However true this story actually is though is for the historians to decide, and not you and I. Because since then, tapas has become synonymous with Spanish culture, with every city and region providing you with a completely different experience.
Tapas is massively popular over here in the UK too, most likely emanating from our obsession with holidays over in Spain, and that unnerving ability of tapas dishes to instantly transport you back to the beach in Benidorm in just a small bite.
Manchester too over the years has seen a progressive evolution of the tapas bar and restaurant, from the staunchly traditional to a more modern high-end interpretation. We’ve also welcomed such culinary oddities as the Indian ‘tapas’ restaurant, as well as a steady stream of ‘small plates’ that have increasingly permeated the city’s menus in recent years and owe their existence to the humble tapa.
Bar San Juan
Probably the best tapas joint in the whole of the UK (big statement I know!), San Juan is one of Chorlton’s best hidden gems – although by now most people know and love it enough that it’s pretty much always packed out. A few years back they had an extension built on so it’s no longer as tiny and therefore easier to get yourself in there you tuck into the most authentic (and delicious) tapas dishes imaginable. They regularly have stunning specials on offer as well as some fantastic Spanish wines. Hard to beat really!
Bar San Juan, 56 Beech Rd, Manchester M21 9EG
El Gato Negro
It’s safe to say, anyone would expect a top-class meal from an award-winning Spanish restaurant and of course, El Gato Negro on King Street is no different. Owner Simon Shaw has created an impressive menu that is beaming with traditional Spanish flavours, mouth-watering textures and variety – catering to both meat-eaters and vegetarians. They’ve won a raft of awards in the years that they’ve been in the city – and once you sit down it’s clear to see why.
El Gato Negro, 52 King St, Manchester M2 4LY
Levanter & Baratxuri
Levanter is a stunningly authentic Spanish tapas bar located in Ramsbottom that serves delicious small plates of fresh, flavoursome food. Describing themselves as a ‘True Tapas Bar, Not a Restaurant’, I think you can feel reassured knowing that when they do tapas, they do it bloody well. Their sister restaurant, Baratxuri, is a Basque-style ‘Pinxto’ bar. Taken from the Spanish word, ‘Pincho’, Pinxto literally means ‘thorn’ or ‘spike’, so you can expect all of the dishes to be served in this way. Basically, it’s an interesting adaptation of traditional tapas; why don’t you give it a spin and see what you think?
Levanter, 10 Square St, Ramsbottom, Bury BL0 9AT
This brilliant Canarian restaurant just off King Street is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a massive selection of traditional Spanish dishes, perfectly placed alongside some more obscure items from the Canary Islands. Their tapas selection is very impressive with some excellent fresh fish options and many brilliant classics. A personal favourite of mine is the Bistec Asadores – grilled flat iron steak in a mojo rojo sauce. Delish.
La Bandera, 2 Ridgefield, Manchester M2 6EQ
El Rincon de Rafa
Manchester’s longest-standing tapas restaurant and true institution of the city, El Rincon de Rafa has always been family-run, for a whopping 26 years in fact. The basement restaurant just off Deansgate hasn’t changed much in all that time, and neither have the recipes for the tapas, all of them passed down to owner Rafa from his mother. The most famous dish is probably the Pollo Paprika, which Rafa insists people have tried to steal the recipe many times over the years.
El Rincon de Rafa, 244 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4BQ
Porta Tapas Bar
Porta is a charming Tapas and Wine bar located on Greenwood St in Altrincham that endeavours to create a relaxed and informal experience. Taking inspiration from small independent bars in Barcelona and Madrid, you can expect to enjoy a meal that is authentically Spanish; and what more could you want from tapas, after all? With a menu filled with delicious fresh meats and all the classics, you’ll always leave with a satisfied appetite. They’ve also opened up in Salford – you lucky sods!
Porta Tapas Bar,
50 Greenwood St, Altrincham WA14 1RZ
216 Chapel St, Salford, M3 6BY
Tast on King Street is a sort of dual-venue, with Tast on the ground floor offering a unique Catalan tapas experience, while Enxaneta on the top floor offers up the chance for Chef Paco Pérez to provide a fine-dining gastronomic experience. Head on down for some truly indulgent Catalan treats, or ‘Tastets’ as they like to call them.
Tast Catala, 20-22 King St, Manchester, M2 6AG
Yuzu Japanese Tapas Bar
Not all tapas joints have to be Spanish you know, which is why I’m now talking about a Japanese restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. Yuzu has been one of the best venues in the area for years now, with their unique take on Japanese food, all presented on small tapas-style plates and to be enjoyed as a banquet. Their large meals are top class too – but if you want to try as much as possible in one sitting – the tapas is perfect.
Yuzu, 39 Faulkner St, Manchester M1 4EE
BrewChimp Indian Social Club
Another non-Spanish offering here, this time we’re delving deep into Southern India’s diverse and exciting cuisine with the Indian Social Club in Stretford. The main part of the menu consists of tapas dishes, each one designed to be enjoyed alongside 3/4 others and a few pints of cold beer too! There are some classic dishes on here, plus a few unique delicacies that you’re not likely to find anywhere else in the UK – including a curry cooked in a banana leaf!
Indian Social Club, 164a Barton Road, Stretford, M32 8DP
A firm favourite in Heaton Moor, La Cantina is famed for their simple and traditional tapas, Spanish gins that make the perfect G&T and, of course, their homemade Sangria. One of their stand-out dishes is their sublime Huevos Rotos, which in the simplest way is the Spanish equivalent of chips and egg, but a million times better than even that most British of meals denotes (even though it’s not strictly tapas). Great staff, fantastic atmosphere and authentic menus and ingredients – what more could you ask for from a local, neighbourhood tapas bar?
La Cantina, 113 Heaton Moor Rd, Heaton Moor, Stockport SK4 4HY
Abeja Tapas Bar
Once ‘The Smallest Tapas Bar in Manchester’ when at Hatch, Abeja has since moved on from the urban container village and taken over the kitchens at Nothern Quarter bar Alvarium. Owner Ana Villegas has managed to transport the magic to the new location, still specialising in the finest Southern Spanish produce and dishes, typically hailing from her hometown of Granada. They also recently introduced a fantastic Bottomless Sangria and Paella offer on Sundays.
There are a few Evuna restaurants dotted around Greater Manchester, with city centre spots in the Northern Quarter and Deansgate, as well as locations in Altrincham and Knutsford. They’ve managed to garner themselves a top reputation for some of the best tapas in the city – helped in part by their excellent range of Spanish wines and regular offers and events.
Set on the corner of Ancoats’ Cutting Room Square, Canto is a modern Mediterranean tapas restaurant with a decidedly Portuguese leaning, with a menu that includes many of the traditional tapa that you’re used to, plus homages to popular regions of Portugal. Canto uses the finest seasonal ingredients sourced from both local and continental suppliers to create small plates designed for sharing and savouring, alongside a curated selection of wines, spirits and beers.
Canto, Cutting Room Square, Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 5DH
This Whitefield institution is a must-visit for any discerning tapas fan – or anyone who just likes food in general. They’ve got it all, from the all-time classics, to more unique creations – all to be enjoyed alongside some cracking Spanish wines, cocktails and of course – Sangria.
Campo Blanco Tapas, 1 Moss Ln, Whitefield, Manchester M45 6QE
0161 766 6699
People certainly rave about this independent little tapas bar down in Didsbury Village, and with good reason. Wedged between a tanning salon and a butcher, step into Nueve and it’s like you’ve been transported to Barcelona, complete with cracking tapas and specials, wines and that all-important sangria. They’ve recently started introducing a few new amazing brunch dishes to their menu too, so give them a try.
Nueve Tapas Bar, 9 Barlow Moor Rd, Didsbury, Manchester M20 6TN