Originating in the bars of Spain sometime in the 13th Century, the legend goes that tapas came about when bar keepers would cover their customers’ drinks with a slice of bread (with some ham and cheese in the classier joints) to stop flies from entering.
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. In Barcelona for example, tapas are small snacks that you’d eat before dinner or for lunch on the weekend, whereas in the south in Granada, tapas is server free in bars when you order a drink.
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.
So as is customary in these sorts of cases, I’m going to start at the bottom and then work my way up to your favourite tapas restaurant in Greater Manchester as polled on this Facebook post. Now, with this being the comments section of a social media post, there were some rather silly answers including “Wetherspoons according to my boss“, “Barcelona” and one confused gentleman who just answered with “Head to Liverpool, that’s where it’s at.” Yeah, cheers mate.
Only mentioned twice though was the incredible Levanter in Ramsbottom, which I believe to be an absolute travesty. As anyone who lives in Rammy will tell you, or indeed anyone who has taken time out of their lives to visit, Levanter is surely up there as one of the very best tapas joints not just in the region but also the UK. Add in sister venue Baratxuri too and you’ve got one of the most authentic tapas experiences you can have outside of Spain.
Okay, so next up and these two tapas restaurants are neck-and-neck on 6 votes each, La Torre in Urmston and La Cantina in Heaton Moor. Both firm favourites in their local areas, both benefit from great staff, atmosphere and diverse menus with some absolute classics on there, alongside something a little more unique.
La Cantina offers up the 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). If you’re at La Torre – it just has to be their King Prawns, coming as ‘pil pil’ (sautéed in olive oil, garlic and hot peppers), ‘al ajillo’ (with olive oil and white wine), or simply wrapped in filo pastry.
Working our way up the list now and we’re onto the first of our King Street establishments, Tast Catala. King Street has rather distinguished itself as the unofficial home of tapas in the city centre in recent years, helped considerably with the arrival of this sublime Catalan restaurant.
It’s strictly tapas downstairs at the bar, but Tast also offer a Spanish gastronomic experience in their upstairs high-end dining experience: ENXANETA. Executive Chef Paco Pérez has created two tasting menus that bring the very best of the Mediterranean and Catalonia to your plate.
Just further down Deansgate now and the next venue on the poll was Dimitris, which has been offering up meze and tapas for well over 30 years and has managed to become a bonafide Manchester institution, and favourite eatery of many.
Next up is one of our favourite Spanish restaurants, La Bandera – just off Deansgate and King Street on Ridgefield. I could wax lyrical all day about how good this place is, not just for their tapas dishes but also for their massive paella and exceptional wine list, featuring a myriad of small-batch producers from the Canary Islands.
La Bandera has recently also introduced their own Tasting Menu experience, this one influenced by the various eateries and owner Yashin’s memories of growing up on the islands. What’s more, fans of tapas can rejoice, because every Tuesday until close they offer 50% OFF all tapas dishes.
With branches in Chester, Altrincham and Salford, Porta is next on the list and it’s not difficult to see why so many of you love it here. First opened by restaurateur brothers Ben & Joe Wright in Chester in 2012, Porta expanded into the ‘burbs and has impressed us all with their simple, relaxed take on the tapas bars of Barcelona and Madrid.
Right, we’re into the top five now and things are starting to get interesting. Think you can guess who’s number one and your favourite tapas restaurant? Yeah, easy peasy…
El Gato Negro
Sitting pretty at number 5 is another cherished King Street restaurant, the ‘Black Cat’ of El Gato Negro. Winner of countless awards over the years, El Gato has become an indispensable force in the city, one which you’ll find packed out pretty much every night of the week. What keeps people coming back is their tapas (obviously), most of which regularly change and adapt to the seasons. Be sure to order the Salt Cod Croquetas.
El Gato Negro, 52 King St, Manchester M2 4LY
Surging ahead into 4th place in the poll is Whitefield’s very own Camp Blanco, a tapas hot spot that you seemingly adore and is well worth getting the tram out north for. This place opened back in 2018 on Bury New Road and has managed to garner itself a strong reputation for top-quality, traditional Spanish dishes that can easily compete with the more established venues in the city centre. Make sure you leave some space at the end for the Churros.
Campo Blanco, 1 Moss Ln, Whitefield, Manchester M45 6QE
A city centre success story now in the form of Evuna, who operate both at a location on Deansgate (opposite Dimitris) and in the heart of the Northern Quarter on the corner of Tib Street and Thomas Street. They also have locations in Knutsford and Altrincham too – in case you didn’t know this. It seems that most of you have become enamoured by Evuna’s expansive menu of A la Carte and Spanish tapas, as well as their humongous wine list, all of which you can buy and take home too. Their signature dish is undoubtedly their Pan-seared Seabass Fillet.
277-279 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EW
79 Thomas St, Manchester M4 1LQ
84, 86 Stamford New Rd, Altrincham WA14 1BS
46 King St, Knutsford WA16 6DT
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 for many times over the years.
El Rincon de Rafa, 244 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4BQ
Bar San Juan
Well, it was always going to be San Juan, wasn’t it? With almost 3x as many votes as number 2 on the list, the formidable San Juan in Chorlton is a well-deserved winner and undisputed tapas champions of Manchester. It’s extremely hard to fault this place, so I won’t bother – except to say that because it’s SO good, it can be notoriously difficult to get a table. Once you secure yourself a spot though, you’re in for the most authentic, tasty and down-right wonderful tapas experience imaginable. So grab a chair, order 5-10 dishes, a few jugs of sangria and get involved.
Bar San Juan, 56 Beech Rd, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 9EG