SOMETIME around 1982 or maybe 1983, just after Felipe Gonzalez Marquez became Spain’s first socialist prime minister after Franco’s dictatorship ended, two of the venerable picadors of old Cork met on St Patrick’s Street.
They had little in common but their age and the idea, held as firmly by one as by the other, that they were important public men.
One was an active champion of eating good and plentiful roughage and an ardent Catholic who gave expression to his unquestionable faith by fighting with El Caudillo’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War more than half a century earlier.
The other man imagined himself at the other end of the poltical spectrum, a radical he felt, but he did little to confirm that opinion in a late-flowering political career.
One relentlessly patronised the other and each longed to push their rival into the ever-deepening chasm between them. This kerbside meeting was no different.
The fly was cast: “Did you see that the free Spanish democratically elected Marquez?”
And the fish rose: “I did, but isn’t he a bloody socialist?”
And the hook was set: “He is indeed thank God. You should have stayed at home from your pious murderin’. We got in anyway. Good luck ya ’oul fraud.”
Our antoginists are long dead — though not yet forgotten — but it is likely that they would have enjoyed the Spanish food at the Iberian Way, a tapas bar and Spanish food shop in Cork’s Douglas Street as much as they enjoyed needling each other.
They might, if they tried hard enough, even have found common ground over wine and a lingering evening of tapas. Ringy maybe.
The idea of tapas, small, tasty dishes shared around the table over a few hours, is as alien to our food culture as the two old picadors were to each other.
We have set dancing, the Spanish have Flamenco and though one, on its day, is a uplifting as the other, they seem to speak to different corners of the soul.
Our food culture seems focused on sating appetite, tapas-style dining seems an opportunity to be curious about more than whatever is on your plate.
You could hardly describe the process of consuming them with the same verb. One fills, the other beguiles or maybe even seduces.
We, CS, in the absence of DW, stood in heroically and arranging the evening led to the discovery that my phone’s predictive text describes her as Ms Shanghai, an honour she never aspired to I imagine but you never know a woman’s innermost secrets, do you?
The Iberian Way is a pretty informal place that doubles as a Spanish food shop during the day.
The staff, all Spanish, add to the charm, especially the one with a voice as deep as Mount Teide is high, suggested an observant Ms Shanghai.
The interior designers have yet to call and the place is all the more charming and comfortable for that.
Prices for food range from €4.50 to €7 a plate and a very interesting Spanish wine list, one that deserves further, thorough research, tops out south of €30.
We shared patatas bravas — spuds in a barbecue type sauce Eugene — a very generous dish of crispy calamari, a bowl of garlic prawns swimming in butter and — remember this one for the holidays Eugene — pollo de la yaya, chicken wings in a beautiful sauce of green peppers, tomatos and fiesty spices.
Buffalo wings with real and novel elan. There were croquetas la tasca too, one of the finest renditions of potato — yes Eugene, two kinds of spuds — I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy.
A little croquette, more a pillow of creamy subtlety oozing with layers of rich taste, almost a brocade rather than a dish using something as mundane as potato.
The balls of cod — bunuelos bacalao Eugene — on the menu read temptingly but we were too late, they were gone.
The wine was wonderful, a gritty ribera del duero — Milu — and it fitted in perfectly with the pace and variety of the meal.
It’s difficult to compare Iberian Way to the great majority of restaurants in this part of the world but we had lovely food in very informal and relaxed setting. And on a cold wintery day it’s as close to San Sebastian you can get without a boarding pass.
The food: 7.5/10
Make it up as you go along ... tapas start at €4.50 and go up to €7. Her Indoors — god rest George Cole — might be happy with two or three but Eugene would probably need a few more than that.
In a sentence: A flavour of Iberia comes to the south of Ireland and it seems utterly authentic food and culture wise — and it’s entirely enjoyable and very good value.
Iberian Way, 72 Douglas Street, Cork;
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved