A totally unpretentious tapas bar close to Waterloo, Mar i Terra has been a neighbourhood favourite since it opened 20 years ago. The tall, white-painted building nestled between railway arches once housed a century-old pub, and Mar i Terra still retains the look and feel of your friendly local. All the staples are done well, and much of the simple but wide-ranging menu is gluten-free.
Among the star dishes, braised aubergines came rolled up with generous portions of hot tomatoey sauce and oozing manchego cheese, like a nourishing vegetarian lasagne. Boquerones (finger-sized fresh Cantabrian anchovies) were nicely succulent and also came doused in tangy wine vinegar and olive oil. The Spanish tortilla was moist, while the grilled chorizo was juicy, not chewy. Likewise, the arroz a banda (saffron rice) had a good risotto-like consistency and came generously packed with chunks of shrimp, squid and octopus.
Patatas bravas were a little dry (tip: ask for extra aioli). They were still crunchy on the outside and soft inside, though the sauce was too mild for spice addicts. Pan con tomate came with four pieces of soft, toasted bread that was a little light on the tomato but still satisfyingly moist and sweet. Portions of sizzling tiger prawns and boquerones were on the small side, with just five apiece, but prices are kept at neighbourhood level so they’re still good value.
When Mar i Terra opened on a desolate backstreet in 2000, its owners couldn’t have predicted the surge of trendy developments in the area. But this is a restaurant that has resisted any urge to become hip, keeping its endearing yellow walls, rickety wooden chairs and nautical paintings while churning out Enrique Iglesias tunes over the chatter of long-time South Londoners. A true hidden gem.