London is one of the most exciting places to enjoy tapas outside Spain – dozens of restaurants in the British capital have added tapas dishes to their menus, and many are solely dedicated to these small plates. Tapas are small Spanish savoury dishes, served with drinks. But their significance goes beyond a delicious mouthful to eat – the liveliness and vibrancy of a good tapas bar is an authentic introduction to the Spanish attitude to food. Tapas, drinks, conversation and friendship combine in homage to the pleasures of relaxed living and conviviality.
One of the most appealing stories of the origins of tapas is that King Alfonso XIII of Spain stopped at a tavern in Cadiz; to protect the king’s drink from insects and wind-blown sand, the waiter covered the glass with a slice of ham. The king liked it and ordered another drink with a ‘tapa’ – the Spanish for lid.
Many London restaurants offer high-quality tapas, from small plates true to their Spanish roots to more innovative variations. Any time of day is the perfect time of day to enjoy tapas: sit down, relax, and let yourself be carried away by the joyful Spanish way of life.
Tendido Cero, part of the Cambio de Tercio group of eateries, serves small plates and tapas. The décor at this South Kensington restaurant is modern: bright pink and yellow tones and white tablecloths make a perfect setting for its lively, relaxed atmosphere. The tapas menu is divided into five sections: raw, veg and salads, charcuterie, meat, and classics. The offer includes Spanish favourites such as gazpacho, croquettes, Padrón peppers, Ibérico ham and patatas bravas (spicy potatoes with garlic mayonnaise and chilli sauce), alongside more sophisticated dishes such as king prawns with yuzu mayo and tataki atun (tuna) with ajo blanco almond sauce. The extensive drinks menu offers over 250 Spanish wines from small producers and established wineries, including sherries and cava.
Tendido Cero, 174 Old Brompton Road, London SW5 0BA, +44 (0)20 7370 3685
Barrafina’s menu was inspired by classic regional dishes from all over Spain and the seafood offer here is particularly outstanding. The Adelaide Street branch in Covent Garden was named Restaurant of the Year in the 2015 National Restaurant Awards, and in 2016 was only narrowly beaten into second place. The the Frith Street branch holds a Michelin star and a third branch on Drury Lane opened in 2015. The savoir-faire of executive head chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho is evident in every dish, from her delicious crab buns to the pork belly with mojo verde (coriander salsa); she achieves authentic Spanish flavours that remain true to their roots, while giving a new dimension to fresh local ingredients. Diners seated at the marble-topped bar can watch the chefs at work in the busy open kitchen. Barrafina does not take reservations, so you may have to queue: the wait will be worth it.
Barrafina, 10 Adelaide Street, London WC2N 4HZ
Ibérica offers a contemporary menu that revisits the classics, featuring sublime ingredients. Created by Michelin-starred executive chef Nacho Manzano, the ever-evolving seasonal menu presents classic Spanish tapas such as croquettes and tortilla alongside more unusual dishes that include Iberian pork loin or Galician style octopus. The drink menu reflects Spain’s regional diversity, offering cava from Catalonia, cider from Asturias and a lengthy wine list featuring award-winning examples produced everywhere from Tenerife to Galicia. The three-course lunch menu is conveniently available until 5pm. Ibérico ham is carved on the spot and other Spanish delicacies, from cheeses to pastries, can also be bought at the restaurant’s deli. With five London locations, including the Marylebone branch on Great Portland Street, plus restaurants in Leeds and Manchester, Ibérica is one of Britain’s tapas favourites.
Ibérica, 195 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5PS, +44 (0)20 7148 1615
Chef and cookbook writer José Pizarro has three successful restaurants to his name; he opened José Tapas bar near London Bridge in 2011, followed shortly after by Pizarro, just a few yards away. His third restaurant, José Pizarro, is located in the City. The interior at Pizzaro is traditional. Tiled and wooden walls complement the rustic furniture, and the atmosphere is vibrant and lively – a combination that effortlessly transports customers to Spain. Pizarro developed his career at respected Spanish restaurants in Madrid and London before embarking on his own project, taking inspiration from places such as La Boqueria market in Barcelona. The pivotal importance of fresh, high-quality produce shows in all the plates that leave his kitchens – don’t miss the gambas al ajillo, a dish of prawns cooked with garlic and chilli.
Pizarro, 194 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TQ, +44 (0)20 7378 9455