Furnished with wine racks, herbs, and a simple counter: Hola Paella

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n a weekend visit, amidst the hustle and bustle of the Lock, you could walk straight past it. Yet this shoe box of a tapas joint has actually been hiding right in the centre of the Middle Yard for nearly a year.

And we were surprised to learn from assistant manager Laurel, who had invited us down, that there are three outlets in what is actually a micro chain; the others are in similarly thronged visitor hotspots Greenwich and Covent Garden.

The shack you've probably walked past a hundred times

You’ve probably walked past it a hundred times.

As we’ve said before, Camden Lock in the evening – especially midweek – is a surprisingly magical place, all fairy lit and almost tourist-free. Quiet though. Too quiet, in fact. It’s surely a case of people thinking it must be over-run, so they stay away. Or, more likely these days, they hang out in Kentish Town instead.

We took a corner table in this candle-lit shack – furnished with wine racks, herbs, and a simple counter – and idly surveyed the passing trade: the curious diners poking their heads in, those leaving with a takeaway coffee (brave at 8pm), the odd couple clutching a guide book.

Laurel was an engaging host, effortlessly revealing how, as a trained architect, she came to work at Hola, while whisking us over tea cups of cava (less twee than it sounds) and, later, a crisp glass or two of Godello to accompany our sharing platter (below).

Sharing platter

Colourful: sharing platter of meats, cheese and olives

All the big hitters were present and correct: velvety roasted peppers, big green olives, Serrano ham, chorizo, salami and lomo, the thin, moreish cuts of pork tenderloin. Two types of cheese: the obvious Manchego – with its distinctive yet hardly overbearing flavour – and a really fruity Murcia, which proved a little hard to swallow.

Our only criticism? All just a tad too cold, but then outside it was barely above freezing (and the venue is literally a hut). Bread, meanwhile, is from respected London bakery Flour Power, perfect when plunged into rosemary-infused olive oil.

We were filling up. But the main event was, of course, paella, with three sizes to choose from, each remarkably well-priced, considering the dish is often expensive in Spanish restaurants.

The real deal: paella

The real deal: paella

A little lamely, we opted for a small portion (just £4.50), yet after the breads, meats and cheeses this proved more than adequate: the ingredients – chorizo, prawns, mussels, chicken – paired well with saffron to give depth, but what no garlic? “We don’t put it in because tourists complain,” said Laurel. Even the French ones? Our advice would be to chuck it in anyway.

Eating here is a bit like camping in the middle of London. Or rather, not being in a city at all. For example, if you need the loo, you have to go outside. Not literally, of course, just up the stairs to the toilets kept open over the bridge.

With its charming service and simple fare, we concluded – over a glass or two of house Rioja – that it’s a little like somewhere you might stumble across in a whitewashed village in Axarquia.

How could we top that? Why, by heading to the nearby Spiritual Bar – that little sliver of downtown Rio – for a cheeky nightcap.

[box] Hola Paella, Middle Yard, Camden Lock Market. Paella from £4.50 a person. Sharing plate of meats, peppers, olives, breads and cheeses £12. Meal for two with a drink, £30. Kentishtowner Rating: 7/10 [/box]

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Group editor and publisher of London Belongs To Me, a family of cultural guides to London neighbourhoods

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