Lobos: A Convivial Tapas Cave In Borough Market
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
For more than a decade the mighty Brindisa has dominated Borough Market’s Spanish scene, selling the very best of the country’s produce at its market shop and using it to whip-up often exhilarating dishes at bustling Tapas Brindisa.
But now — for the first time since it launched in 2004 — there’s a threat to that restaurant’s crown. And it comes from within.
Lobos Meat & Tapas has been set up by three friends who met while working at Tapas Brindisa — Roberto Castro, who has been head chef there for the past five years, and Ruben Maza and Joel Placeres, both operations managers for the group.
Presumably Brindisa is mourning its loss because on our visit the team are top of their game. Their welcome is not so much warm as blisteringly hot like the midday Spanish sun, they know the produce inside out — that’s probably Brindisa’s training — and their sheer exuberant enthusiasm at having a restaurant is as moreish as the titillatingly savoury Iberico ham we begin with (£3.50).
We choose to forego the wooden bodega-style ground floor and nestle upstairs for our meal, in an intimate sort of polytunnel that’s clad in corrugated metal. Don’t worry; it’s not a postmodern installation designed to bring us closer to the produce we’re eating, but a much more prosaic response to the building being partly set within a railway arch on a mainline into London Bridge station.
It creates a lair-like space fitting of the restaurant’s name — lobos means wolf in Spanish — and sets the scene for the kind of place you settle into for the night, embracing more rounds of tapas and bottles of Rioja than is probably wise.
The name could also be a nod to the carnivorous menu, which starts with a fairly conventional — though excellent — list of tapas before descending into heartily-sized meat dishes. In fact, there’s not a single (v) to be found among the mains.
Highlights of a tour de tapas include thick chunks of chorizo (£5.75) in a pool of reduced red wine — tangy and soft, resembling actual sausage rather than the over-dried salami-style version you see more often. And croquetas (£7), cutely presented in a mini deep fat fryer basket, which are crisp, rich and gooey — laced not just with ham but also chorizo and smoked bacon for added layers of oomph. Honorable mention goes to an aioli which is gloriously powerful enough to keep vampires at bay for days to come.
We save room for a roasted leg of milk-fed lamb (£28.50) — easily enough for two to share. The meat (which comes from The Ginger Pig) is impressively soft and juicy and full of a subtle ‘gamey’ flavour — though it lags behind the tapas.
A little longer cooking would probably have helped give it a more attractive tan, get the skin more appealingly crispy and unleash more juices. And we’d also have welcomed a spot of sauce, perhaps instead of a handful of entirely superfluous and lacklustre salad — a poor relation that’s destined to be left untouched and swept into the bin time and time again.
It’s back to tip-top form with a dulce de leche cheesecake, inspired by a Uruguayan member of the team who persevered to get it past the Spanish kitchen. Well done him. It’s a fittingly sumptuous unfussy end to a meal that is much like the bottle of Spanish red we enjoyed — gutsy, rich and convivial, made for wholehearted slurps and second bottles. It won’t be long before we return to this tapas cave for a top-up.
Lobos Tapas, 14 Borough High Street, SE1 9QG
Last Updated 23 June 2015