Four of Spain’s best tapas bars

Chris Carter looks at the regional variations of tapas to be enjoyed glass in hand around Spain.


El Diario in Madrid a favourite with locals
(Image credit: Credit: RosaIreneBetancourt 4 / Alamy Stock Photo)

Bar-hopping for light bites may be the ideal way to get to know Spain's cities, says Yvonne Gordon in The Sunday Times. The tradition of eating tapas the name for a variety of appetisers served up in bars is said to come from the slices of bread or meat that were once placed on top of sherry glasses to keep fruit flies out, but is, whatever the origin, a big part of the culture in Spain.

El Diario (Calle de las Huertas, 69), "a buzzing cervecera beer bar on the corner of Calle de las Huertas and Calle de Jess in Madrid's pedestrianised Barrio de las Letras", is a great place to start snacking. At 3pm on a Saturday it is filled with noisy chat and the clinking of plates and glasses, and is a favourite with locals. The "Marriage, 13" on the menu turns out to be a non-romantic partnering of fresh anchovy with vinegar-cured anchovy. It is a classic Spanish recipe that is part of a long list of seafood appetisers on offer. "No need for pre-nups before ordering, then."

Free tapas in Granada

On a weekday afternoon at Tinta Fina, a restaurant in the heart of Granada, southern Spain, a "heaping" plate of cuttlefish fritters, "glistening with oil", arrived with the first glass of Spanish ros, says Shivani Vora in The New York Times. With the second glass, the bartender presented cubes of manchego cheese and a pile of anchovies marinated in a peppery olive oil. An hour later, we were on to meaty rings of fried calamari and hunks of crispy dogfish. We hadn't ordered any of this, Vora explains.

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In a culture almost unique to the city, situated in the province of Andalusia, bars serve tapas for no extra charge, each different and more substantial than the last. After several rounds, a full meal can be had. Asking for a menu is a sure sign that you're a tourist locals would never think to pay for tapas.

Salty characters in Barcelona

Located in the old fishermen's neighbourhood of Barceloneta, the Catalan institution known as La Cova Fumada (Carrer del Baluart, 56) still attracts a cast of salty characters who come here to eat fish, swill cervezas and swap tales of the sea, says Matt Goulding in the Financial Times.

"Everything here, from the piles of grilled artichokes to the braised bacalao to the bombas fritters of meat and potato topped with a spicy brava sauce invented at this very spot is both excellent and unreasonably cheap." The best time to go is in the late morning, "when the old-timers are on their third Estrella" and before the "savvy tourists" arrive.


(Image credit: LucVi)

"Quaintly gritty" Bilbao

The pintxo (pronounced "pincho") is the Basque close relative of tapas, and it is always eaten glass in hand, says JS Marcus in The Wall Street Journal. Named in honour of the stick that holds it together, the modern pintxo comes in every guise "from a tiny, pierced ham sandwich to an impaled column of festooned foie gras". To experience the form in all its variations you have to visit Bilbao (above), on the northern Spanish coast. Two or three pintxos and a glass of wine will rarely set you back more than 10.

"Bilbao manages to be serenely classy and quaintly gritty." Start your tour of the city at El Huevo Frito, "a yolk-yellow hole-in-the-wall, where a quail egg is the default ingredient for classic pintxos such as the gilda, combining olives, anchovies and pickled peppers along a single toothpick". Across the street at Bar Okela, try the pimiento rozo rellenos de rape o bacalao, a red pepper stuffed with a light fish souffl.

Virgin's new luxury villas

Last summer, Richard Branson opened Son Bunyola, a 680-acre estate with two private villas on the scenic isle of Majorca, with a third added this year, notes Rebekah Bell in the Robb Report. The "striking" farmhouse-style abodes, surrounded by vines and citrus trees, come with outdoor pools. Sa Punta de S'Aguila is the biggest of the three.

The five-bedroom villa has exposed-beam ceilings, balconies and a formal dining room with a fireplace that "seamlessly blend old and new for an elegant result". Outside, the "flower-lined terrace overlooks the cobalt blue water and verdant countryside, offering sweet serenity and plenty of sunshine".

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Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.