Top 5: London Tapas Bars

From Exmouth Market to Bermondsey, King’s Cross to Soho, some evergreen classics

Now that’s what we call a prawn

We love a tapas bar, but other than Mornington Crescent staple El Parador (which we felt was resting on its laurels), there are very few of Soho-esque quality in north London.

So here’s our non-comprehensive list of our current Top 5. Strongly recommended too is the useful Pix, in Soho, which offers fantastic value fast food – a tiny sliver of rare tuna, a soft-boiled egg with jamon – at £1.95 or £2.95 a pop. You simply select which ready-made nibbles you fancy and – boom! – get stuck in, crisp glass of Albarino in hand.

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5. Pepito


Andalusian bar Pepito opposite Camino in King’s Cross is one of the nearest best options to NW5, especially if you’re stuck in the post-work crush of Varnisher’s Yard: things we like include the heirloom tomato salad, the ‘pata negra’ ham (‘world’s finest’) and, best of all, the Tortilla del Siglo XXI – a revolutionary work of art served like a creme brulee or posset in a glass: heritage potatoes, sauteed shallots, creamy free range egg. Wonderful and only £4.25. 3 Varnishers Yard, N1

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4. Morito

Now walk ten minutes up to Morito on nearby Exmouth Market (a street with a vibe so enviable it literally should be declared a province of Kentish Town). An off-shoot of Moro next door, it’s low-key and authentic: simple wooden tables, lemons on the bar, menu on blackboard. Plates are around a fiver upwards. Tender pork belly with cumin melted in the mouth (the best value dish at £5.50). Chicken was served with a non too fiery harissa and preserved lemons. Scallop with chorizo and tomato was small but delectable, as were beautiful-to-look-at shell-on prawns with avocado and coriander. For greens we devoured grilled courgette with mint and pine nuts, mopping juices up with a basket of flat and normal bread to mop up the juices. 32 Exmouth Market, EC1

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3. Copita

Copita is too hot. Tiny and rammed (not dissimilar to a busy tapas bar in Valencia or Malaga) it feels like you’re squashed in the most popular tapas joint in the world (even at 6pm). But the service is efficient and the food sensational. And we only spent £15 each on a variety of great food. Each dish is around £5 or £6 and there were no duds: steak with fried potatoes, pulled lamb bun with harissa, haddock spinach and soft egg, red mullet with peas…even pig cheek with chocolate was winningly more-ish. Currently our West End favourite. 26 D’Arblay Street W1

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2. Jose

Jose is so authentic that half the diners crowd vertically round the counter (including us). The short menu is chalked up on a board – in our case, with half the choices crossed out. Still, after a shortish wait we managed to order hake and alioli, seabream with morcilla (black pudding), pan con tomate, marinated lamb chops with romesco, clams with jamon and pork meatballs. Our visit was not without its blips (hake being served after lamb, for example, was a bit odd) but overall the flavours were exceptional, the prices decent (£6-8), the service friendly – and the buzz immense. ‘Things going well?’ asked the barman at one point. Hell yeah. 104 Bermondsey Street SE1

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1. Barrafina

None of these, however, is as consistantly outstanding as the longer-established Barrafina, the tapas bar that dishes up world-class tuna tartare and avocado (£8.90, here’s our own version), textbook sardines, swoonsome suckling pig (price varies), and the juiciest lamb cutlets (£9.90) ever, to lucky punters huddled around its counter. And their cookbook spin-off is such a staple round our house that it’s inspired a dozen tricks we know and prepare regularly, including jerusalem artichoke and jamon puree, piquillo sauce, a salty anchoiade and, of course, romesco. Go at 5pm early week and you’ll grab a stool. Otherwise the 45 min-hour long queues are quite amiable and fly by with a £4 glass of cava. Or three. 54 Frith Street W1

Agree? Disagree? Share below.

Words & Pics: Stephen Emms


  • Show Comments

  • Gordon

    Tapas seems to have slipped in popularity in the capital over the last 15 years or so.
    I am pleased to see you mention some decent places in London. We spent 2 weeks in Cadiz this summer and must say that this is the real deal if you like bar trawls with loads of vino tinto and excellent small and not so small plates.

  • macca

    Just thought I’d say that having been to jamon jamon quite a few times now I’d recommend it highly! The menu might be a bit *too* large, but we’ve always had good food and service in there, one of our favourite local haunts!

  • PrinceOfWalesDaniel

    I’ve always had a good experience in Jamon Jamon too, though not been for a while.

  • Wendy

    Bar Gansa in Camden is decent…also La Bota in Crouch End is close!

  • Rachel

    Went to Jamon Jamon last week for the first time after driving past it for years. Was busy and it started off well until we unearthed a long black hair from under the croquettes (I’m blonde, my husband has crew cut).
    They deducted it from the bill but the damage was done.

  • Jason R

    I lived in Spain (Madrid & Valencia) for over 7 years in the noughties, authentic tapas is very hard to find. Closest to equaling the best I ever had there is Fino in Mortimer St nr Goodge St. Not cheap, in fact rather expensive, but serve the finest Ribera del Duero this side of the Sierra Madre, and serve Cochinillo (Roast sucked piglet) as good as I ever had in Segovia from whence it originates! You’ll blow a heap of cash there, but drink and eat the finest of fare. :o)