Call it the 21st century Spanish imposition: a trip over to the country of sherry and croquetas now comes with a government mandated fortnight of self-isolation on UK touchdown.
This needn’t mean Spain is entirely off the menu. The capital’s restaurants, delis, online shops and cookery courses will offer you authentic paella and fideuà without you so much as stepping foot on an easy jet flight to Madrid. Here’s where to go for an authentic taste of Spain:
When the Hart brothers opened the first Barrafina in 2007, it was to evoke their best memories of sitting up at the counter of Barcelona’s Cal Pep. Now seating at their beautiful marble counters is socially distanced and – joy of joys – bookings are being taken. Plus, there’s outdoor seating available in the Soho branch.
Their octopus a la plancha is a must as is the just molten tortilla. Valencian fideua with prawns, cuttlefish and clams made with special noodles rather than rice and an ambrosial seafood stock is currently on the menu.. Be sure to ask about micro seasonal specials at each Barrafina such as crunchy, salty Torbay prawns to munch whole and piparra peppers, fried and salted.
Emulating the hallowed Basque epicurean fire-cooking temples of Extebarri and Elkano in Getaria, is Tomas Parry’s Brat with its bespoke grills. Until the end of September, Parry is on fire at their Climpson’s Arch pop-up as well as their restaurant in a wood-panelled former Strip Club in Shoreditch. The aromas of fish and meat blistering over coals is greedily alluring. Brat is the Old English word for turbot, one of Brat’s hero dishes uncompromisingly smokily flavourful, with beautiful succulent fish and the added pleasure of poking out extra titbits from the cheeks and collar.
Parrillan, Coal Drop Yard, Regent’s Canal
The first of its kind in London, Parillan is apparently modelled on the Ibizan restaurant Ca’n Pilot. They serve exemplary meats and shellfish – 50 day-aged
rump steak, milk-fed lamb’s kidney, tuna toro, giant red carabineros prawns – as raw ingredients for customers to cook themselves on their own personal parilla mini grill in the centre of each table (perfect for the cautious diner in the age of Covid19). Produce comes with four house sauces: mojo verdo, mojo rojo, salsa ibizenca and, my favourite, a rich, red, almond-based romesco. There are small plates too, pan con tomate (ready assembled), Cantabrian anchovies, escalivada (roast aubergines, tomatoes and peppers drenched in superb olive oil).
There’s a dedicated all Spanish gin cocktail list besides sangria blanca. It is all very convivial. Parrillan has possibly the best al fresco terrace in town in prime position at Coal Drop Yard overlooking Regent’s Canal. What’s more, like older sibling Barrafina, it is bookable now (and there’s indoor seating too).
Brindisa, Borough Market and Balham
Brindisa founder Monika Linton’s contribution to London’s Spanish culinary scene can’t be underestimated. She started importing top quality Spanish produce way back in 1988 and selling it from her shop in the heart of Borough Market, newly open to the public. Devotees still queue for their chorizo and rocket roll made to order from a hatch outside the store.
Buy acorn-fed Iberico bellota ham sliced to order (even enroll on a course to learn how to carve your own), the best Ortiz and Nardin anchovies, marcona almonds and outstanding cheeses rarely found elsewhere including lemony Monte Enebro goat’s cheese and Picos de Europa, a super powerful blue cheese wrapped in sycamore leaves and aged in limestone caves from Castile-Leon. There’s a second Brindisa deli in Balham plus Brindisa Tapas bars in Borough Market, Battersea and Shoreditch where they’re offering a bottomless paella menu throughout September.
The charmingly ebullient José Pizarro is often to be found behind the bar at his tiny Bermondsey tapas spot which now has plenty of outdoor seating. The jamon croquetas are sensational as are the prawn fritters with lemon aioli and there are daily changing seasonal specialities. For a more leisurely, laidback evening, Pizarro, the restauran,t offers a broader menu with interesting seafood dishes including grilled red mullet with ajo blanco: almond soup, melon, parsley oil or spicy clams with mojo rojo & coriander followed by acorn fed Iberico presa and Castilian leg of suckling lamb and irresistible Basque cheesecake with peaches.
Opulent with its patent black walls, burnt orange furnishings and a specially designed chandelier which is made to look like a fistful of rice that’s been thrown into the air, ArrosQD is the debut London restaurant from three Michelin-starred Valencian chef Quique Dacosta, who is a seriously big name in Spain. The focus is on rice, especially paella cooked using wood-burning stoves, which really locks in the flavour.
Paella here can be ordered in small or large portions, traditional and newer iterations such as sticky black squid ink rice strewn with calamari and artichokes, and finished with an oyster aioli. Among the small plates, the glossy black cheese ‘stones’ that ooze parmesan and manchego cream. There’s an extensive choice of grilled dishes too for those not tempted by rice. The new two-floor project is backed by London-based Spanish group Ibérica who have their own excellent tapas restaurants too.
Sabor, Heddon Street nr Regent Street
Nieves Baracan and Jos met at Barrafina and are now business partners at phenomenal, multi-award winning Michelin starred Sabor in Heddon Street. It is a favoured hangout for many of London’s other top chefs which speaks volumes. Downstairs it is seafood and tapas of hedonistic finesse: must orders include the prawn croquetas whilst upstairs is based on a Northern Spanish asador with Galician octopus cooked in massive copper pots and served slicked with Picaul olive oil and smoked, sweet paprika and churrasco milk-fed lamb slowly roasted in the monumental wood-fired oven.
Currently, there are plenty of outdoor tables and the restaurant itself has just reopened with Covid-minded design adjustments for the tapas bar and asador seating. Most of the dishes can be home delivered nationwide through Sabor En Casa and taste just as thrilling.
El Pirata of Mayfair
A true London classic, Jose Rodrigues’ Spanish tapas restaurant is in its 26 years with the same chef since opening too. During lockdown, it has been given a gentle modern refurbishment and family friend, Zac Whittle, ex Head Chef of Galvin La Chapelle has helped rejuvenate the menu whilst keeping all the classics and the astonishingly reasonable prices for such a prestigious address. They have quite a celebrity following: I’ve spotted both Fred Sireix and comedienne Helen Lederer (separately). They now offer deliveries in Central London via Slerp.
Get into the flow of drinking sherry as the Andalusians do: a chilled fino or amontillado aperitif or, better still, en rama which roughly translates as raw and means it is only lightly filtered. It is as near to tasting sherry straight from the cask as you can experience outside Jerez. Try Oloroso as aperitif and Pedro Ximenez as digestif too.
Morito, and its grown up Moro next door, both with plenty of tables spilling out onto Exmouth Market, have around 20 different sherries available by the glass throughout the year. The Moro menu leans towards Moorish Spain with superb aubergine muhammara with zatar flatbread followed by wood-roast pork belly with oloroso. It’s invariably an animated place buzzing with the Islington chattering classes.
Bar Tozino is London’s only dedicated jamon bar under the arches at Bermondsey’s Maltby Street, it is a bohemian affair run by Chuse Valero, a highly experienced ham carver, who carves his beloved bellotas hung from the ceiling to order. Try tapas including chorizo cooked in fino and don’t miss the fine chocolate brownie with sherry cream sauce. The Spanish wine list is mostly low intervention wines.
Get a taste of Spain at home
Those with an insatiable desire for Spain’s unparalleled jamon de bellota Iberico can not only buy the prized acorn-fed charcuterie (sliced or an entire leg) direct from Cinca Jota, they can also watch a mini jamon documentary which explains the lives of these prized black haired pigs that roam the hills of Extramadura. (https://www.cincojotas.co.uk)
Traditionalists head to family owned R Garcia & Sons, established in Notting Hill 1957 which sells everything Foods, wines, toiletries, utensils… more or less anything a local shop in any town in Spain would have. Some essential, some surprising… everything you could want to prepare real tapas or cook a full Spanish meal at home.
Sous Chef are smitten not only with Perella olives especially Gordal, caperberries and gherkins but all manner of more recherche Spanish deli ingredients including Forvm Chardonnay and Margaux vinegars as well as tableware from Jerez.
Annie B has been living in Vejer for past and run cookery schools and supper clubs as well as trips to the sherry bodegas and out to see to watch the annual tuna Presently she is running her first online classes which combine lively anecdotes about life in Spain and its culinary traditions with tapas dish cookalongs.