Jose Tapas Bar, Bermondsey
A sublime, if tiny, tapas bar where compulsive ham croquetas are creamy and full of jamon, this was the first of chef Jose Pizarro’s growing stable of Spanish restaurants. Find a corner to burrow in and enjoy a glass of sherry and a game of padron pepper roulette (who will find a spicy one?), along with some patatas bravas and tortilla for good measure. The blackboard menu’s daily selection might include rich, boozy chorizo al vino, crisp baby chicken and potatoes with punchy Romesco sauce, and fresh pisto with delicate duck egg. Puddings are excellent – try the creamy rice pudding or the rich, velvety chocolate pot that’s given a savoury finish with olive oil and sea salt.
The queue may seem daunting at this no-reservations joint in Soho, but while you wait you can prop yourself along the side counter with pil pil prawn skewers in tiny glasses, a plate of Iberico ham, and a Gin Mare and tonic (served Spanish-style in a huge goblet). Clamber onto one of the red leather stools that line the L-shaped main bar and watch the chefs prepare fresh clams, crisp-skinned quail with creamy aioli and coca mallorquina pizza. Inspired by Barcelona’s Cal Pep, it’s theatrical, it’s loud and it’s glamorous, and the food is simple Spanish cooking at its best.
A bustling room split over two levels, with a jamon-and-sherry-lined bar on the first, and chef Joe Botham’s tiny open kitchen on the second, this local Lancashire spot is always heaving. Wooden tables are filled with great-value plates of cured meats made by artisan village butchers in Granada, as well as delicate piles of fresh seafood – think garlic prawns, Galician octopus and mussels with fino and serrano. For something a bit more substantial, go on a Sunday for the Txuleton steak, a Basque Country favourite with marbled fat and an intense, deep flavour. Friendly walk-in service is what this place is all about and Joe and his wife Fiona have created a tapas bar full of northern charm.
A tiny, corner tapas bar with charming, Spanish staff, Ole is tucked in above above Paxton & Whitfield cheesemongers in Bath. Settle in with a tabla mixta – jamon de bellota, spicy chorizo rounds, soft salami, pink slices of tender cured pork loin, triangles of manchego and goats’ cheese, the obligatory quince paste and bread sticks. Then turn it up a notch with fiery paprika-dusted slices of pulpo a la gallega (Galician octopus), tempura-battered, deep-fried aubergine sticks drizzled with dark honey from Malaga, and ensalada de tomato (the ripest raf tomatoes with aggressive minced raw garlic, earthy dried oregano, and the best Spanish olive oil). Don’t forget drinks as the booze is just as well considered: think dry manzanilla sherries, white tempranillo riojas and Spanish craft beers (try El Boqueron, made from seawater). Book a table or turn up late (it’s one of the few places in Bath where you can grab a table after 9pm) and eat and drink until you (nearly) fall off the barstools.
Bar 44, Penarth
Penarth, a Victorian seaside resort is fast becoming the foodiest destination in the Vale of Glamorgan. Leading the charge, alongside Restaurant James Sommerin, is Bar 44, a modern tapas restaurant where trained ‘hamistas’ carve perfect slices of Jamón ibérico; croquetas are given a Welsh twist with a Cordoba goats cheese and sweet leek filling; and chocolate mousse is made impossibly smooth with arbequina oil. Bacalao fritters with piquillo puree are zesty and crisp, and griddled wild prawns with mojo picon dip are giant and juicy. There’s also a wide range of farmhouse cheeses – including light, grassy Balanchares goats’ cheese – and make sure you get a plate of kilos (crunchy Spanish corn). Wash it down with a little help from the bar’s 100% Spanish wine list, and sherries picked by co-owner and ‘UK sherry ambassador’ Owen Morgan.
For more information on World Tapas Day or regional Spanish cooking, visit spain.info
Written by Alex Crossley, Laura Rowe and Charlotte Morgan
First published October 2015
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