We tend to go to Spain around this time each year. However, due to starting new jobs etc we haven’t been able to plan anything, and so we started thinking about how to replicate some of the best Spanish experiences in London. In particular, we’re on a mission to identify all of the authentic tapas bars in London, ideally gathered together in convenient tapeos (tapas bar crawls).
Let’s make it clear: we’re not talking about restaurants that serve tapas or Spanish food. We’re talking about places where you can have a nice chat over some drinks and a tapa or two. Ideally, we’re looking for places where you can sit up at the bar and listen to old men bickering in impenetrable dialects, to get the real feel of being in Spain.
So, after a bit of internet research, we put together the following tapeo in north west London, an area we barely know.
1. Galicia, 323 Portobello Road
There are a number of Spanish, Portugese and Latin American places around here, but we were headed for Galicia, which we heard was popular amongst expats. We weren’t disappointed; we walked in and immediately noticed several chaps debating the contents of El Pais in a mixture of Galician and Castilian. We parked ourselves at the bar, had some small talk with the barman / owner and supped Estrella de Galicia (of course). We were there at about 6pm, before the kitchen had opened, so we can’t tell you anything about the food, but they were happy to give us some olives — for free!
We gather this is a hugely popular restaurant (Time Out review here) and they were fully booked that night, although if you’re prepared to eat at Spanish time (after 10:30) it’s easier for them to fit you in.
2. William IV, 786 Harrow Road
OK, this place is not a typical Spanish bar, but it does serve tapas, bloody good tapas in fact. It’s a huge gastro-pub with a lovely, large beer garden. There’s a restaurant bit with table service, but we preferred to order a couple of dishes at the bar.
Among the sea of bland lagers, and the Inbev holy trinity (Fruli, Hoegaarden, Leffe) there are also a couple of ales in good nick – London Pride, and a guest, the trademark infringing Cottage E-Type. There was also a huge range of wines, spirits and cocktails.
This place attracts a very mixed crowd, and was friendly and cosy. We wish it wasn’t so far away, as we could get used to a mix of real ale and tapas. We could have stayed longer, but we had another place to check out.
3. Centro Galego de Londres, 869 Harrow Road
This is quite a long walk from the William IV (bus strike) but definitely worth it for the authentic tapas experience at the end. Incidentally, there are various interesting looking Brazilian places on the way that might make a good stopoff.
The Centro Galego consists of a small restaurant (three tables) and bar on the ground floor, and a bigger function room / restaurant in the basement. It’s a cultural centre of sorts, so there’s lots of pictures of London-based Galicians doing folkloric things and playing football.
And it’s wonderful.
It’s incredibly friendly and the food is great, as Galician grub tends to be. We sat at the bar and got a free tapa with our first drink — a bit of tortilla, and a piece of empanada, a kind of tuna pie. We ordered a couple of Galician staples to go with the second round — pimientos de padron, and pulpo (octopus), together with some lovely seafood croquetas. On that subject, Leigh published a tasty looking recipe for croquetas a couple of weeks back — we’re going to have to give them a try now!
The clientele were a mixture of expats (one of whom we’d seen earlier that day in Galicia) and delighted native Londoners. We got very comfortable, and stayed for one or two more than we should have.
All in all, this crawl was a success — two bars where we can go to pretend we’re in Spain, and a great pub as well.
Here’s a Googlemap of the tapeo. The nearest tube to the start is Ladbroke Grove or Notting Hill, and nearest tube to the end is Willesden Junction.