OCTOBER 2019: We’ve added alfresco Parrillan in Coal Drops Yard (the latest outing from the star-spangled Harts group), plus The Tapas Room (a dinky hideaway by Deptford station) and Waterloo tapas veteran Mar i Terra.
Tapas: small in size, but – when done well – enormous on flavour. And London’s hooked on the stuff – Spanish-style eating has never been more popular in the capital, with sharing plates of meat, seafood and veg fast becoming the new three-course meal. For the absolute tastiest tapas in town, make tracks for one of the places below.
London's best restaurants for tapas
Known for dishing up premium tapas in glam surroundings, the Harts Group has nailed it again. This latest branch, at the handsome new King’s Cross development Coal Drops Yard, has the same signature marble counter (plus a sprinkling of group and alfresco seats), bustling atmosphere and full-flavoured food. Your money might go further in Spain, but who cares when the quality’s this good. Barrafina’s parent branches include one in Soho and two outlets in Covent Garden.
Named after Barcelona’s famous food market, this Brixton blockbuster combines traditional and contemporary tapas to fine effect in stylish surroundings. Expect flamenco on the sound system, knowledgeable staff in full cry and a roll call of real-deal Iberian ingredients given pin-sharp treatment. There’s a sibling in Battersea.
Playful inventiveness never gets in the way of flavour at this high-end flagship of a local Spanish mini-chain, which offers new-wave takes on the classics and some serious innovation – check out the crispy salmon ‘nigiri-croqueta’, the rock oysters with green gazpacho or the El Bulli homage to tortilla served in a martini glass. Rafael Nadal is a fan, so they say.
Copita neatly sidesteps the usual tapas clichés in favour of less familiar ideas served in proper portions (smoked anchovies with pork crackling or courgette tortilla with piquillo sauce, anyone?). Such accomplished food draws big crowds, and it can get cacophonous – although service is always in tune with the vibe.
Tapas fans, prepare to cheer loudly. Sabor (the first solo gaff from Barrafina’s one-time leading lady Nieves Barragán Mohacho) is an absolute blast – especially if you bag a spot at the no-bookings ground floor Counter. The line-up of rustic small plates is all-round flawless; from a stunning tortilla made with salt cod to an utterly dreamy rhubarb and mascarpone tartaleta. You’ll love the cooking but you’ll also love the vibe – eating here is just hugely fun.
Escape Carnaby’s touristy throngs at this bubbly bijou rendezvous from the Salt Yard group, where most punters sit elbow-to elbow at long communal tables. Everyone’s here for the top-ranking hybrid Spanish/Italian tapas – although Iberian wines and sociable staff also ensure an upbeat, uptown feel.
Donostia is the Basque name for the gastronomic hotbed of San Sebastián, and this minimalist tapas joint rightly basks in the reflected glory of its namesake. Understated flavour revelations are the order of the day, from pintxos skewers to skrei cod with arroz negro (black rice).
Out of the Salt Yard stable, Ember Yard’s USP is its stylish use of the grill – echoing the way things are done in the Basque country. Their Ibérico pork ribs and chargrilled octopus with paprika aïoli are standouts from a varied line-up of Spanish/Italian hits that runs from marinated chicken thighs with celeriac, dates and truffle mascarpone to spice-roasted cauliflower with pistachio purée and onion jam.
Escocesa is Spanish for Scottish, and that’s a clue to the food at this sleek Stokey tapas joint founded by ex-record producer Stephen Lironi. The kitchen plunders the best from Caledonia’s waters for a roster of seafood plates, such as grilled octopus with white bean purée and crispy capers, but there are also plenty of land-based faves – think jamón tortilla, patatas bravas or slow-cooked pig’s cheeks with caramelised onions.
Standing proud like some Andalusian mansion in Marylebone, this smart branch of the Ibérica chain dishes up a wide-ranging menu covering everything from charcuterie and cheeses to small plates and hot stews. Also check out the deli next door. Offshoots in Farringdon, Canary Wharf and Victoria.
Blink and you could be in Barcelona, although this dinky tapas joint from high-rolling José Pizzaro belongs in Bermondsey. As a no-bookings, doors-wide-open kind of place, it’s a prime local asset renowned for its fantastically fresh renderings of the tapas classics. Tortilla, croquetas and Padrón peppers have their moment, but also look for pork cheeks with sweet potato or fried goat’s cheese and honey, plus rosemary cheesecake to finish.
La Tapería deals in homespun charm: a bar dispenses decent cocktails, but sit near the open kitchen for a glimpse of the chefs working on cool, artistic renditions of the tapas standards and more outré ideas such as piquillo peppers stuffed with truffled beef, morcilla scotch eggs or Valencian orange and manchego cheesecake.
Card-carrying carnivore? You’re in the right place. Lobos (wolves in Spanish) specialises in prime Ibérico cuts, charcuterie and plates of smoky charred meat – although its tapas also pleases fans of prawns al ajillo, patatas bravas and classic tortilla. This Soho sibling of the original Lobos Meat & Tapas on Borough High Street is a moodily lit, buzzy affair – and it comes with the warmest of welcomes.
Venue says A meat and tapas menu curated with the carnivore in mind. Excellent service to boot and a good measure of rock ‘n’ roll.
A tiny Basque enclave in Marylebone, Lurra is the baby sister of Donostia just down the road. Lap up the buzzy atmosphere and smoky aromas as you pick from a menu of rustic-luxe tapas and pintxos inspired by the bars of San Sebastián. Don’t miss daily specials such as spinach croqueta with spring onion aïoli.
Sandwiched between the railway arches near Waterloo station, this long-serving and totally unpretentious tapas joint inhabits the shell of an old boozer – and it still feels like a friendly local rather than a hipster hangout. Much of the wide-ranging menu is gluten-free and all the tapas standards are capably handled, from finger-sized boquerones, moist tortilla and juicy grilled chorizo to saffron rice packed with shrimps, squid and octopus. A true hidden gem.
The latest offering from the star-spangled Harts Group, alfresco Parrillan is all about DIY tabletop grilling combined with some of the best outdoor seating in Coal Drops Yard. Kick off with some cold no-cook starters before getting to grips with the grilled stuff – all based on flawless ingredients ranging from fabulously fresh (but seriously pricey) red prawns to more affordable Middle White pork collar. If DIY isn’t your bag, you can always nip off to Barrafina next door.
The forefather of a pioneering group famous for its hybrid Spanish and Italian tapas, this smartly informal Fitzrovia favourite seamlessly combines two gastro-cultures under one roof – although the buzziest vibe is in the bustling low-lit bar rather than the basement dining room. Food-wise, there’s plenty to enjoy, especially if you stick to the classics - the blistered Padrón peppers, the Ibérico jamón, leek and manchego croquetas or the legendary cheese-stuffed courgette flowers drizzled with blossom honey. Other items quickly swerve from olé to merely OK.
A serene but Lilliputian wine bar and tapas dispensary (in that order), this sunny spot outside Deptford station is a spin-off from Pop Brixton’s late-lamented Donostia Social Club. Inside, there’s a short counter bar and not much else, so find your spot and order some excellent Sabina Estate tempranillo or fino sherry to go with a modest selection of tapas – we like the earthy morcilla with fried quail’s eggs and smoky piquillo peppers.
Less fancy that its cousin Cambio de Tercio, Tendido Cero’s chilled-out vibe is much favoured by South Ken’s tapas-scoffing hordes. Tortillas and Padrón peppers keep it traditional, but also expect the odd new-wave combo to go with an epic list of Spanish wines and sherries.
True to its name, Twist’s modern take on tapas will certainly cause some heads to turn. Expect the likes of 24-month cured nebrodi jamon, Japanese scallops with red prawns, and spiced ’nduja fritters served with smoked cheese. The ambiance is equally terrific: all rustic good looks and lively chatter. Twist may not be all that easy on the purse strings, but it’s absolutely worth it.
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