Age: We would hazard a guess at 12. It was a boozer before that, but its current incarnation – a sort of combination of tapas bar plus à la carte restaurant – dates back to 2006.
Where exactly is it? A delightful enclave of streets seconds from the ear-bashing racket of the Euston Road. It’s all tall Georgian townhouses and twee names like Sandwich Street; best of all, it’s right at the heel of Marchmont Street, Bloomsbury’s main thoroughfare and still a wonderful melange of second-hand bookshops, LGBT hangouts (like Gay’s The Word and the New Bloomsbury Set) and artisan cafes.
So what goes on there? We’ll say it again: tapas and à la carte. It’s Med flavours all the way, but unlike innovative Barrafina this is resolutely old-school in presentation and flavours.
What should I eat? If it’s your inaugural visit, share some plates. I took a friend from East Dulwich who had never travelled to the vicinity before and had various health-based dietary requirements (including no meat or dairy). But we succeeded in devouring half a dozen mixed-bag small dishes that didn’t dazzle, but nearly transported us to rural Spain. Most average? Stuffed vine leaves with rice (a bit fridge-cold), artichoke hearts with a tangy citrus marinade, and a pile of borlotti beans in a herby tomato sauce (simply called ‘baked giant beans’). Cauliflower in a light breadcrumb dotted with harissa sauce impressed more, as did skewered tiger prawns with ginger, coriander and chilli, while fairly ordinary patatas bravas came with a nutty blob of romesco. Best dish was surprisingly a £4 shallow bowl of Valencian carrots sliced like it was the 1970s and swimming in garlic-honking oil: delicious, nonetheless, mopped up with bread.
The interior: Discuss. An attractive, high-ceilinged room, which has never changed. Tables are dotted around a central bar, arguably more restauranty on one side than the other. And it’s all policed by staff who will tell you every table is booked while ushering you outside to share a bench with strangers – after all, they’re all heated, and it’s busy all year round. We sat outside on a warmish October evening and imagined we were on an Andalucian city break.
And what do I drink? We sipped pints of Sagres (£5.70), but there’s the usual quality Spanish wine suspects.
What’s the service like? Very brusque. Don’t dither and make sure you know your way around the lengthy menu (or at least study before ordering). But our waitress warmed up a bit and the dishes arrived promptly; this is a slickly oiled ship.
Do say: “This is some of the best tapas just south of the Euston Road.”
Don’t say: “Where’s the new Barrafina?”