We're spoiled for good tapas in London, and although the best doesn't come cheap, it also shouldn't. The key to really good tapas is all in the sourcing of the finest ingredients combined with skilful cooking and the most convivial of atmospheres. These are the top tapas spots in London.
The restaurateurs behind Barrafina are Sam and Eddie Hart, also behind Quo Vadis (where Barrafina is now located) and Tacos el Pastor. It remains, arguably, the best tapas in London and we've spent many hours (yes, hours) queueing with a glass of fino and approximately 100 million croquetas. It's OK, they never fill you up no matter how many you pack away.
Everything is perfect here, and it's down to the sourcing of perfect ingredients combined with spot on cooking. Attention to detail is all when it comes to tapas. The pan con tomate is the best in London and the crab croquetas at the Adelaide street branch, well. We'd fight you for the last one. And win. The Soho branch relocated to the ground floor of Quo Vadis and we admit we'll miss sitting on the street sinking txacoli (that's a white wine from the Basque country) while doing some serious people watching but the food is still immaculate. The oozing tortilla is nothing short of legendary. Bar dining at its best.
There are lots of Brindisas around town nowadays, but we love this original branch the best, not least because once you've finished, you can go and have a nose around their nearby shop, stocking up on gorgeous smoky dried peppers, Ortiz tinned anchovies and those fabulous jars of plump chickpeas that makes the best hummus known to woman.
The corner location right on the edge of Borough Market combined with the massive windows really keep the energy high on this dining experience, and you'll have passed two hours and a half bottle of fino before you even notice. We promise.
Salt Yard seems to fly slightly (and we mean very slightly) under the radar compared to the other big players, but it's wonderful, tucked away on Goodge Street. The sourcing, once again, is impeccable (yes, that's a theme) and it's always buzzing, even if the seating arrangement is a little on the cosy side. You'll be elbowing your neighbours so make sure you know them or at least introduce yourself first.
Their deep fried courgette flowers are legendary - stuffed with cheese, coated in the lightest batter and drizzled with honey. Salt Yard just keeps plodding along being great, while other tapas places spring up all around it. Calm in the eye of the storm.
Morito serves tapas with North African vibes, riffing off the flavours of its parent restaurant, Moro, next door. You'll find earthy, sun soaked flavours here, like beetroot roasted, smooshed and topped with sharp feta. There are glorious, fizzling lamb chops, hot from a grill, buzzing with the deep tones of cumin. Dishes which sound simple are often splendid, and even a basic dish of spice coated chickpeas can be deeply pleasurable.
The menu is massive, so repeat visits are necessary, but it's the kind of convivial place designed to be revisited time and time again. It's not cheap, but then great tapas never is, and the prices here don't represent any kind of rip off. Get the manzanilla flowing, we say, and don't skip the malaga raisin ice cream, for that would be an act of extreme negligence.
Jose Pizarro has two restaurants on Bermondsey Street (called Jose and -- wait for it -- Pizarro). José is the smaller one. In fact it's not really a restaurant, more of a bar, and this is where to head if you want a flavour of what it's like to eat tapas in Spain, i.e. what it's like to eat tapas standing up with a drink.
This place gets packed quickly, especially in the summer and you'll have to jostle for space, balancing your drinks and food on the few barrels which serve as table space but hey, it's all part of the experience. Make sure to pay attention to the specials board.
This is José Pizarro's second restaurant, just down the road from the original José, and it's a larger, sit down affair. It would be rude not to start with a plate of Iberico ham, arguably the finest pork product in all the world, before smashing through some padron peppers, then settling into his fantastic baked crab, which comes dressed in the shell, warm, topped with breadcrumbs. It's up there with London's best crabby serves.
The best place to sit, we think, is at the bench in the window, since Bermondsey Street these days is ripe for a spot of people watching. The interior is gorgeous too, though, so make sure to have a good gawp at those tiles on the way to the loo.
Lobos now have a site in Soho but we the original, Borough High Street site is the best. Entering through a door under the rail bridge you plunge into a cave which feels like a real oasis away from the frantic pace of Borough Market and surrounding areas outside.
The tapas is great, and although service can be a little scatty, it's charming enough to carry them through. We particularly love the fact that the croquetas come in a giant portion -- around eight or so to a basket -- and they make up for in quantity what they lack in aspirations to match the heady heights of José, Barrafina et al. In short there's a rustic appeal about this place, and we always leave grinning.