What To Order... In A Tapas Bar

By Hazel Last edited 154 months ago
What To Order... In A Tapas Bar

So. You're dining out. You're in a highly recommended little tapas bar in a slightly obscure part of London which was sold to you as "so authentic, even the napkins are Spanish." That includes the menu. And you haven't a clue what to order. In this situation, the phrase "I'll have what she's having..." would help but only if she knows what she's having. And that may not be the case. Well, Londonist wants you to have a good time and enjoy your dinner so read on for some tips and advice on what to order... in a tapas bar.

Tapas is basically bar food, small savoury dishes traditionally served on little plates meant to cover and protect glasses of wine from flies. It's a good way to sample lots of different dishes and as long as you're willing to share, a very sociable way to eat. Depending on how many people you are with and how hungry / flush you are feeling, order the tapas accordingly; in the extensive, gruelling, lip-smacking research Londonist has done in this area, it's as okay to linger over two small plates of patatas bravas and a glass of wine as it is to have a small scale royal tapas banquet with lashings of sangria. Any tapas bar that harrasses you into ordering a set amount of food with your drinks hasn't really got the point of what they are serving.

What's what? Some of the things that crop up on tapas menus will be familiar - chorizo, jamon Serrano, paella - but just in case you have any doubts or want to be sure of what you're ordering, read on...

al ajillo - with olive oil and garlic

a la romana - fried in batter

al vino - in wine

a la marinera - seafood cooked with garlic onions and white wine

aceitunas - olives

albondigas - meatballs

berenjena - aubergine

boquerones - anchovies, not the salty kind but usually served in vinegar

calamares - squid

callos - tripe

carabineiros - large prawns

champinones - mushrooms

empanada - slices of fish or meat pie

gambas - prawns

higado - liver

mejillones - mussels

mollejas - sweetbreads

morcilla - black pudding

orejas - pigs' ears

patatas alioli- potatoes in garlic mayonnaise

patatas bravas - fried potatoes in spicy tomato sauce

patatas a lo pobre - fried potato mixed with sliced egg and sometimes chorizo

pimientos - sweet peppers

ques - cheese

Manchego - ewes' milk cheese

sepia - cuttle fish

sesos - brains

Londonist recommends Rebato's , 169 South Lambeth Road, London SW8: always packed with happy diners including those who travel from far away to enjoy the changing daily menu and excellent wine (and also where MI6 personnel like to get pissed and lose things).

For central London, try Navarro's , 67 Charlotte Street,London, W1T 4PH. Book a table in advance - this place is packed most evenings, which is always a good sign of the food you'll (eventually) get.

And also the Goya tapas bars at 2 Eccleston Place, Belgravia, London, SW1W 9NE near Victoria Coach Station and a second one nearby at 34 Lupus Street, Pimlico, London, SW1V 3EB. These two tapas bars are always popular and warmly recommended for atmosphere and ambience as much as the food and wine.

¡Comer con gusto!

Last Updated 19 July 2005


Patatas bravas is generally roasted not fried. Also, the tapas place just opposite clapham common station deserves a mention.


Cool - want to give us the name of this place in Clapham? Seems that you have to go south of the river for the good stuff... anyone know any tapas bars in the north?


Haven't been for a while, but stopped going to Rebato's because of a little, ahem, cockroach problem. May well be sorted now, obviously, but the big one about 50 yards north on the same road is much, much better. Can't remember the name, but has outside seating, is double fronted and has an awning with Estrella on it over the front.

Also, I cannot recommend Mason de'Fellipe in Waterloo enough. Need to book for the evenings, but it's truly superb with one of the most interesting wine lists I've seen; all regional Spanish.


Fino in Charlotte Street is a bit 'sit-down' for a true Spanish experience but does very good modern tapas style food. Drink manzanilla (dry, almost salty sherry from Cadiz) with your tapas like they do in Madrid and Sevilla. Avoid callos (tripe) unless you are feeling very brave - the first and only time I tried it I could taste it three days later. And not in a good way.


Phil - got to disagree with you about Rebatos.

I used to live opposite the Estrella and only ate their a couple of times because both times we found clingfilm in the food.

It's nice to sit and have a beer out front though.

Rebatos though has always been excellent and the staff are cracking. The only cockroaches I've seen in there have been the MI6 personel (boom boom).

Tamara S.

I second Don Felipe. They have this miniscule platform over a doorway (as memory serves) where they sometimes get a guitar player to perch and play acoustic music. Very well worth the wait.

El Molino on Holloway Rd is also very yummy. The Gambas al Ajillo is stellar and the resto is often packed on Friday and Saturday. Macondo on Hoxton Square doesn't do a whole tapas (as far as I know) but they have a lovely, lovely tortilla espanola with chunks of chorizo. Mmmm.