a superstar. The only disappointing dishes were lamb chops which lacked enough flavour to compete with their sweet sauce and the chick pea & cod stew which had a rather tasteless fresh white fish instead of the expected salt cod.
There was a moment half way through dinner when, amid the general buzz and bustle with Spanish being spoken at the next table and thick accents from the waiters, I began to drift with the breeze to warmer climes. So I might have imagined the Spanish easy listening version of Sympathy for the Devil being played, I hope not, it was very good.
Rioja hasn't been open long, it exudes an effortless and unpretentious cool whilst cooking some seriously tasty dishes, I can't wait to go back.
Click here for Rioja's website
1116 Argyle Street
tel. 0141 334 0761