It’s a lovely feeling when you study a menu and want to order everything. It’s even lovelier when you notice the reasonable prices, and realise you could do exactly that without having to raise a mortgage first. Yet talk of mortgages surrounded us at this tapas bar in Tooting, as the area’s seen a huge influx of new-to-London renters and first-homers. This demographic of up-for-it flatshares and the newly-coupled is creating a surge in fun, affordable places to eat and drink in SW17.
Why did Soho House’s Chicken Shop cross the road? To get to La Tapería, on the adjacent street corner. Over the road is Honest Burgers; around the corner is Mud, an Aussie-style brunch place and café. Geronimo Inns is currently converting a huge local landmark, The Trafalgar Arms, into a trendy wine bar. No wonder Tooting’s been called the new Shoreditch.
Yet La Tapería’s charm is more homespun than the bigger operators. A side passage and yard at the back have been covered with corrugated plastic roofing to make a beach shack-style extension; a marble-topped bar at the front dispenses simple but good cocktails; and a long corridor-like series of rooms connects the two, with an open kitchen halfway along. Sit near it and you can admire cool artistry in a very hot kitchen, as the chefs work with wordless concentration.
The menu’s the sort of thing you might find in Spain – if you’re lucky. Big prawns tasted as if they’d just been lifted out of the sea, then sautéed with chilli and garlic. Salt cod fritters arrived fresh from the fryer, perfectly seasoned and crisp with a fresh alioli. These are classic tapas, yet so often the simplest things are hardest to get right. A simple pan con tomate, sourdough bread rubbed with garlic and spread with crushed fresh tomatoes, relies on prime ingredients, and the version here matches anything we’ve eaten on the Iberian peninsula.
A few dishes show more invention, such as baby squid stuffed with Spanish black pudding. The appearance is striking, and the metallic taste of the filling adds an earthy edge to the seafood; textures and flavours of sea and land meet on a plate.
Little Tapería was lively and filled with smiles on our Friday-night visit. Despite not taking reservations, the staff were able to squeeze us in. As we left, good-tempered lines had formed both here and at the adjacent and equally modish Chicken Shop. Who would have thought that Tooting Broadway would become a place to pasear the time?