Tel: +44 (0)20 7483 4242
Address: 177 Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park NW3 4QS
Cuisine Type: Spanish
nearest tube station Belsize Park (NORTHERN)

I find it surprising that there are relatively few Spanish restaurants in London. We are almost spoilt for choice when it comes to Italian, French, Chinese or Indian cuisine but, with the exception of Moro, no obvious names spring to mind when in the mood for tapas, paella or the less well known traditional cuisine (such as stuffed squid, zarzuela fish stew, lamb roasted with garlic). So Tapeo was a welcome find, all the more so because the staff are Spanish, as were a fair proportion of the clientele.

Tapas (£3 – £5 per dish) forms the bulk of the menu, though there are a few paella options (around £15 for two). There is a good mix of the familiar and the slightly unusual, but beware of over-ordering as portions were larger than we expected. Patatas bravas were light and crispy, unlike the oil-soaked chunks that I’ve had before, though the sauce was less piquant than I would have liked. Tigre, billed as large mussels stuffed with squid and peppers, materialised as two mussel shells, stuffed with a chopped squid and peppers, breaded and fried. Quite tasty, even if it wasn’t what we expected and there was no sign of any mussel (well, apart from the shell).

Tapeo salad was a fresh, crunchy mix of lettuce, grated carrot, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, tuna, boiled eggs and artichoke. The ubiquitous salad dressing (it also came on the salad garnish for the mussels) appeared a little gelatinous, but there wasn’t too much of it and it tasted better than it looked. Lentejas was a hearty lentil stew suffused with the smoky flavours of chorizo and ham (serrano, maybe) – order some bread to soak this up. All washed down with a suitable beer (Estrella, Sol) and you have the makings of a satisfying and varied meal.

The dessert menu reminded me of those in Indian restaurants – pictures of unrealistically bright desserts in fancy / tacky receptacles in laminated plastic. However, with the exception of the ice creams, all are home made, including a tangy lemon tart (£3.10) in pastry that would best be described as the opposite of delicate. Not unpleasant – just required some hacking apart. And all credit to the chef – the real thing actually looked liked the picture in the menu!

With the outdoor tables, Spanish TV above the bar, Spanish pop in the background and staff nattering away in Spanish, you could almost (English weather permitting) imagine yourself in (you guessed it…) Spain.