Best restaurants for tapas in London…
Sabor, London W1 (Regent Street)
With a friendly service style and nods to Andalucían tapas bars (colourful tiles, high tables), Sabor has the authentic feel of bars found all over Spain. Wait in the lively brick-walled bar area and whet your appetite with mushroom croquetas and cured presa Iberica. Charismatic José will then seat you at a counter overlooking the open kitchen, where conversation with the Spanish chefs is encouraged.
Camarones fritos – tiny shrimp, deep-fried, and served with a crispy, paprika-dusted fried egg, whose molten yolk acted as a natural sauce. Crisp, golden prawn croquetas were as good as any we’ve ever tasted in their homeland, and rich with that roasted shell, holiday flavour.
A crimson carabinero the size of an adult hand, its antennae tickling the edge of the plate, was tender and spankingly fresh. Table etiquette fell to the floor, heads were sucked.
Click here to read our full review of Sabor
José Tapas Bar, London SE1 (Bermondsey)
A sublime, if tiny, tapas bar where compulsive ham croquetas are creamy and full of jamon, this was the first of chef José 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.
Barrafina, London W1 (Soho)
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.
Ember Yard, London W1 (Soho)
Part of the Salt Yard Group, Ember Yard in Soho serves Italian- and Spanish-inspired tapas and small plates using a bespoke, Basque-style grill and sustainable charcoal and wood from Kent, which gives a distinctive taste to dishes such as chargrilled Iberico presa with whipped jamon butter, and grilled octopus with broad beans, preserved lemon, pea and mint purée.
Best restaurants for tapas across the UK…
This family owned Catalonian restaurant in the centre of Liverpool is a haven of Spanish produce and cuisine. The bright and airy space is ideal for a big family lunch or a fun dinner with friends.
Lunya’s extensive menu covers dozens of Spanish cheeses and cured meats, sharing deli platters and plenty of tapas dishes, as well as freshly-made traditional paellas and even Segovian baby suckling pig to share (must be ordered 48 hours in advance).
We recommend choosing a selection of tapas dishes to share. Don’t miss the signature crispy chicken strips coated in super crunchy tortilla chip pieces and served with punchy Catalan dip. Seafood fideua comes in a tiny little black pan, sizzling with thin fideau noodles in black squid ink sauce with pieces of springy squid and plump Mediterranean prawns.
If you’re struggling to choose, go for one of the tapas banquets that cover all of the classics – tortilla, patatas bravas, albondigas meatballs and Iberico meat and cheese platters.
Peruse the authentic Spanish products in Lunya’s deli on the way out. Shelves heave with elegant bottles of regional wines, sherries and vermouths, while a large counter is filled with fresh padron peppers, piquillo pepper hummus and Spanish cheeses (such as manchegos, huge wheels of strong cabrales blue cheese and soft scooping torta cheese). There are plenty of cured meats to choose from, including Spain’s hero acorn-fed Ibérico ham.
Over the past couple of years, Baresca has become the go-to tapas bar in Nottingham, whether you fancy Catalan bread and eggs for breakfast or sharing bowls of mushroom risoni with friends over dinner. The décor feels fresh yet rustic, with patterned mosaic tiles on the floor and low-hanging bulbs highlighting chefs at work in the open kitchen.
We recommend going for the menu of the day (flatbreads, a dip, two tapas and a side for £10.95). The crisp, stone-baked flatbreads are served with a sweet carrot and cumin dip. The mushroom risoni is a must-order – rich, creamy and earthy. It’s very filling so consider ordering one to share between two. Get a side of salty padrón peppers to nibble on the side before finishing with a plate of churros served with a rich, thick chocolate sauce.
On a Friday and Saturday evenings, the cellar bar opens with DJs and Mowtown bands playing while you sip on goblets of gin garnished with orange and rosemary.
The team behind Ultracomida run an online Spanish wine and deli business as well as long-established physical stores in Aberystwyth and Narberth so when it comes to Spanish cooking they know their cebollas. For tapas fans, their three restaurants are the big draw, however: more traditional tapas bars in Aberystwyth (open for lunch and dinner) and Narberth (open during the daytime only) and Cardiff’s slick modern Curado Bar, which serves jamon and pintxos sourced directly from Spanish suppliers.
For the true Ultracomida experience, head to the original tapas bar, in Aberystwyth, and grab a space at one of the large round tables behind the deli. Order a Spanish beer, sherry or wine and graze your way through plates of albondigas, olives, patatas bravas, ham croquetas, paella with rabbit, chorizo and Iberico pork, and plates of Spanish cheeses. Try some of the more unusual options (cheese croquetas made with breadcrumbs, leeks and Welsh cheddar). Or share a whole leg of milk-fed lamb, slow cooked with garlic white wine and new potatoes. They also do tapas plates for children, with Serrano ham, Manchego, carrot and cucumber sticks, bread and olives.
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. With three branches across Wales, Bar 44 is also opening in Bristol, so look out for that in summer 2018.
This Basque-style tapas bar with a pretty garden and a dedicated sherry menu is tucked away in Bath’s theatre district. Order sharing plates of pan con tomate y jamón along with tinned sardines served with bread and aioli before moving onto albóndigas (meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce), sambas al ajillo and fried padron peppers. A succinct dessert menu offers warm chocolate and almond cake as well as vanilla ice cream, both of which can be ordered individually or together, with a shot of Pedro Ximenez sherry on the side.
For more information on World Tapas Day or regional Spanish cooking, visit spain.info
Words by Alex Crossley, Laura Rowe, Charlotte Morgan, Rhiannon Batten, Ellie Edwards and Mark Taylor
First published October 2015 and updated June 2018