Pizarro

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Pizarro

Pizarro is an expanded version of Jose, Spanish restaurateur and chef Jose Pizarro’s teeny sherry bar up the road, but even though it has room for seating, Pizarro gets just as packed. Luckily, this place takes reservations. We highly recommend you take advantage unless you’re prepared to put up with a long wait. Big windows let hungry punters catch a peek at the long, sharing tables which are usually heaving with food and glasses of sherry. It’s hard to just wander by without getting tempted inside. The best spot’s up at the bar though, where you can keep an eye on the action in the kitchen-a great spot for a date if you don’t mind that it can get a touch loud.  The food’s seasonal, delicious and decidedly Spanish. You can plump for sharing a selection of the small plates or go all out with a starter and main each. Not forgetting dessert either, of course. And if you’ve still room after all that, pop up the road to Jose for a digestif.

Drake’s Tabanco

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Drake's Tabanco

Drake’s Tabanco does a good job for transporting you wet and windy London to a relaxed tavern somewhere in Spain. Think white-washed walls, narrow wooden tables, leather banquettes, dangling jamon and free-flowing fino. This blink-and-you’d-miss-it spot discretely tucked away off Charlotte street does high quality tapas with a Northern twist – think mackerel pâté or gravadlax tossed in there with your pig cheeks and piquillo peppers. After all, it is inspired by that most English of rascals, Sir Frances Drake, who supposedly first introduced sherry to the British Isles. Thanks Sir Frances. The mood is ultra laid back (redolent of lazy lunches, siestas and long dinners), but the service is still prompt and super friendly. The crowds don’t seem to have cottoned on quite yet, plus you can book, so get in there while you can.

 

Bar Tozino

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Jamon at Bar Tozino on Maltby Street in London

Entering Bar Tozino is a bit like being teleported to the middle of Spain. Giant hams hang from wooden rafters, the fino flows freely and customers crowd round the dark wooden bar for round after round of wine and platters heaving with tapas. The ceiling decor might be a bit of a giveaway, but a major draw here is the jamon. Pick the quality your budget can handle, elbow your way to a seat at the bar and tuck in. Surrounded by all the goodies on offer at Maltby Street Market this a great place to pop into for mid- shop pitstop or an informal date.

Jose

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Jose

There are plenty of pretenders to the tapas bar title in London, but few rock the look as authentically as Jose, which really is a bar (Sherry being the tipple of choice) first and restaurant second. That’s not to say that the food – which is really top-notch – is incidental. The place has pedigree after all; owner Jose Pizarro made a name for himself Brindisa, now legendary for its tapas. It’s just that this tiny Bermondsey bar is more about grazing while you drink than sitting down to eat. In fact, there’s not much space to sit at all. Squeeze round the marble topped bar if you can, but most of the time you’ll find yourself standing up and crowd round one of the strategically-placed barrels that serve as tables. That’s just the way it works, and of course there’s no reservations. If you feel the need for something a bit more relaxed, head up the road to Jose’s sister, Pizarro, which is more traditional. Just remember, Jose is about glugging and snacking, not dining – and it works.

Barrafina

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Barrafina

Don’t be surprised to see a long line of hungry would-be diners waiting in this cool and casual tapas bar in the middle of Soho. The place only seats 23 and, of course, there are no reservations. The open kitchen offers a lively performance for those waiting but also ratchets up the food envy factor. Be prepared to watch a mouth watering parade of tantalising dishes dance past to other peoples’ places for a long time before you even order. The melt-in-the middle tortillas, ultra-fresh seafood and succulent meat dishes are all worth the wait though. The bar-style seating make it one of the few places in London great for a lone diner and there is limited space outside on those rare days of good weather. Prices pack a mean punch though and the sharing-sized plates mean costs mount quick.

Dehesa

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Dehesa

Buzzy and super-busy gem in the heart of deepest, darkest Soho; perfect for luvvies looking for a quick, mid-shop pit stop at lunch, filled with sophisticat media types at dinner. A warm wood interior, giant windows and booth or bar seating make it both intimate and lively – great for a date. Soak up the atmosphere and a slow bottle of wine over the drool-inducing tapas at sublime prices. Be warned, it’s hard to control yourself once you get started, so the bill can still pack a punch. The pork belly on cannellini beans is too good to only get one, and it’s not the only dish on the menu like that. Don’t despair if you can’t get a reservation, hope is at hand. They keep back a substantial number of tables every night for walk-ins. Go on, chance it. If you really can’t get in try one of the two sister restos, Salt Yard or Opera Tavern.