Tortilla! Patatas bravas! Gazpacho! Manchego! Jamón ibérico! Croquetas! The rumours are true: we love Spanish food. And, since it presents an opportunity to sample as many dishes as possible, tapas is our favourite. Usually, we’d unequivocally state that the best tapas is found in Spain and be done with it. And usually we’d be correct. But ‘usually’ hasn’t been a thing since the pandemic struck. As Spain remains on the UK government’s Amber List (meaning that a holiday there would equal ten days in quarantine upon return to this green and pleasant land), we’re embracing the best Spanish tapas restaurants in London instead. May the cava flow freely and ‘sharing’ be an alien concept.
Mentions of Barrafina are often met with either adoration or desire. Whether for the first or the fifth time, it’s simply the restaurant that everyone wants to go to. It would probably be impossible to secure a booking there if it wasn’t for the fact that it has four branches: one in Soho, one in Coal Drops Yard and two in Covent Garden. All are united by an open kitchen, a marble bar and the loveliest staff you could hope to encounter. The succinct wine list is also something to admire – it gives you more time to focus on the food. We recommend the prawn and piquillo pepper tortilla wholeheartedly.
Spanish food wasn’t always coveted in London. No one knows this better than Monika Linton, who founded Brindisa in 1988 to change that. What was first a wholesale business has since evolved into a shop and – from Battersea to Borough Market and Shoreditch to South Kensington – no less than six restaurants in the capital. Our order always tends to involve a sherry spritz and pollo al romesco (a chicken dish with a tomato and almond sauce, for the uninitiated).
You know a restaurant is good if it counts Nigella Lawson as a fan, and Sabor is very good indeed: it was awarded a Michelin star in 2018. With three distinct areas – the counter, the bar and 'el asador' – that take you from the tapas bars of Andalucía to the asadors of Castille and the seafood eateries of Galicia, going there is quite the adventure (one that doesn't actually involve leaving Mayfair but an adventure nonetheless). If we're seated at the counter, we favour the arroz negro with rock shrimp tempura and aioli. But, at el asador, we insist on sharing the Segovian suckling pig with a side of baby gem lettuce and sun-dried tomatoes. And at the bar we stuff ourselves with so many croquetas and olives that it's a wonder we're ever able to eat anything else again.
Anyone who lives in the vicinity of either Battersea or Brixton, rejoice! Your local Spanish tapas restaurant is probably Boqueria. If you want food that's as affordable as it is delicious, we suggest booking a table here. While it's very tempting – and at times advisable – to order something from every section on the menu, we recommend the langostinos (grilled king prawns with garlic and parsley) and the huevos rotos (broken eggs with sobrasada, Serrano ham and crispy potatoes) if you'd rather be selective.
José is just one of José Pizarro's establishments in and around the capital (which include a gastropub in Surrey), but – due to its proximity to White Cube and the fact that it's a lovely place to eat outside at – it might be our favourite. The menu changes daily but, if you're lucky, the squid and butifarra dish will make an appearance on your visit. If not, seek solace in the extensive drinks list and order something else – everything served here is delicious anyway.
Arros QD is not really a tapas restaurant, but we'll be damned if it's not included in this list. After all, it specialises in another key member of the Spanish food family: paella. However, it's important to note that 'paella' actually refers to the pan that the dish is cooked in, not the dish itself. When it comes to eating the dish itself at Arros QD, we favour their Canadian lobster and cuttlefish offering. That said, rice isn't the only thing available to eat here. The menu also features 'land', 'soil' and 'sea' options which are – unhelpfully – just as tempting.
If you want unfussy and friendly yet fabulous tapas in London (and Leeds for that matter), head to Ibérica. Aside from a hearty jug of sangria, we tend to opt for the three Ps when we go there: padrones, patatas bravas and pulpo. The twice-cooked lamb is also excellent, though.