I’m looking forward to spending 5 days or so at the start of July in Gastrotourism super-hub, San Sebastian. Obviously I’ve got a massively hyped cash splurge of a fancy restaurant booked up, and that is undoubtedly a major factor in my excitement. However I think I am most excited about exploring the many tapas and pintxos bars that the town has to offer. Sure, two and three Michelin Star restaurants are as common in San Sebastian as Jamie’s Italians are in London, but for all the thrills, I’d wager there’ll be disappointments and starchy formality too … and I can’t afford more than one swanky meal anyway.
In the meantime, the continued growth of tapas and pintxos bars in London has been simultaneously satisfying urges and building up anticipation for Spain.
I think that other than Barrafina and Morito, some of the best tapas in central London is to be found in the sherry bars featured in this post here. But new Marylebone restaurant Donastia is apparently a decent bet; Brindisa continues to expand (as will Barrafina); the Salt Yard restaurants do the job well; and the ‘Pix’ bars in Soho and Covent Garden are also an option (though I didn’t think much after an hour or so of grazing in the Covent Garden one).
In addition to all of those is Copita in Soho, which is arguably the most interesting of the lot.
Interesting because the food goes far beyond standard tapas fare. There are almonds, olives, anchovies, jamon and cheese, obviously. But there’s more adventure than we are used to too: croquettes are green taste bombs of sweet peas and truffle oil with a soft goat’s cheese centre, rather than bland, unimpressive deep fried cheesy mash or béchamel (I’m so bored of ‘plain vanilla’ yet pricey croquets/croquettas/croquettes).
Better still, the ‘bigger’ dishes on the lower part of the menu change regularly and seek to impress with modern techniques (like sous vide egg yolks), interesting ingredients (kid in harissa was on when I was there), and intense flavour combinations (such as Galician beef rump and long-cooked pequillo peppers).
In many respects it did impress. That beef rump and pepper dish was awesome. Beautiful, sweet peppers and tender, meaty, flavoursome beef. The egg yolk, whilst less novel now than in 2010 and more gelatinous than I like (drop the bath by a degree please chaps), went well with subtly smoked haddock and sweet broad beans in a dish that was both luxurious and light. I remember the dressing of some grilled gem lettuce was seriously tasty as well, though it was a while ago and I don’t recall any more detail than that.
But the food was also lacking something. Something much easier to identify and recall than the finer details of that lettuce dressing. That thing being mass.
I’m not a big person, but I know now how Lemuel Gulliver felt when he was fed loaves of bread the size of bullets. The food was tasty, but boy were the portions small. In fact, they’ve clearly decided plates are not necessary – most food was served in saucers.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s tapas. It’s finger food. If you go and eat in poncy trendy Soho restaurant come bars, what do you expect?
Well I’d expect more than a spoonful of flaked haddock and 7 broad beans with my egg yolk for £6.50, more than 30g of beef with my spoon of sweated peppers for the same price, and, above all, I would rather not want to get a kebab immediately after finishing a meal. It would be wrong to say the portion sizes left a sour taste. But they did leave a rather large hole. £1-£1.50 off the large dishes, 50p off the smaller ones, and we would each have selected an extra dish and walked away sated and happier.
Back to the positives, the staff are friendly and competent and the drink list is wide ranging, with some good stuff at each price point. I’m told that gin and tonics are on the Brobdingnagian scale. I also liked the room. It’s a ‘bar’ with high stools and bar tops to eat off. The obligatory Soho lighting is in place, obviously, and it’s small enough to generate an atmosphere whilst being large enough so as not to feel oppressively crowded.
So I kind of liked Copita, but also left a bit frustrated. That said, when I was there, the room was mostly full of small groups of women in their mid twenties to forties, enjoying a drink and occasionally picking at those saucers, and couples on dates. I suspect both types of customers thought it was more than fit for purpose.
I think Copita is worth a look-in, though as far as London goes, Morito trumps it for lively, non-standard tapas. Bring on San Sebastian.
Copita in 3 words
Lilliputian date place.
If you’re eating, £30 pp without booze. If you’re drinking and nibbling, expect to pay around £3-£7 per item.
copita.co.uk – 27 d’Arblay Street, W1f 8EP – 020 7287 7797
Make sure you nominate your favourite restaurants, retailers, books and blogs in this year’s Observer Food Monthly awards. Click here.