Bite-size Britain: Tapas-style restaurants sweep the nation

Koh Thai Tapas offers smaller portions of popular Thai dishes ranging from £4.95 to £6.95

As Koh Thai Tapas prepares to open its third restaurant in the South East, a number of other new tapas-style concepts are springing up around the country, with sharing dishes and a more informal dining approach beginning to be applied to a variety of world cuisines. 

Tapas is proving to be all the rage at the moment. The concept offers a level of symbiosis between restaurateur and customer not seen among others; the diner can choose exactly how much they want to eat and pay, while the restaurant can sell smaller dishes at better margins, in the knowledge that bills can mount quite quickly.

Ferran Adrià planted the seed, deconstructing traditional menus at the now-closed El Buli as he moved towards smaller plates and sharing.

In the UK, fine-dining restaurants soon began imitating some of his ideas, moving away from the British tradition of each diner having a fixed three-course dinner.

But in recent years, the term ‘tapas’ was no longer just being applied to the traditional Spanish Bodega-style outlets. And now the Italians, French, Thais and even the British all want a bite-sized slice of the action too.

“It’s all in the sharing,” says Andrew Lennox, owner and director of Koh Thai Tapas – his concept offers small portions of popular Thai dishes, ranging from £4.95 to £6.95.

“The vast majority of people don’t want to go to a fine-dining restaurant where they often feel ‘suffocated’. And with the recession hitting hard, tapas-style restaurants give good value for money, a variety of food and a great atmosphere.”

Founded in 2009, Koh Thai Tapas now has two restaurants in Bournemouth, with plans for a third in Hampshire and five more sites to open around the UK in the next two years. Lennox hopes to bring the concept to London within the next five years.

“You can dine at our restaurant for £15 if you want, with a beer and a pad Thai, or you can dine here for £500 - it’s entirely up to the customer and how they want to have their dining experience,” he adds.

Italian, French, Indian, British

More recently, the concept of tapas has evolved considerably from its more simple origins and has become an entire cuisine in its own right. And it has not escaped the attention of the UK's restaurant scene at large. There are other pan-Asian tapas concepts, as well as Italian, French, Indian and British restaurants that have jumped on the bandwagon.

As Wayne Edwards of trend experts Thefoodpeople explains: “Smaller, sharing dishes work for everybody. The concept fits with consumers, it fits with operators and it fits with current lifestyle and consumer trends. And that’s the basis on which these food trends can really take off.

“From a consumer’s perspective, there’s a real buzz around sharing dishes and they’re more aware of cost constraints and there’s a perception of lower cost with tapas-style food; a diner can have one dish, or they can have four.

“But I think this is only a ‘perception’ - It’s usually not necessarily a cheap way to eat; the cost of dishes can mount quite quickly. And that’s the massive advantage for the operators.”

Lennox from Koh Thai Tapas agrees. “It’s an advantage for us,” he says. “But our tapas dishes are pretty substantial. We’re seeing many restaurants now offering tapas dishes, but what they actually mean by that is they’re just offering smaller dishes for a higher margin.

“That’s not what we do. Our dishes are priced at £4.95 up to 6.95. The diner can come in, order some tapas dishes, and then they can order some more, and then they can order some more!”

Five example of tapas-style dining outlets 

  • Polpo (Italian) –Russel Norman’s concept, which recently announced plans to grow its restaurant estate to six sites in London,serves Venetian, tapas-size portions of Italian classics including polpette and pizzetine.
  • Umami (Pan-Asian) – Having opened in South Kensington’s Cromwell Road in March,Umami offers appetizer portions of Thai, Malasian and Singaporean dishes.
  • Imli (Indian) – Situated in the heart of the West End, Imli offers authentic Indian street food served tapas-style in an informal setting, with a traditional-meets-modern theme.
  • Bistro La Barrique (French) – Having recently opened its second site in Bath and its flagship site situated in Bristol, Bistro La Barrique presents its food using a ‘petits plats’ format. The petits plats menu allows diners to create the meal of their choice by selecting and combining a number of smaller French dishes.
  • Boyds Brasserie (British) – The Trafalgar Square restaurant offers modern 'British tapas', featuring a variety of classic British dishes presented in a small, bite-size format. Dishes include Welsh rarebit, pan-fried seabass with red onion jam and cockle and caper popcorn, offered at two dishes for £7.90 with additional choices £3.50 each.

This isn't to say that tapas restaurants have fully departed from the concept’s origin. More traditional Spanish tapas concepts to have hit the UK in the past year include:

Related News

Chefs cook skewers at Kimchee

Food trends 2012: Asian ascension

42°Raw’s Lasagna  is prepared at under 42° to keep all of the dish's nutrients intact

Food trends 2012: Natural & subtle

Cicchetti in Manchester will be joined by a second restaurant under the San Carlo-operated brand in London later this week

San Carlo on the lookout for further London locations as Cicchetti comes to the capital

Il Tempo, an aperitivo bar offering Italian drinks plus food from an open table, will launch in Covent Garden in September

Il Tempo owner claims concept will be the first authentic open table aperitivo bar in London

Chef and restaurateur Michael Nadra is planning to open his second eponymous restaurant and has not ruled out operating more sites

Chef-restaurateur Michael Nadra opens second neighbourhood restaurant

The family-run San Marco restaurant group has opened its fifth venue - an Italian tapas restaurant and wine bar called Stratos

Family-run San Marco restaurant group opens venue number five

Food Trends 2012: Some of Britain's top chefs and restaurateurs gave us their predictions on the top 10 hottest food trends likely to hit restaurants in the next twelve months

Food Trends 2012: Top 10 restaurant predictions

Brindisa founder Monika Linton with finance director Ratnesh Bagdai. Photos: Mat Quake

Business Profile: Brindisa

Salt Yard group's chef/director Ben Tish hopes the Basque-style grill will give the new restaurant a bit more theatre

Salt Yard owners to showcase Basque cuisine with new restaurant

Small dishes such as Moo Ping - grilled marinated pork on skewers served with jim jaew sauce - are set to make up the menu at Mae Ping's Wimbledon site when it goes tapas-only next month

Mae Ping Wimbledon to re-launch as Thai tapas restaurant

Koh Thai Tapas currently has four outlets in Boscombe, Bath, Southsea and here in Bournemouth

Koh Thai reveals growth target, in funding talks

Farm Frites' patatas bravas are versatile and can help those selling food capitalise on the sharing trend

Farm Frites launch Patatas Bravas into foodservice

Jason Freedman is opening Taste of the Med @ the Minnis

New seafront tapas restaurant to open in Birchington

The new site is expected to open in late September.

Koh Thai Tapas secures Koh Noi site in Dorset

Koh Thai Tapas is looking to open three new sites a year

Koh Thai Tapas outlines expansion plans

Lurra's wood charcoal and wood grill

Charcoal and wood grill restaurant Lurra opening in London

Tapas Revolution to open in Newcastle amid wider expansion

Tapas Revolution to open biggest site yet in Newcastle amid wider expansion plan

Russell Norman's sixth site, and third Polpo will open in Clerkenwell at the end of July

Russell Norman to open Polpo at Smithfield growing restaurant estate to six

Asian restaurant Umami opens in South Kensington on 14 March

Asian restaurant Umami to open in South Kensington in March

Sam and Eddie Hart have acquired a 20-year lease on Sapori in Drury Lane

Hart brothers secure second site for Barrafina

The new tapas restaurant will have a different menu offering to the other venues within the Brindisa portfolio

Brindisa Tapas Kitchens acquires former Saf restaurant in Shoreditch

Omar Allibhoy has been referred to as the 'Antonio Banderas of cooking' by Gordon Ramsay

Tapas Revolution to open at Bluewater

Comments (1)

Dale Davies - 28 Jun 2012 | 03:56

World Tapas in one venue...

Apologies, but some self promotion on behalf of Warwick. Pancho Tapas here in Warwick, opened last year, offers a wide selection, from Mexico, Sweden and Thailand amongst others. Give them a look, amazing place, in a cellar, a vine covered terrace, and some of the best food for miles. Warwick is very proud of it's restaurants, and on reading this thought Pancho deserved a mention.

28-Jun-2012 at 15:56 GMT

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.