London: the international scene

One of the great things about London is the fact you can borrow drinking experiences from just about anywhere.

We’ve enjoyed taking part in tapas crawls, albeit with a bit more of a walk between stops than we’re used to from Madrid or Seville.

If you want an authentic German beer garden (industrial sausages and all) you’ve got Stein‘s, although for much of the same atmosphere with better food and beer, try the Meantime newcomer, The Old Brewery.  And while it doesn’t have a much of a garden, Zeitgeist continues to be a lively place, providing a haven for German bankers and native Sarf Londoners to watch the Bundesliga together.

For rainy, wintry days, we find that the Dove in Hackney is a good subsititution for our all time favourite Belgian pub, the Poechenellekelder.   Odd, considering the braying Shoreditch clientele and the sometimes too-kool-for-skool barstaff — we think it’s the wooden decor, multi-floor layout and cosy nooks.

On the downside, the Austrian imbiss is sadly no longer with us.

beer and food london Spain

Defying the English weather

As everyone knows, the weather in England is rubbish. Even when it’s sunny, you can be fairly sure there will be a shower just as you’ve set up your picnic.

In May, we were faced with a long bank holiday weekend where the rain didn’t stop in London, but we decided to ignore it and go on another tapeo (tapas crawl). Sod the rain. We were going to pretend we were in Spain.

If you treat a crappy Greene King pub like you would a Spanish bar, it’s not half bad. The tourists just added to the atmosphere, and our two halves of cold Kronenbourg didn’t taste any worse than Mahou does in Madrid. And they had some decent olives to nibble on. Result.

Next up, the Queen’s Head and Artichoke. As a pub, it probably wouldn’t be our cup of tea, but as a tapas bar, it was great. They let us sit at the bar to drink our Bitburger and had a proper, convincing tapas menu, which we ordered bits and pieces from over the course of an hour or so.

Finally, we headed for the Norfolk Arms. It’s more of a restaurant than a bar despite being (we think) somehow related to the previous place. They were a bit sniffy because we didn’t want a table and a full meal but they put up with it. We put away some serrano ham, a few Estrella Damms and, finally, a couple of glasses of sherry.

When we left, it was still raining, but we’d very successfully banished the bank holiday blues.

beer and food london Spain

Jamon and frozen beer


Our second attempt at a London tapas crawl was less succesful than the first, which you can read about here.

Our first port of call was Fernandez and Wells in Soho which was crammed. Nor did it seem to offer any beer, and what point is there in eating tapas without a cold little lager?

We thought we’d never find our second destination but it was worth the schlep. Iberica is pretty posh but the cheery staff made no effort to force us into a sit down meal. We sat at the bar, drank Mahou (terrible in itself, but evocative of hot Andalucian afternoons) and enjoyed a perfectly engineered Spanish omelette, some pimientos de padron and croquetas. Not cheap, but worth every penny.

Next, we headed for somewhere much more down-to-earth — Bar Gansa in Camden. The several mile walk stretched the definition of a ‘crawl’ and the English weather had us trapped under a bridge for nearly an hour while it rained and hailed with awe-inspiring ferocity. When we arrived, we were no longer feeling very Andalucian at all. Fortunately, more chilly beers and some very cheap, very decent Spanish ham put us back in the mood. There was music, there were people, they were young and alive. Good moods restored, we set out to our final destination.

Bar Camino was very trendy a year or two back and when you walk through the door, one thing is clear: no expense has been spared on decor, fixtures and fittings and staff training. Again, we sat at the bar (bucking the trend, this time) and nibbled. Sagres is Portugese and pretty boring but, on a humid afternoon, the freezer-fresh handled krugs it came in worked wonders. Tacky, we know, but very, very refreshing.

beer and food london pubs Spain

In search of the authentic tapas bar experience: (1) North West London

Olives and Estrella Galicia in a shady bar in London
Olives and Estrella Galicia in a shady bar in London

En espanol

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.

Deberes de español pubs y bares

Buscando tapas auténticas en Londres (1): El Noroeste

English version

Solemos ir a España en el otoño. Por desgracia, debido a nuevos puestos de trabajo, no hemos arreglado nada este año. Como echamos de menos España tanto, hemos empezando a pensar cómo podemos replicar algunas de las mejores experiencias españolas en Londres. En particular, queríamos identificar todos los auténticos bares de tapas en Londres, para planear tapeos variados.

No estamos hablando de restaurantes que sirven tapas o comida española. Estamos hablando de lugares informales donde se puede charlar sobre algunas copas y una tapa o dos. Estamos buscando especialmente los lugares donde se puede sentarse en el bar, hablar con el dueño y escuchar a los viejos discutiendo en dialectos impenetrables…

Así que, después de un poco de investigación por Internet, planeamos el siguiente tapeo en el noroeste de Londres, una zona que apenas conocemos.