Great tapas restaurants are hard to find outside Spain, especially if they’re off the usual tourist trails, making Meson Don Felipe and Mar I Terra remarkably good finds. I visited both on a recent trip to London.
14 Gambia Street, Waterloo, London SE1 OXH
Standing alone and hidden behind a railway line near Southwark tube station is one of London’s best kept secrets, Mar I Terra, a great little traditional tapas bar, complete with cheesy pictures of Spain decorating the walls.
The building itself dates back to the mid 19th century and was built to cater for local railway workers, it draws a much different crowd now. Most people frequenting Mar I Terra either live locally, have heard of it by word-of-mouth or spotted it out of the window of a passing train between Waterloo and London Bridge.
However you find it, it’s worth a visit, for the food served here really is something special. Of course, there are the staple dishes available at most run-of-the-mill tapas restaurants, like patatas bravas and tortilla Español, but at Mar I Terra they serve up some wonderful rustic fare that is seldom found outside the tavernas of Spain.
Dig in to Habas Tiernas de Lodosa – a serving of baby broad beans from the Lodosa region of Navarra, sautéed with Pata Negra ham, mint, fresh tomato and sofrito; try the wonderful Conejo en Cazuela – a free-range rabbit casserole with wine, herbs, mushrooms and potatoes or just wait to see what specials are on offer; they’re always exciting and truly Spanish.
Wine buffs will go cross-eyed at the magnificent wine list available. All are Spanish and each listing comes fully annotated to help make the decision easier.
53 The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 8LF
Located just behind Waterloo and the Southbank, Meson Don Felipe is popular with both locals and the pre-theatre crowd visiting the Young and Old Vic on The Cut. It is compact, sometimes extremely so, and always bustling. On first impressions this little Spanish tapas bar appears chaotic, but only because it has a continuous flow of customers – which speaks for itself, really.
The restaurant does not accept bookings, with hungry clients served on a first-come, first-served basis, although the wait is never too long. And, because it’s slightly off the touristy beaten track it manages to retain the fervour of a local authentic tapas restaurant.
The food is unpretentious, as it should be, after all, tapas started out as nothing more than a cover or lid – the literal translation for ‘tapa’ – over a glass of wine to keep the flies out.
Meson Don Felipe makes no attempt to pander to English dining habits and sensibilities, which happens far too often in UK restaurants. The fare is straight-forward and very tasty; the Brocheta de Cordero – lamb skewers – are a good choice, as are the prawns with garlic butter – Gambas al ajillo. The paella is always a winner here, too.
Accompanied with a good basic Spanish wine from the decent wine list, a generous tapas meal at Meson Don Felipe proves to be great value for money.
Look out for the flamenco guitarist, too. He’s normally perched precariously on a little stool above the door to the kitchen, strumming away to his heart’s content – not something you see everyday in London town.
*Image Credits courtesy of respective restaurants.