Drake’s Tabanco (November 2013)

It is self-evident that newcomers need to do something a little different and fight very hard if they are to survive on the London restaurant scene. This is particularly the case in the Fitzrovia nexus of Charlotte Street and Goodge Street where diners are already spoilt for choice. Against this background comes Drakes Tabanco, a ‘tabanco’ being – so the restaurant’s website informed me – “a tavern typical of Jerez which serves sherry wines straight from the barrel, along with simple tasty food.” So far, so good, hence the decision of my comrade and I to visit Drakes last Friday at lunchtime. Our booking was for 12h15 and so I was not necessarily surprised by the fact that we were the first guests there, but what did surprise me was that by around 2, when we left, no-one else had come to the restaurant. Even accounting for the Spanish predilection for late dining (albeit this is London rather than Iberia) and the fact that Drakes is on a side street, this meant, simply, that there we had to create our own atmosphere. The staff tried their hardest to be enthusiastic (and did a good job given the circumstances), but even their commitment seemed to wane as time wore on. Maybe it gets really busy in the evenings and a return visit would be merited in terms of the quality of the food and drink, but clearly either we were missing something (i.e. this just isn’t a lunch place, and so maybe shouldn’t even open then) or everyone else is (i.e. it is a hidden gem). In terms of the food, we shared one charcuterie platter and one fish platter giving us ample opportunity to sample Drakes’ wares. We were impressed, with the range and freshness of the produce as well as the presentation. The cured pork tongue, game terrine and sardines stood out in particular. The sherries (admittedly an acquired taste, but one to my liking), also were high quality and we progressed from a light and refreshing Fino to a more dense and textured old Oloroso. Everything is priced competitively (single tapas dishes and glasses of sherry at around £5 each), and more conventional mains and drinks are also on offer. Drakes has much to offer, but this is by no means a must-visit place, and whether it is even around in a year’s time also remains to be seen.