On a recent bank holiday Monday, Milo (13) and I found ourselves in Co Westmeath with a couple of hours to kill. What better opportunity to nail an out-of-Dublin review? We headed into the metropolis of Mullingar in search of sustenance, only to discover that almost every eaterie in town was closed. Only La Guitarra was open and, when they read this, I bet they'll wish they hadn't been...
Regular readers will know that I've had a good run of it of late. Either restaurant standards are on the up, or I've been taking a more benign attitude. Whatever the reason, most of my recent reviews have been four-star. If my Sunday Tribune stars were awarded on the basis of service alone, then La Guitarra would be in the running for five. Unfortunately, the food lets it down.
On the plus side, La Guitarra is very cheap. The lunch deal is two courses plus soft drink, tea or coffee for €9.90. Really.
La Guitarra seems a tad confused as to its cultural identity. On the one hand the name is Spanish, and there are a few Spanish touches to the décor, including a whole wall given over to a display of Faustino wines.
On the other hand, the menu is almost entirely Italian, with a few international Esperanto-type dishes. I'm confused, and I think La Guitarra might be too.
Milo began with bruschetta. This is such a simple dish, so easy to get right and yet so easy to get wrong. Buy decent tomatoes and it's a cinch. There are flavoursome tomatoes to be had in the marketplace at the moment (granted, they are unlikely to be Irish – proper tomato flavour depends on sunshine). Anyway, La Guitarra had sourced the other kind of tomatoes – the ones that taste of nothing and have the consistency of cotton wool. You know the ones. The fresh basil was a nice touch but couldn't save the dish.
My salad (that was the bald menu description) arrived so soon after I had ordered it that I just knew it had been sitting there in the kitchen waiting for me. Served on an oval dish, a non-exhaustive list of its constituent elements would be as follows: hard-boiled egg, green pepper, red cabbage, raw onion, sweetcorn kernels, tomatoes, cucumber. Oh, and a bit of whatever you're having yourself. The dressing cream was a thin salad cream. It's the kind of thing my mother used to produce back in the '70s, when she was having a bad day.
Milo ordered a Regina pizza (priced at €13.90 on the regular menu) – fresh tomato, buffalo mozzarella and rocket. La Guitarra has a proper pizza oven and we had high hopes for this but it was significantly burnt and we had our suspicions about whether it really was proper buffalo mozzarella. I opted for the Green Lasagne (it sounds so much better in Italian – Lasagna Verde al Forno, €11.90 on the regular menu), which wasn't bad at all. There was rather too much béchamel for my taste but the ragù was full of flavour and it was a more than acceptable version of a classic dish.
We shared a tiramisu (€5.90) that was pretty awful – over-sweet, the consistency of Angel Delight and with no discernible coffee flavour.
La Guitarra was full of families with children at the time of our visit and I have to pay tribute to the saintly Spanish (I think) waitress who looked after them all (and the allergic lady who was surprised when her pasta sauce had tomatoes in it) with such grace and charm.
I'm thinking particularly of the obnoxious parents at the table next to ours who poured Coca Cola into their already hyperactive toddlers without a thought for the effect it would have and then ignored them as they banged the tables and plates with their cutlery while they got on with their meal, apparently oblivious.
Our bill, with three soft drinks additional to those included in the lunch deal, came to €32.60 before service. I'm hoping we hit La Guitarra on an off day.