26 D’Arblay St, W1F 8EP copita.co.uk
A veritable armada of new Spanish restaurants has been sailing into London in 2011, their weapons the twin battleships of modern and classic tapas and all aimed straight at our guts. Iberica has opened a new place in the beating heart of Canary Wharf, Jose Pizzaro has occupied Bermondsey without resistance, The Opera Tavern has given Covent Garden a whiff of garlic and Omar Allibhoy has struck camp in Bluewater. I’m assuming the latter must know what he’s doing, and didn’t just sail up the wrong bit of river.
Copita, its name derives from the Spanish for a type of sherry glass, is from the mothership of Barrica in Goodge Street and has berthed further south in D’Arblay Street, Soho. Its sober frontage doesn’t exactly holler for attention but thankfully neither does it go for the faux craphole look which is now getting rather boring.
Inside it’s all about tall stools and high tables with tiles up the walls and along the floor and it’s a nicely judged balance of rough and smooth. Balanced precariously on a stool myself – I can never be truly comfortable on those things, they’re not quite sitting and they’re not quite standing – I’m finding it rather cosy and so is my wingman J. Packed in the evenings, Copita is currently nicely calm at lunch.
Executive chef James Knight’s menu changes pretty much all the time, so your mileage may vary, but it always stays sensibly short and offers some intriguing options. Prices are low but it’s easy to run up a bill through quantity when dishes are this good.
I love jamon but I fancy a change and the morcilla de bellotta does the trick. Unlike Burgos morcilla it’s not staunchly stolid with rice; instead it has globs of bellotta fat translucently winking inside it and almost dissolves in the heat of my fingers. Gloriously good stuff.
Mopping up fat with the bread we order a round of various things almost at random. An ajo blanco with beetroot is hard to share, being a virtual liquid but who wants to share? It is a remarkable bowl of flavour and texture and it is quite sublimely tasty. Too much would be too much though as it has an intensity that might sit badly on the stomach, a dish best taken in small quantities.
But then tapas are of course small; those people who have complained about Copita portion size are surely confusing tapas with raciones? Our quite large anchovy fillet with broad bean ice cream we fight over like seagulls and it’s gone in a few pecks. Slightly too salty it was nonetheless another victory for the Spanish crew and the ice cream was straight out of the modern tapas cookbook, but without being silly or fussy.
The duck egg yolk, piquillo and white truffle was another rich dish, a winner on looks alone. Break the probably baked or sous-vided, slow moving, yolk, stir it in and then ladle it mouthwards. There’s a crunch of nuts against the unctuous egg and the piquillo pepper has been laid out like a carpet under this fine little picnic. The truffle adds some visible poshness but was actually a bit dry and not very truffley.
A wonderful slice of homemade butifarra is so fatty it makes my heart murmur. The meat, made of sweetbreads and other unmentionables, is delicious but that fat is the thing for me. Catalans often add white beans to this dish, Copita adds chick peas, a tart little piquillo, and one of those monstrous caper berries and that all works too.
We finish with a sweet almond cream that contains the most remarkable caramelised grapes, as well as a dusting of nuts. I’ve never eaten the like in Spain but I’d happily go anywhere to eat it again. The empty dishes are piled up and we are done.
Copita has certainly raised a standard in Soho; modern tapas are a wondrous thing when not taken to extremes. I would worry that some Copita dishes can have a bit too much oil and a bit too much going on though. You need to be careful to balance your intake to avoid feeling a bit seasick afterwards.
It’s very showy cooking designed to impress and of course old Adria has a lot to answer for here, but as the Yin to somewhere like Pizarro’s classic Yang, Copita’s a real treat. All in all it’s another easy away-win for those sneaky Spanish invaders.