Croqueta

London’s Best Tapas

Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.

The quality of tapas depends heavily on the sourcing of ingredients; it’s essential to find the ripest, sun-soaked Spanish tomatoes, the plumpest Padron peppers and Iberico ham made from happy pigs that have snuffled acorns in the Iberian forest.

Combine careful sourcing with a skilled kitchen (and buzzing location) and you’ve got a hit on your hands. These are the best tapas restaurants in London.

Best for… the hottest tapas in town

Sabor

OK so Sabor isn’t strictly a tapas bar (you’ll find many regional Spanish dishes on the menu) but then few London locations are. We love the small bar area here, which is where you’ll inevitably find yourself waiting for a table at the long, kitchen-side countertop. Do not miss the tapas while you’re there.

Our knees went weak for their fluffy fresh curd-topped toast, crowned with a mop of shaved black truffle, and we made some frankly inappropriate noises eating the lardo with anchovies. Croquetas, Jamon and other classics are available among a selection of regularly changing snacks which will get you revved up for the main event or stop you falling over thanks to all that sherry. This is one of the year’s hottest openings and there’s a reason for that… the food is stunning. Read our full review of Sabor.

Sabor, 35 Heddon Street, W1B 4BR


Best for… a Catalonian twist

Rambla

Tapas is not a tradition in Catalonia (the inspiration behind this Soho spot) but c’mon, there are enough tapas-style dishes on the menu to grant it a place on this list. Some snacks, such as croquetas and pan con tomate will be familiar to the seasoned tapas fan while other dishes are larger and more freestyle.

We adore the calamari stuffed with inky black rice and nuggets of fatty chorizo. Then there’s the octopus, of course, kissed by the heat of the grill, served with aioli and shards of crispy garlic; it’s the little details like those shards that make us love Rambla so much. Mussels and clams are served with spider crab butter, for example, while the bread is sourced from Hedone Bakery, one of London’s very best.

Rambla, 64 Dean Street, W1D 4QQ


Sibarita Olives

Best for… a glass of wine and a nibble

Sibarita

Sibarita is like the little sister of Rambla despite being slightly older; it’s a little more casual and a haven away from the manic throngs of Covent Garden. Both venues are owned by chef Victor Garvey and both have the same power to draw you in for a few wonderful hours until you forget about the outside world entirely.

Here it’s all about the Spanish cheeses and charcuterie, plus plates of blistered Padron peppers scattered with salt crystals; tender lamb chops; regularly changing croquetas and lighter dishes such as cured fish and crunchy veg – the radishes and mini vegetables come perched on spikes, which is kind of ridiculous yet charming.

Sibarita, 7 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NA


The Tapas Room

Best for… a quirky location

The Tapas Room

The Tapas Room is less a room, more a buzzing corner in Tooting’s Broadway market. Counter seats line the perimeter (great for people watching) while there are a few more at the bar (best if you like to watch the team at work). Soon, they’ll open a second location in Deptford Market Yard.

The menu is small, in keeping with the size of the restaurant but everything they do is excellent, particularly their fried eggs served on top of the richest, crumbliest morcilla we’ve ever tasted. This is the perfect place to meet friends of an evening to sip a few sherries, nibble on small plates and put the world to rights. Read our full review of The Tapas Room.

The Tapas Room, Unit 3, Broadway Market, 29 Tooting High Street, SW17 0RJ


Salt Yard courgette flowers  

Best for… life-changing deep-fried courgette flowers

Salt Yard

That’s right, life-changing. Many a London restaurant has stuffed a perfectly furled courgette flower with cheese and plonked it into hot oil but not all do so with the delicacy of Salt Yard. Their version is unbeatable: crisp, greaseless, pregnant with salty cheese and crisscrossed with fragrant honey… we advise doubling up on the portion to save table-side scuffles.

Their extensive tapas menu goes beyond the usual snacks, meat and cheese with creative small plates including the likes of oxtail arancini with horseradish aioli, and slow cooked octopus with chilli, capers and saffron.

The room, located near Goodge Street station is always buzzing, even if it can be a bit of a squeeze thanks to the hordes of courgette guzzling punters.

Salt Yard, 54 Goodge Street, W1T 4NA


 Lobos

Best for… hiding away from the crowds

Lobos

Lobos now has two branches, one at London Bridge and one in Soho but we love the Borough site best. It’s a gorgeous, low-lit cave underneath the railway bridge outside Borough Market and is perfect for disappearing into for a couple of hours, either for a cheeky romantic nibble or a rowdy evening with mates.

Their croquetas come in generous portions, which makes us forgive the fact that they’re piled up in a miniature frying basket, and we’ve had great steak here too, seared on the plancha.

The service is particularly noteworthy; always cheery, efficient and effortless, it’s a lesson in proper hospitality.

Lobos, 14 Borough High Street, SE1 9QG


Brindisa  

Best for… a must-try London experience

Brindisa

Brindisa restaurants are such an important part of the London dining scene that it’s essential you visit at least one. They’re all slightly different, and we have a serious soft spot for the original Borough Market site, opened in 2004. It’s always busy, rammed with Londoners and tourists hoovering up waves of immaculate tapas. One of the best restaurants near London Bridge.

Brindisa import all their own ingredients, and you’ll also find their excellent shop and deli just around the corner flogging ham, beautiful jars of chickpeas and pulses, rusty red dried chillies, chorizo sausages, and much more.

About that chorizo – don’t forget you can buy it spitting hot from the grill and sandwiched into a roll with rocket and Piquillo peppers from their Borough Market stall, just outside the shop. Another essential London foodie experience.

Brindisa, 18-20 Southwark Street, SE1 1TJ – see website for other locations


Jamon Jose

Best for… a Spanish bar experience

Jose

This was Jose Pizarro’s first restaurant on Bermondsey Street and it’s pretty much the place to head if you want to pretend you’re sipping sherry in Spain. The corner room is small, and the only tables are large barrels, suitable for holding your glass and nibbles.

There’s a small menu of cheeses and ham but the real treats are to be found on the specials board, brimming with whatever looked good at the market that morning. You might find some plump prawns given the heavy garlic-treatment, for example, or a bronze-skinned baby chicken served with Romesco sauce, rich and thick with almonds.

It gets rammed in the summer with people spilling out into the street and that’s exactly what we love about it. To be honest, it’s best as a pit stop before heading somewhere else, like the best pre-dinner drinks spot ever.

Jose, 104 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3UB


Best for… croquetas

Pizarro  

The astute among you will have noticed that this is Jose Pizarro’s surname and this is his second restaurant, just moments away from the first but much larger and with lots of seating (it’s actually named after his grandfather).

Everything is good here, from the snacks to more substantial plates and we love the window-counter seating which is perfect for watching locals and workers go about their business. Top tip: don’t miss the baked crab if it’s on the menu – a dressed crab stuffed with its own meat, laced with garlic and chilli and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs.

We also think Jose makes some of the best croquetas in London – inside the delicate golden shell is a trembling bechamel, nuggets of naughty-pink Jamon wobbling within. They truly are a lesson in the art of deep frying balls of sauce and calling it a snack.

Pizarro, 194 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TQ


Barrafina

Best for… everything

Barrafina

This has to be the best overall tapas experience in town. There are now three branches of Barrafina and although they’re all exceptional we prefer the original, now inside the Quo Vadis building. The Hart Brothers (Quo Vadis, El Pastor) are sticklers for detail and you’ll find not a prawn antennule out of place at this shiny, polished restaurant with all-counter dining.

You’re gonna have to queue because it’s no-reservations and incredibly popular, for good reason. The pan con tomate is unrivalled in London; full of sun-ripened flavour, sparkling with sea salt crystals and grassy olive oil. The crab croquetas at the Adelaide Street branch are the only variation on the originals we’ve ever been head over heels for and the tortilla, well, it’s a shining beacon of tortilla execution – layers of potatoes are golden on the outside but cut into it and warm egg pools onto the plate. It feels faintly naughty, which is always a good thing in our book.

Perch on a stool and work your way through the menu, watching the chefs flip, sizzle and season before you. Then brace yourself for the bill because food of this quality does not come cheap. It’s worth every penny.

Barrafina, see website for locations