Some joints are so obviously designed for couples in the early stages of courtship that, should you go along with the intention of securing a table for four, you can immediately feel the soft stigma of social exclusion. This is us in Copita. It's a buzzy little tapas station in the middle of Soho, but we're not here to advance any amorous schemes, so we feel a little out of place.
If you need confirmation of its suitability for a date – second or third, I'd suggest (not snazzy enough for a first outing, but saucy enough for one soon after) – just look at the clientele. Barely two months after opening, it is heaving with thirsty, smart young folk, the sort who spend all day asking clients what their social-media strategy is or advising on brand optimisation.
Plus, just about every other feature of the eating experience here seems date-friendly. For one, the music is loud, though not as ear-crunching as the raucous din of the diners, which means I find it hard to hear the person opposite speak. Then there are the staff, who swarm about the place with constant smiles but only a passing interest in the food: three questions about the contents of arriving dishes are met with incredulity, suggesting their priority is a quick turnover. In fact their fleeting presence gives the whole meal a sense of transit, so that even on sitting down it feels as though we're moving.
And unfortunately, the actual act of sitting down is painful. The stools are very high and the tables are higher; devoid of back support, it feels slightly like eating on a hovercraft, and woe betide the poor romantic rascal who turns up with a bad back and might well leave with a chronically aching one.
I saw six people stretch their legs halfway through the meal, like people on a flight taking a walk to stave off deep-vein thrombosis. This, too, is a feature fit for the young only. A family of four could not eat comfortably here.
And what of the food? Ah, yes. Mostly it is excellent. Compared with some other tapas joints in central London – Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino, Opera Tavern – it's cheap here, but still high in quality. The spiced carrots (£2.50) and crunchy purple-sprouting broccoli with not-quite-enough blue cheese (£3.50) are excellent. The perfectly moist but solid duck-egg yolk with piquillo (a pepper from north Spain) and white truffle (£5.95) looks like a plate of steak tartare, and exceeds expectations. The winter vegetables and quince (£4.50) include a wonderfully roasted beetroot.
Boquerones – large anchovies – come with onion and garlic (£2.50) and are unexceptional, but the scallops in a fishy butter sauce (£5.50) are the opposite, sweet and juicy and muscular. The home-made butifarra with piquillo and chickpea (£5.95) is not as interesting as it sounds: under-seasoned and reminiscent of the beanburger from the school canteen. Too grainy to be tasty.
Lashings of oil on all these plates can be soaked up by the copious supply of delicious bread, baskets of which are refilled to order.
In all, and aside from the starters and hams, there are five vegetable, five fish, and five meat dishes. There is a cheeseboard – La Peral, Payoyo, and Ermesenda – which is not hard to get right, and fine for £11; but like many of the other servings, felt about 20 per cent too small.
The desserts, however, are even smaller. A custard tart (£2.50) is Greggs-the-baker level; a lemon sorbet with cava in a champagne flute (£3.50) is superb; a sweet ajo blanco – baked, glazed beetroot with almond and sugar in a white sauce – (£3.95) is sensational; and a blood-orange sorbet with fennel pollen (£4.50) is the perfect palate cleanser to finish.
There are sherrys from £4.20 to £9.65, which is about right for a place whose name means "sherry glass" and white and red wines from £18. Tim Luther, the part-owner who is also behind Barrica tapas bar in nearby Goodge Street, is extremely charming and has created an excited room with delicious food. He says that he doesn't take bookings because he wants people to feel that Copita is somewhere you might try your luck and return to if your first attempt was disappointing.
Like I said, eager young romantics.
Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets
Copita 26-27 D'Arblay Street, London W1, tel: 020 7287 7797 Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday. About £140 for four with three bottles of wine
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Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2011' www.hardens.comReuse content