Originally published in CityAM on 15 September 2015
Somewhere under London Bridge station, tucked beneath the tracks, is a winding tunnel of a tapas bar. It is the kind of space that further down the line in Bermondsey or Peckham would be full of car parts, or craft beer, or both. Here it houses Lobos – a restaurant from four Brindisa alumni that focuses on the acorn-snaffling iberico pig.
The pedigree is good, and the location, so close to Borough Market, means that ingredients can be sourced from the best suppliers. With their alma mater just around the corner and the esteemed Pizzaro, Jose and Bar Tozino all within hunting distance, this isn’t an area with a shortage of places to get a Spanish fix.
On Friday night Lobos hums with chatter and the upstairs restaurant is packed to its corrugated iron rafters. It’s grungy and cool enough to distance itself from the increasingly sanitised tourist trappings of Borough Market. Surprisingly, it retains its charm when I return for a lunchtime visit. The warm glow of the filament light bulbs (compulsory in any new restaurant) and the gentle rolling of trains overhead maintain an impressively buzzy atmosphere for a close-to-empty restaurant.
Lobos translates as ‘wolves’ in Spanish, and the lupine theme is taken a little too seriously. A wolf’s head hangs over the door, an electric sign reads “Devouring Meat”, a chalkboard is adorned with a verse from Rudyard Kipling’s The Law for The Wolves, and the team (without a hint of irony) call themselves The Pack. I half expect to see Michael J Fox behind the bar opening beers with his teeth.
Working down the menu from top to bottom, we stop briefly at the appetizers to share a solid example of pan con tomate before attacking the tapas and the meat sections. There’s not a lot that’s new on the tapas list, but it comes as expected: direct and, crucially, correct. The tortilla, served in its own small pan, doesn’t quite wobble on arrival but a fork inserted through the centre reveals a sticky tangle of onions in egg. The accompanying aioli has a nose-banging punch of garlic that mellows as the grassiness of a very good olive oil takes over.
The crispy coatings of dinky croquetas hide an intense béchamel flecked with ham, chorizo and smoked bacon. They carry that deep musty flavour that can only come from curing, ageing or offal. Bite the top off one and tease out the inside; it’s the porcine equivalent of sucking out the head of a prawn.
And to the meat: with six different options of pig available it would be churlish not to take the iberico pork selection. Fillet, secreto and presa are served with trintxat potatoes, mojo chips and roasted peppers respectively.
The fillet and presa are served daringly, brilliantly rare. Everything is sprinkled liberally with salt. The mojo sauce served with the secreto – a tender strip of meat from between the shoulder and the loin – is so mean, green and howling with garlic that I feel a little cheated to have only crisps (they’re definitely not chips) to enjoy it with. Mojo like this deserves to be held up against something more robust – a few Canarian potatoes, in the traditional style, maybe. I try a herb crusted lamb rack at lunch, but the soft, nutty presa plays too strongly in the memory and the lamb doesn’t come close.
As you may have realised, this is not food for the faint hearted, and indeed you’d do well to find anything on the menu for a vegetarian. It’s not priced gently either. Ploughing through tapas this tasty comes at a premium – get carried away and the bill could bite you. At Jose you can get away with dropping in for a nibble and a glass of fino; it’s that kind of place. But here the atmosphere and the service (attentive and full of Hispanic charm) encourages you to settle in for the long haul, order another round of cocktails and, perhaps, regret it in the morning.
The team at Lobos serve food that is powerful, assertive and has real clarity. It doesn’t need to be improved with the needless garnishes of wolfy-buzz-words that litter the walls and the menu. This pack should stick together and let the food speak for itself. The wolves that are boldest and bravest should be judged by their tapas alone.