It’s no secret that London loves a tapas restaurant. Their casual nature makes them a great go-to any day of the week. But with so much choice comes the risk of getting overwhelmed and picking the kind of places you regret. If you’re guilty of falling into this trap, you probably associate Spanish tapas with shrivelled prawns, soggy calamari and dry tomato bread. Well prepare to be impressed, or at the very least pleasantly surprised, by newest Southbank opening La Gamba.
Sitting loud and proud on the city’s most iconic waterside strip, the eateries of this famous cultural district attract a lot of attention. Home to multiple theatres and the UK’s largest arts and entertainment centre, those looking for nearby pre or post-show grub are left with an offering almost exclusively made up of chain restaurants. While there’s nothing wrong with that, La Gamba is a refreshing addition to the mix, as an independent dining spot.
It’s in fact a brainchild of the brothers behind family-run fish restaurant Applebee’s in Borough Market, giving it credibility from the get-go. The second sign of promise is the pretty al fresco area out front, mimicking that of a harbourside holiday destination. You’ll then walk into the bright indoor dining room with a striking 360° bar as the focal point. Illuminated by natural light thanks to the all-glass entrance, and fronting minimalist neutral-toned furniture, this modern space is clean-cut in a way that’s inviting. The open room even has a window to the kitchen, which I always think adds a nice depth and grittiness to an otherwise set design-looking set-up.
We dove into the seven dishes before us: the padron peppers (£6) were a good size, had a satisfying bite and were nicely charred; the king prawns (£14) were bouncy, fresh and flavoured well with a liberal load of garlic and chilli; Cornish crab croquettes (£8.50) had a light texture but contained an intimidating amount of squid ink that masked the other ingredients (I much preferred the wild mushroom croquettes (£8.50) which had a great earthy depth); the patatas bravas (£6.50) were crisp, well-sized and topped with a generous dollop of tasty aioli and spicy tomato sauce; finally we got meaty with the roasted skin-on chicken thighs and garlicky romesco sauce (£7.50), as well as juicy tomato and Manchego-topped meatballs (£9).
We realised that in all the excitement, we’d forgotten to order drinks. Thinking something a little stronger was needed to combat all the food, the Long Island iced tea (£12) was the obvious choice. It was actually really delicious and well-balanced, which surprised me, having been used to hard-to-get-down long islands that taste like a hangover. There are many more crafted cocktails on the menu, as well as a whole list of G&Ts and over 30 specially selected wines.
Thoughts turned to dessert, and with only five available it was surprisingly tricky to decide. We fought the temptation to order the churros with hot chocolate dip (£7) and instead picked the less familiar torrija (£8), the Spanish equivalent to French toast. Unfathomably fluffy, covered in lightly caramelised cinnamon sugar and served with ice cream, it was everything you could want if you like to end your meal with something sweet.
The DesignMyNight Digest
La Gamba is helping to rewrite the tapas restaurant narrative with a London-worthy dining experience that leaves nothing to complain about. Its prime location in the city’s bustling cultural hub means there’s nowhere to hide, and luckily there’s nothing worth hiding. La Gamba keeps it consistent with fresh ingredients and faultless flavours across the board. The reasonable pricing also means you can list dishes to the waiter with confidence that the price won’t get unknowingly out of hand.
💰 The damage: £92 for eight sharing plates and a cocktail each.
📍 The location: Unit 3, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London SE1 8XX.
👌 Perfect for: Something to make your trip to the theatre even better.
⭐ Need to know: They have a set brunch menu which includes eight dishes and a jug of sangria for £39 pp (minimum two).