Londoners lodging on the opposite side of the city may be green with envy with all that Greenwich has to offer its fiendish foodies but San Miguel Tapas isn’t exactly emblematic of this affluent, ebullient part of town. That the restaurant is smattered with traditional, time-honoured Spanish motifs is a turn up for the books though it does make for a refreshing antidote to an otherwise snazzy stream of souped-up food spots.
With the resident Cafe Rouge resembling something like the entrance to the Royal Opera House, you get an idea of the style and sophistication of the Greenwich restaurant scene. As such, San Miguel doesn’t exactly stick out like a sore thumb but it is a little more humble than many of its neighbouring establishments and is more akin to the kind of unassuming Spanish cafe you might find in the back streets of Santa Maria. It’s much the same inside what with its vine-draped ceilings, shaggy, red-checked tablecloths and scruffy, dog-eared plastic menus. There’s even a miniature pirate ship mounted to the wall and a giant wooden steering wheel that acts as an archway at the back end of the restaurant, perhaps as some kind of homage to the Spanish explorers who brought home salts and spices in the 15th and 16th centuries. But it’s a darn sight bigger than you’d expect, seating 90 covers, a bigger than average bar and an open plan kitchen to boot.
Aside from the obligatory Spanish soundtrack, staff are perhaps the only element that detract from the restaurant’s authenticity with nationalities spanning the globe. At about 9PM hordes of hungry customers pour through the door with all the relish of well-seasoned Spanish bull fighters.
There’s nothing unusual about the menu though it’s a little larger than most and selecting half a dozen or so dishes isn’t as easy as it seems. With tapas, it’s as much about choosing a good combination so unless you’re drawn to one of the more expensive meat or fish courses or fancy a whopping great big plate of paella for £19.95 (albeit for two) then chances are you’ll plump for a mixture of hot and cold side dishes. There’s significantly more of the warmer variety in what seems to be a bit of a mixed bag – certainly price-wise.
The usual suspects – classic Spanish omelette (£3.95), patatas bravas (£3.35) and meatballs in tomato sauce (£4.55) are tried and tested but if you want something a little different there’s plenty of choice. Pan fried calf’s liver (£4.95) is one worth taking a gamble on. Served with sweet caramelized onions and thin, gravy-textured brown sauce – it’s a surprising standout. Grilled and brandy flamed Spanish sausage (£4.45) is a more conventional choice though no less interesting. The chorizo is rich, salty and substantial and it’s served in spiral format on a small dish that resembles a boat, perhaps as a nod to the decor. Marinated chicken kebabs (£4.25) are another excellent option. Earthy, succulent and imbued with just a hint of spice, it’s just a shame the portion is so small. Unfortunately, this seems to be a bit of an overriding theme and one criticism that can be leveled at the food at San Miguel. A case in point is the langoustines (£6.35). They’re juicy, flavoursome and seasoned well enough but £6.35 is too much to pay for something that’s likely to be gobbled up in the blink of an eye. This isn’t fine dining after all. The calamari is better pitched at £4.25 and the batter is said to be fresh but it’s nothing more than ordinary. The cold meat platter (£5.25) is another serviceable offering but the fact that the salami, Serrano ham et al are overshadowed by a couple of sharp and sprightly pint sized gherkins says it all.
Desserts don’t stray far from the beaten track and may be a necessity following the modest portions in the mains. Profiteroles (£4.95) are of the moussy, milk chocolate variety which makes for a nice change. Served with a scoop of chocolate ice cream and garnished with a thin layer of dark chocolate sauce, they’re arguably the highlight of the evening. Crema Catalana (£4.35) – Spain’s answer to creme brulee – is another solid bet though in truth, the only thing that separates it from the traditional French pudding is the scent of lemon that seeps into the foamy underbelly of the dish. Nevertheless, it’s a pleasant tweak to a familiar favourite.
Traditionalists or large groups may well opt for a jug of sangria (£14.95) but otherwise, bottles of house wine are reasonably priced. £13.50 for red, white and rose and £3.25 by the glass is nothing to turn your nose up at – especially not in Greenwich. Reds reach £49.50 but a bottle with the Cabernet Sauvignon Viana, a fragrant, fruity choice that never threatens to overpower the food is a solid bet at £20.50. Whites are priced from £16.50 to £32 and there’s a small selection of international alternatives with Chile and New Zealand particularly prominent sources of inspiration. Otherwise, there’s a large cocktail list - long, classic and non alcoholic options, bottles of beer including the titular San Miguel – all priced at £2.95 with draught at £4 a pint and halves at £2.20. Soft drinks can be purchased for £1.50 and non-alcoholic cocktails are £1.95.
The Last Word
Kudos to San Miguel for sticking to its Spanish roots. The food is a little mediocre and a shade overpriced and the decor leaves much to be desired but it might just be worth a visit if only to feel like you’ve stepped off the beach and into a sultry Spanish cafe after sunset. Even if it’s just for a moment.