Address: Borough Market, 18-20 Southwark St, London SE1 1TJ
Bookings: no booking allowed
January started with us being slightly underwhelmed by a Spanish tapas restaurant (Rambla), and ended with us being very much overwhelmed by a less-hyped one: Tapas Brindisa, Borough Market.
As Londoners, we owe a debt of culinary gratitude to Brindisa. When it first opened as a shop in Borough Market in the early 1990s, Spanish food was a strange and alien concept to most British people, whose encounters with Spain were mostly limited to getting sunburnt on a beach in Malaga or pick-pocketed by a friendly local in Barcelona.
Brindisa introduced us to a world of chorizo, padron peppers, Iberico meats and perfectly aged Spanish cheeses. It then expanded beyond mere shop status into a fully-fledged restaurant, flinging its doors open on Southwark Street in 2004, and is now dangerously close to becoming a chain, five outlets doing brisk business across the capital.
But age has not dimmed Brindisa. Yes, they commit the cardinal sin of not taking reservations. Yes, they massively compound that sin by not even allowing you to explore the pubs and bars of Borough Market whilst you wait an hour for your table to materialise. Instead, they herd you towards a miniscule bar where you have to wrestle with dozens of other hungry, red-wine fuelled customers to get any sort of service from the frenetically busy staff.
But still… with food this nice, almost anything can be forgiven. Of the five dishes we ordered, all were excellent. The padron peppers, which my partner in culinary crime won’t touch, were wizened, bitter little things, sharp, salted and full of flavour. They are rapidly becoming my favourite ‘snacking dish’ at a restaurant (although the very best pork scratchings can give them a run for their money).
Croquetas studded with iberico ham were smooth and smothering, enveloping the tongue with creamy layers of flavour. There was something so warm and comforting about them, the edible equivalent of a favourite blanket.
A chargrilled iberico fillet on top of blood red piquillo peppers was so soft and tender it was difficult to believe it was actually meat. With not a sinew in sight, the weight of the knife was enough to slice it in half. If I have one criticism, it is that the meat carried slightly too much charcoal with it, the lick of the flames too heavy in its flavour.
A Catalan flat bread with garlic and tomato was juicy and succulent, whilst a huevos rotos was a wild medley of whipped eggs, potatoes, onions, paprika and cured sausage meat. It was a mess, and all of it was delicious.
After this performance, Tapas Brindisa has claimed a spot as our second favourite tapas restaurant in London, elbowing Ember Yard into 3rd place, and nipping at the heels of Barafina. The taste buds are fickle things, and it is inevitable that as time passes, other, newer, fresher tapas restaurants will spring up to dazzle London’s hungry population. But we should never forget the pioneers, especially when they are as good now as the day were born.