DINERTEC @ LA BARCA

THE Moll had been demanding sunshine again.

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Palm trees, beaches, long esplanades, you know the score.

Boy, did her peepers light up when I told her she could have the lot.

And, boy, did they darken again when I told her all these delights were to be had in Helensburgh in January.

Cue a short but moody run to what must be one of what must be one of the most neglected little seaside towns of the Costa Clyde.

The Moll's mood didn't get any better when she clocked the name of the place I had picked for our night: La Barca.

"Football!" she shrieked. "I am not going to any football bar."

Me? I am no fan of that sissy soccer game with the round balls, even as played by Barcelona's finest.

But this is La Barca, not Barça, and we are here to enjoy tapas, not tiki-takas.

The Moll soon cheered when we stepped into the joint. If sunshine was what she wanted, sunshine was what she got.

'Cos La Barca may be on the windswept seafront of Helensburgh but both its décor and its welcome are Mediterranean and friendly.

Pride of place is a bar shaped like a fishing scoop ... yup, you guessed it, La Barca is Spanish for The Boat. And there is a huge mural of a Med harbour on one wall.

But don't get me wrong, this stylish new place hasn't overdone the nautical theme.

The joint isn't trying to fake the look of an authentic Andalusian tapas bar. No, its look is minimalist and, hey, its toilets are spotless.

What is authentic is the grub, which was terrific. Take the starter. We had, well, cheese on toast. Sound dull? No way.

This was gently toasted Pan Catalan rubbed with beef tomatoes and garlic and served with a slab of pungent Manchego cheese. That is a meal in itself.

Now if you really want to test a tapas place, you need to order some of the basics. We did, six to share.

Spanish staple No1 has got to be the Tortilla, the nation's belly-filling potato omelette.

Ours was hearty and delicious, served on a kidney-shaped wooden platter with a dollop of mayo and crunchy salad.

Our other classic tapas also met the mark: albondigas meatballs, eggplant in tomato sauce and deep-fried whitefish.

We also tried out a couple of veggie tapas: croquets with unidentifiable vegetables that the Moll didn't take to and a piping hot little paella that went down a treat on a cold night.

By the time we had fought over the tapas (they are for sharing remember), the Moll was looking like she had spent a day in the sun.

But maybe those red cheeks came courtesy of Fino she had been sipping throughout the meal.

Up next some more classics for dessert, an egg flan (not too sweet and a lovely palate cleanser) for me and a hot chocolate brownie for the Moll.

I braced myself for the road home with a nip of cortado, a small cup of Spanish expresso with milk. I was gonna need it. The wind doesn't half howl off the Clyde.

As we ran to the Buick we caught sight of those still warming themselves inside La Barca through the restaurant's big windows. The lucky cats.

Now I am an old hand. I remember when La Barca was a curry and lager pit-stop for sailor boys from the nearby nuke base. Now it wouldn't look out of place is in the flashest street in Scotland.

Which begs the question: when is the rest of the front of Helensburgh gonna get a lick of paint?

Starter

Pan Catalan with Manchego £3.45

Tapas

Berenjenas en salsa de tomate. £3.75

Croquetas de verduras £3.95

Albondigas en Salsa Espanola £4.25

Pescado Frito £4.45

Paella de verduras £3.75

Tortilla espanola £3.75

Dessert

Brownie with ice-cream £4.95

Flan with ice-cream £3.95

Drinks

1L of Mondariz sparkling water £3.25

250ml glass of Rioja £5.40

Small glass of Fino sherry £3.95

Cortado coffee £1.95

TOTAL: £50.80

Food and drink

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