222 Lyon Tapas Bar
Near where office towers end and homes begin is 222 Lyon, a snug two-room place on the ground floor of an elderly brick house on the edge of downtown.
The front parlour room holds about a dozen small tables, with seating for 20. Behind it is the U-shaped bar where regulars hang out, mostly men of retirement age at my visits, drinking, snacking and kibitzing with the nice people who run the 222 show.
The dining room is sunny peach with sunflower art above the fireplace, rimmed with cluttered shelves. Floors are multi-hued wood. Chairs are carved and mostly match. Tables are bare. Cutlery comes wrapped in paper napkins, lights are bright.
The menu is a laminated list of soups, salads and tapas, which seem not to change. On the blackboards, the daily main dishes are listed. There tends to be three choices, with soup or salad to start. But most people seem to stick with tapas, ordering a round and sharing.
People who love this place seem to love it a lot, and much of the devotion must centre around the service, which is keen and kind.
Though it’s also a bit amateur. Red flags went up when our server told us the bread was on its way just as soon as it was defrosted. (Some kitchen secrets are best left in the kitchen.) When the bread arrives, it is chopped-up supermarket buns one night, slightly stale baguette another, served with whipped butter packets. Order the marinated olives while you examine the menu, and you get a generous serving, to be sure, but they are quite a dull lot, as though straight from supermarket bin to bowl.
Defrosted bread and dreary olives do not make a good first impression at a tapas bar. But things look up with the arrival of the tortilla de patatas. The Spanish style omelette is well flavoured and nicely cooked, studded with potatoes and onion. I recommend it as well the ratatouille, in which the essential elements are diced in perfect little cubes and reduced to a lovely flavour and texture. The shrimp chinata are a generous portion, the shrimp pretty ordinary, but improved with chorizo, mushrooms, peppers, garlic and wine. And the final dish that worked pretty well were the spicy mussels, with mustard warmth and a bit of chilli-pepper heat.
But there was too much else that flopped to write a happy piece. The mushrooms Sevillana with proscuitto were bland and button, paddling about in an oiled and wildly garlicky broth studded with bullet cubes of what tasted like salty deli ham. The pork and fig croquettes were dreadful things, too sweet, floury-tasting, with globs of undercooked batter. The calamari was tough and had the look, taste and texture of a frozen product – which seems all wrong in a tapas restaurant.
And surely a Spanish restaurant should get gazpacho right, particularly at the end of August. This one had been creamed – not with a dollop of sour cream, but with pouring cream. It tasted like cold cream of tomato soup, missing the sourness, the oil, garlic and harvest flavours that should make this Spanish classic so striking.
We ordered the pepper steak rare, and once we flicked off some of the pepper crust, even the outside was rare – pale grey actually, as if the knack of browning the surface of beef is beyond this kitchen. It came with roast potatoes that tasted stale, almost medicinal, and with asparagus that was thin, mushy and utterly grey. They tasted canned.
The cod wasn’t bad, though it came with saffron rice that was more likely stained with turmeric, as well as overcooked. The same rice came with a lunch feature of pickerel, though this rice was studded with peas, red pepper and carrots and the fish was napped with a pleasant yellow pepper sauce.
On a recent hot night, it was best not to order red wine. My glass of Castillo de almansa arrived far too warm. The crÃ¨me caramel we ordered for dessert arrived far too cold.
Tepid, I’m afraid, is how I feel about 222 Lyon.