When to go: Very early – the queue builds from 6pm nightly.
What to have: Get that holiday feeling with sardines a la plancha and a glass of albariño.
A stool around the marble bar of this animated tapas joint is still one of Soho’s hottest seats due to the authentic menu, feel-good vibe and sheer spectacle – dishes are cooked before your eyes. Pick from assured versions of the tapas top ten – including tortilla, croquetas and pimientos de padrón – plus daily specials dominated by bracingly fresh market catches, then watch as a tight brigade of unflappable chefs delivers the goods. Despite the crowds waiting on your seat, rushing you through a meal is anathema here. Just as well, because it’s all too easy to keep ordering more, and the excellent by-the-glass wine list encourages experimentation. Be prepared to wait, and wait, for a table though. A newer branch has opened near Trafalgar Square.Read more
When to go: When Brixton Market’s rough-and-ready scrum of caffs just won’t cut it.
What to have: Spanish comfort food such as huevos rotos and leche frita.
Despite its odd location amid Acre Lane’s tyre workshops and charity shops, Boqueria has deservedly built up a devoted fan base spanning Clapham, Brixton and beyond. Its friendly, all-Spanish staff ferry spot-on tapas and raciones to the chattering crowds in the light, modern dining room. Hits include saffron-tinged cod fritters, melt-in-the-mouth ham croquetas and jet-black rice with squid and mussels. The atmosphere is always high and the prices refreshingly low – just two of the many reasons why Boqueria is riding the crest of the capital’s Spanish wave.Read more
When to go: When you’re looking to impress but need a fall-back talking point.
What to have: The nine-course tasting menu is packed with signature tapas.
Cambio de Tercio is a bright, bold Spanish restaurant that takes inspiration from the likes of Ferran Adriá’s elBulli. It serves up the sort of plates that meddle with the senses – tastes and textures are not what they seem, but everything is beautifully presented and packed with flavour. Foams, spheres and intriguing dish titles that make ample use of quote marks are the order of the day here. It’s hugely popular with wealthy Spaniards, and international moneyed types who love Spain. Also of note is their great Spanish wine list – the best in London. The group’s less expensive branches (notably Capote y Toros) are also very good.Read more
When to go: When you’re in Soho, feeling spontaneous, and with flush friends.
What to have: The house ajo blanco is a creamy, luxurious taste bomb.
This warm and inviting nook in the heart of Soho manages to be both authentically Spanish and admirably cliché free – apart from the giant hams dangling from the ceiling. High communal tables, a clattering ambience and rapid-fire service make it a perfect post-work pit-stop – as does the exquisitely crafted wine list, which offers nearly everything by the glass and carafe. The menu, inspired by the day’s market, mixes top-notch charcuterie with well-balanced dishes such as cod carpaccio pepped up with dill, capers and orange, or smoky grilled chorizo with braised lentils – all at restrained prices.Read more
When to go: It’s off the beaten track in Soho, so you can afford to be a little spontaneous; but ring first anyway, and avoid peak times.
What to have: The meats and fish are all beautifully grilled, but make sure you try some of the less expected vegetable dishes, such as the stuffed courgette flowers drizzled in honey.
The Salt Yard Group have produced some stunning but little-known restaurants such as Dehesa, Salt Yard and Opera Tavern, going from strength to strength as they add new branches. Taking the Italian-Iberian small-plates ethos of Salt Yard, but with the cooking done over smoky coals, Ember Yard goes one better. The ground floor is a wine bar and restaurant with lots of warm woods; if you’re in the basement, try for the bar counter. Every tapas flavour combination is a winner; tender octopus coated in a peperonata sauce, say, or Ibérico pork ribs grilled to melting softness.Read more
When to go: For a smart night out; book well ahead.
What to have: A glass of sherry or two, some jamón, the day’s specials.
Sam and Eddie Hart have pioneered a wave of top-class Spanish eateries in Fitzrovia, first with Fino, then with Barrafina. Over the last year or two we’ve noticed Fino edging ahead of the more casual Barrafina for service and food – the menu’s far more extensive at Fino, and the prices appreciably higher too. Main courses change twice daily, although you’ll find that signature dishes such as pork belly are a fixture. Fino offers a modern take on classic Spanish flavours – morcilla iberica with quail eggs, seared tuna on a piquillo pepper salad. Fino’s the smartest option of the Hart brothers empire, in every sense (they also own Quo Vadis, which is not Spanish).Read more
When to go: When you’re after something filled with fragrant spices in Farringdon.
What to have: The menu changes regularly, but if the yoghurt cake with pistachios and pomegranates is on the menu, it shouldn’t be missed.
Blending Moorish flavours from Spain, North Africa and the Middle East, Sam and Sam Clark’s restaurant has been a popular Exmouth Market eatery for over a decade now. Expect aromatic dishes jewelled with nuts, herbs and dried fruits, plus hearty peasant-style stews, spiced roasted meats and seafood. If they’re all booked up (which they regularly are), pop into their tapas offshoot – Morito – a couple of doors up.Read more
When to go: For a lively occasion that requires plenty of bubbles.
What to have: Start with a plate of some of the best ham in London.
José Pizarro’s jovial tapas bar, José, has been crammed with fans since it opened; this larger, smarter offering has proved a second Bermondsey Street hit for the chef and restaurateur. The dining room accommodates all occasions with its friendly, anything-goes feel and its mix of curved booths, communal tables and casual perches at the bar. Meanwhile, the food – a mixture of tapas, larger plates and daily specials, all inspired by that morning’s market trip – gives a modish slant to Spanish favourites such as pulpo a la gallega or presa ibérica. The wine list champions cava, so best find something to celebrate.Read more