The name of the game here is street food, specifically the flavours of India via Mowgli‘s Westgate rooftop. The vibe is very cool: an industrial look softened with fairy lights and swing seats. Since the MO is fast, real eating it’s a zingy, messy experience: roti wraps leaking sweet chutney, piles of sticky tamarind fries, lots of crunchy finger food. Can’t decide what to order? Choose a Tiffin Box for one for a chef’s choice selection.
Jazzy Spanish tiles, slick atmosphere, great grub — tapas bar Pluma in Amersham (read the Muddy review here) is well worth a visit. The signature dish is hand-cut 100% Acorn fed Iberian pork, and it’s extraordinary. You can also enjoy classic numbers like patatas bravas, black rice, and churros, as well as some more adventurous dishes like Boquerones with yuzu oil.
Thanks to beautiful, Mediterranean-inspired interiors, a meal at Cowley Road’s Kazbar basically feels like you’re abroad. Channel that feeling and go hard on the cocktail-ordering – the Fig and Vanilla Daiquiri is delicious. The food is a great range of tapas, with some excellent veggie offerings.
Cowley Road is on a roll: just a hop-and-a-skip up from Kazbar is Arbequina. Sister restaurant to the Michelin Bib Gourmand rated Oli’s Thai, this small, buzzy tapas bar hides amazing food behind the veneer of an old chemist. (Its bar next door appears as an old watchmaker — v. cool). Various huge papers (including the New York Times?!) have stumbled over themselves singing Arbequina’s praises, but Muddy knew before it was popular. Tip: don’t overlook the onion tortilla.
The Back Lane Tavern, Woodstock
Newly opened Aug 2021, The Back Lane Tavern offers international small plates and bar snacks — contemporary, elevated global flavours in the style of Spanish tapas. The menu is neatly divided into ‘The Sea’, ‘The Field’, ‘The Farm’, and full of seasonal, varied dishes. Order the oyster mushroom gnocchi, and the rose harissa anchovies; you won’t be sorry.
Lata Lata, High Wycombe
Based in an underpass, Lata Lata (winner of a 2019 Muddy Award!) is a dead cool small plates restaurant championing seasonal and local ingredients with a Mediterranean twist and stylish interiors to boot. The menu is packed with bold flavours: we’re particularly keen on the wild garlic arancini and morcilla scotch egg. Did someone say date night?
El Rincón, Oxford
It’s classic Spanish tapas elevated to a new level at El Rincón in Summertown. Though the dishes will be familiar to those well-versed in the tapas mainstays, the quality here is worth shouting about. Those fried peppers in particular… woof.
The Coconut Tree, Oxford
There’s some serious flavour on offer at The Coconut Tree, thanks to a menu harking Sri Lankan street food. The vibe is laid-back and affordable, with zero skimp on quality. Pumpkin cooked in coconut cream, battered spicy cuttlefish, chopped rotis — plenty for plant-based and carnivores alike.
When you want something really luxe, Crockers in Henley is the place to go. Opt for the tasting menu — for what is a tasting menu if not a collection of excellent small plates, eh? — and you’ll get seven courses of seasonal delicate dishes, with a choice for vegetarian. The food is understated on the menu (venison with black garlic; pumpkin with sage) but arrives like a perfectly-balanced work of art.
Five Little Pigs, Wallingford
Relatively new to the stage (opened May 2021), but already a champion of the Bucks / Oxon food scene. The Five Little Pigs menu is all fabulously inventive (one of the co-owners is also behind Lata Lata so you now you’re in good hands), but its small plates are particularly good. Seasonal, well-balanced little platters to tuck into with a cocktail, or combine together as part of a whole meal.
The Cinnamon Stick, Chipping Norton
Don’t overlook mezze in your quest for amazing small plates — and if mezze’s what you want, The Cinnamon Stick is where to go. Fresh, succulent Lebanese food piled up on mini dishes for the table. Charcoal grilled aubergine, spiced lamb flatbreads, fried spinach pastries… it’s hard not to order the whole menu.
Olé Tapas Bar, Milton Keynes
A hidden gem nestled away in Wolverton, Olé Tapas Bar serves really good, traditional Spanish tapas (you’d never have guessed, right?). The owners are both from San Sebastián in Spain, which really comes through in the food. Don’t miss the chorizo lollipops — fried in a crisp, salty batter and served with a pear aioli.
Although the sizable secondi platters of meat and fish at this destination Italian are excellent, it’s the small plates (cicheti) that really shine. Deep-fried buffalo mozzarella, crispy whitebait, and fig and prosciutto crostini are just some of the picky, moreish plates on offer.
WORTH THE CAR JOURNEY
Thames Lido Restaurant, Reading, Berks
Remember when a lido caff meant jacket potato and beans? Safe to say things have moved on a bit. The Thames Lido Restaurant has a dedicated small plates menu, and it’s no splash in the dark. A really fresh cabbage and parsley salad, a sizzling platter of lamb merguez sausages, patatas bravas — think Middle Eastern mezze meets tapas. Just remember to wait 30 mins before diving in!
El Café, Shipston-on-Stour, Warks
Right on the doorstep for North Oxon readers, El Café @ Sheldon’s Wine Cellars offers down-to-earth, authentic Spanish tapas. It’s a cosy atmosphere with a great buzz, and a broad tapas menu.
Paris House, Woburn
One for pushing the boat out: Paris House offers fine-dining, seasonal tasting menus (a swanky small plates gig if you will). Treat yourself to sensational food, all in a fancy-pants Tudor building in 22 acres of deer park. Now that’s the lifestyle we like to lead! The restaurant technically crosses the border into Bedfordshire, but it’s really only a stone’s throw from Milton Keynes.
Pán, Wokingham, Berks
Folks in southern Oxon and Bucks can easily hot-foot it over to Wokingham, and to the pan-Asian tapas plates at Pán. The interior is intimate and quirky (wall-to-wall local art), and the menu is limited at ten options: always a good sign. Don’t expect the sort of grub you could get at home, the ever-changing food here is something else. Salt-baked swede with kewpie wasabi mayo; sweetcorn congee with heritage mushrooms; dry-aged sirloin steak with barley miso peanut butter… wowzers.
WORTH THE TRAIN JOURNEY
ULI, Notting Hill
A twenty minute walk away from Paddington is the fresh, flavour-packed ULI, which has been serving up from-scratch, healthy pan-Asian food to the genteel folks of Notting Hill for nigh on 25 years now. The menu is long, but somehow entirely delicious, and the interior is suitably sleek.
Named after the Basque word for San Sebastián, Donostia is a minimalist-in-style, maximalist-in-taste tapas joint that somehow coaxes flavour revelations from the simplest of dishes. The limited menu means the chefs can really go to town on each plate: Iberico pork shoulder with romesco like you’ve never tasted, and the like. Leave room for the Basque cheesecake.
The menu at Briciole consists of classic, simple Italian small plates: dishes like roast sausages with bitter turnip tops, Grana padano gnocchi with mushrooms, and fennel seed salami. The prices are, in a pleasant London twist, on the affordable side — suiting the rustic, sharing vibe.
Want more eating inspo? Order something hot and rich in these cosy pubs for chilly days.
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