Visitors to the Basque region of Spain will see large adverts at the airports welcoming them to “the home of Spanish food.” This is not a bold claim, given that the city of San Sebastián has more Michelin stars per square metre than any other in the world. London may be some 1300km away from Spain’s culinary capital, but diners need not travel that far to experience some of the best food from the region. Donostia (what the locals call San Sebastián) is a 40-cover venue located in Marylebone’s restaurant quarter and provides an exceptionally good introduction to Basque cooking
The Spaniards were well ahead of almost every other nation when it came to the concept of ‘sharing plates.’ The term tapas is indeed as ineluctably associated with the country as bull fighting or Sangria. Nowadays, bull fighting is, of course, considered distinctly cruel and unnecessary, and the same could arguably be said of the pairing of orange juice with red wine. Yet tapas lives on. And rightly so. Small dishes mean diners have the opportunity to sample a wide range of offerings and see the full extent of a chef’s talents. However, where are those talented chefs? Not in London. I have yet to sample tapas anywhere across the capital that comes close to what might be consistently available in even the most humble of Spanish establishments. Barrafina did little to change my impression
I had formed an instinctive dislike for Serge prior to entering. Located inside the currently uber-cool Mandrake Hotel, the building’s black-clad exterior and imposing bouncer at its front speak of exclusion and exclusivity. Fortunately, once inside the hallowed turf, the experience improved markedly. The waiting staff could not have been friendlier, there was a relaxed vibe in the dining room and the food was first-class.
There is no shortage of competition for tapas joints in London and far too often they fall down on offering indifferent fare that is a far cry from even the most basic establishment in Spain. Against this background, Lobos – Spanish for wolves – is an excellent addition to the London scene.
Eating out is generally considered to be a joyful experience. Doing so regularly, I clearly subscribe to such a view. I also recognise that popular restaurants – understandably – want to turn their tables, to draw in as many visitors as possible and also to make a fatter profit.
Broadgate Circle, just to the west of Liverpool Street station, has reinvented itself as a culinary hub. Gone is the late 80’s/ early 90’s feel of swanky City elitism (and the horrible concrete ice rink that used to be here) and in its stead, is a much more egalitarian crescent of on-trend restaurants, where diners can indulge in most cuisines from around the world.
A recent business trip took me to Madrid, a city I have always loved visiting for many reasons. One of the exciting things about Spain’s capital (and indeed the country in general) is its food scene, from high-end to the more humble street-side café.
I love tapas; it is a wonderfully communal way of eating, where the food does not impinge of the conversation and diners can sample a range of dishes. Indeed the idea of sharing platters, long-favoured by the Spanish, has now become close to ubiquitous on the trendy London dining scene.
The construction work blighting Regent Street meant that we missed the entrance to Bilbao Berria on our recent visit. It took two phone calls to the front desk to establish the exact location, and even then, the exterior is somewhat nondescript, located incongruously next to a branch of the ubiquitous Pret a Manger.
For many years, the only reason for most people to be in the King’s Cross area of London was to use the train station. However, an air of dilapidation has been replaced by new developments and the whole area has been notably reinvigorated in more recent times.
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.
London diners in search of top-quality tapas are arguably spoilt for choice, but a journey to Iberica (somewhat euphemistically referred to as being located in Marylebone, but in fact at the unfashionable Euston Road end of Great Portland Street) is well worth it.
Eating food for pleasure ought to be done in relaxing circumstances and what really makes Brindisa for me is that despite the concept being one of relatively informal tapas, my dining comrade and I were able to enjoy a two-hour lunch here without ever feeling rushed or that the serving staff resented our presence.