Tapas, but not as we know it – Restaurant Review: La Cha Cha, Cardiff Bay

The newest arrival in Cardiff Bay’s Mermaid Quay is La Cha Cha, a Spanish themed tapas bar under the same ownership as nearby venues Demiro’s, Eddy’s Diner and the VIP Piano Bar. I wasn’t able to find out much information about it online, and was unclear on whether it was somewhere that you could enjoy a proper restaurant meal, or more of a bar, so Mr W and I popped in there on Saturday night with the intention of having a drink and trying a couple of tapas dishes – if they were good, the plan was to have more and stay for the rest of the evening.

The new owners of La Cha Cha have worked hard to make it look as much like an authentic Spanish bar as it’s possible to do inside a shop unit at Mermaid Quay, and the ambience is good, despite a few nasty pre-printed blackboards adorning the walls. The place was packed when we arrived, mainly with drinkers rather than diners in the bar area, but with a couple of tables of diners in what we were told was the ‘VIP area’ at the back of the bar. We managed to find ourselves a small table in the bar area and had a look at the wine list which featured an extensive selection of Spanish wines. It was Rioja after Rioja, with some quite expensive bottles on offer. They also have an impressive selection of premium champagnes. We’re not wine experts, and particularly not Spanish wine experts, so we asked one of the members of staff what he could recommend that would meet our wine requirements. He suggested we try the house wine, which we found a bit of a strange recommendation, but to be fair, it did actually tick the boxes we wanted it to – and didn’t break the bank either!

The tapas menu (once we managed to get hold of a copy – there didn’t seem to be enough to go round and the waitress had to go and scrounge one for us from another table!) featured fairly standard tapas selections and there was also a range of steaks and a few other main dishes. We decided to start by ordering meatballs in tomato and chorizo sauce, and prawns with chilli and garlic. Both were pretty tasty, although the portion sizes were not especially generous, so we decided to order some more dishes and stay for a full dinner. As it turns out, this was not our best decision of the night, as it transpired that we’d already had the best of the menu!

Prawns and meatballs

Prawns and meatballs

The second round of tapas consisted of a portion of Iberian ham, which was carved from a large ham on the counter, garlic mushrooms, spicy chicken wings, a selection of breads served with oil and vinegar, and cheese croquettes. I was particularly looking forward to the croquettes. Authentic Spanish ‘croquetas’ (delicious little deep fried pockets of breaded creamy béchamel with morsels of ham, cheese, chicken, fish or whatever happens to be on offer at the time) are one of my all-time favourite foods. Unfortunately, what appeared on our table bore absolutely no resemblance to anything I’ve ever tried in Spain and was in fact a dish of breaded mozzarella dipping sticks which I’d have expected to see somewhere like TGI Friday’s, and which I am sure had been bought in bulk, frozen and reheated. I don’t even know where to start with how wrong they were. Aside from the fact that Mozzarella is obviously not a Spanish cheese, they were tasteless, looked cheap and nasty and were a total disappointment. Mr W did point out that they were still cheese croquettes and therefore as described, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption in a Spanish bar that they’d bear at least a passing resemblance to what you’d get if you ordered croquettes in Spain. Between us, we ate half of one, and the remainder went back untouched.

Our second serving of tapas

Our second serving of tapas

A close up of those horrible mozzarella dippers

A close up of those horrible mozzarella dippers

The ham was okay, but had been cut a bit too thickly, and was certainly not as tasty as some I’ve had. The mushrooms were edible but underwhelming, and the chicken wings looked so unappetising that I didn’t even bother trying them. Mr W said they were edible, just. The bread was okay, but was randomly toasted in places (suggesting it wasn’t overly fresh) and we had to ask for the oil and vinegar that it was supposed to come with. A bottle appeared on the table, but was whisked away when we were half way through our food, without our being asked whether we’d finished it or not. The waiter who cleared our table once we’d finished eating did ask whether we’d enjoyed our food or not. He was actually Spanish, so we expressed our disappointment, particularly with the ‘cheese croquettes’. He conceded that they were mozzarella, told us that they were bought in frozen, and that he would give the chef our comments, but that it probably wouldn’t do much good as the owner had told the chef to serve them like that. He also said that the ham is normally sliced thinner, but the Spanish waiter who normally does it wasn’t there that night.

I was left with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment with the food, particularly as the average price for the tapas dishes was around £5.00. I felt a bit like I did when we ate at Café des Amis – where quality had been totally compromised in order to get the absolute maximum margin on the dishes on offer. In fact, I think I saw a bowl of whitebait on the adjacent table to ours, which looked similar to the cheap, nasty whitebait we had when we went there. It’s a shame, because the service was friendly, and as a bar I really liked the venue – Mermaid Quay needs more places like that where you can enjoy a nice glass of wine in a smaller, more intimate venue than the other bars it has to offer. I would go back for a drink – but I will certainly not be eating there again in a hurry.

Food: * Service: *** Ambience: ***

(I can’t find a web address or indeed an exact street address for La Cha Cha at the moment.)

14 responses to “Tapas, but not as we know it – Restaurant Review: La Cha Cha, Cardiff Bay

  1. Pingback: An authentic taste of Spain just got even closer – Restaurant review: Bar 44, Penarth | Love to Dine·

  2. I beg to differ. My friend and I went here on Saturday evening. had a fantastic meal – mixed bread; canary potatoes; mushrooms; mixed seafood marinara; sizzling chicken and it was all absolutely lovely. Wine was great but usual mark up – £14.95 for house wine. Service was great with follow up asking how it had gone. Lovely and will definitely return soon.

    • Sounds like the food was very different from what we had! Did it look anything like my photos? Service and wine were fine when we went too – it was just the food that was shocking! If you like tapas, I’d recommend trying Bar 44 in Penarth – it’s in a different league (in my humble opinion!)

      • Hi – no not like your photos but then we didn’t order the same dishes. Haven’t been to Bar 44 yet. La Cha Cha was really good for Tapas. I loved Cafe Des Amis too but the one in Covent Garden – is that the one you mention above?

      • No, different Cafe Des Amis – this one’s in Penarth! The mention above links to the review and details. Maybe we just chose badly at La Cha Cha, but I still think the breaded mozzarella sticks were unforgiveable and what we had doesn’t make me want to try anything else!

  3. Went there last night. Lovely decor (apart from the exposed plasterboard on the ceiling) and in intriguing choice of a massive bottle of French red wine in the entrance. Can’t see that in Madrid!
    Wanted to review the food but after sitting at a table unattended for 15 minutes and asking three times for the waiter to come over we gave up and left.
    Won’t be back.
    PS Spend a little less on decor and more on getting staff that have a clue.

  4. Went here Sunday night and had a good time. Drank the house red (two bottles) and had five different dishes – two of which we had seconds! All very good, although none of the ones in your photos. Service was a bit slow as only one person appeared to be serving but as the meal was a “catch up with my son who I hadn’t seen for a few months this didn’t detract from the evening.

  5. Pingback: It’s tapas time again – Restaurant review: La Tasca, Cardiff | Love to Dine·

  6. Poor service rude staff and wine was average and toilet doors don’t lock so don’t use if you have any dignity

  7. Have to agree, I ended up there on Friday evening, ambience was nice and decided to try the menu, was quite dissapointed, it wasn’t terrible food but it just wasn’t great, some dishes were just very bland I won’t be bothering to go back.

  8. I’d have to disagree with this review. I thought the food was delicious and the waiting staff have always been very attentive whenever I’ve visited the restaurant. I’ve been back about 4 times now.

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