El fright night

Ah, Halloween.  The first winter’s holiday, as I call it.  We were out that night, looking for more than trick or treating, which doesn’t really work in London seeing as no-one seems to like each other and I will never answer my front door unless I categorically know who it will be.  So, we were in search of wintery sustenance.  How about some hearty soup and a warming steak pie at somewhere like Browns?  Or a huggable bowl of creamy mushroom and ham fettucine at a place like Polpo?  No.  I tell you what.  Let’s get smashed on brandy, eat tapas and listen to a Guitarrista in Waterloo.  Spooky.

A couple of years’ back, we went for some food at a place called Meson Don Felipe, a tapas restaurant on The Cut, near Waterloo.  It was nice, but I couldn’t remember much as it was a kind of dinner meeting to discuss our landlord, who was selling our beloved house in East India.  Minds were elsewhere, and so a second visit has been well overdue.

Opened in 1987, M.D.F. (as we will refer to it now) is the self-styled ‘original’ tapas bar in London, and walking in there, you certainly get the feeling that it is knocking on a bit.  The walls are bright red, punctuated only with Spanish fashion prints and clunky Mitsubishi air-con units that look like they’ve come straight from Cheryl Baker’s living room.  The toilets smell of you-know-what, and give the impression of a bizarre afterthought (you have to walk through a pot-wash area to get to them), the tables and chairs are off-the-peg, wooden and offer the the kind of discomfort I remember from the seating at school and there isn’t enough room to swing a gato.  You are either crammed onto one of the tables along the sides of the dining room (an old bank, back in the Eighties) or perched on the bar, which takes up waaaay too much room in the centre.  People without reservations – you need to book here, though after eight in the evening it’s first come, first served – are queuing in the doorway and spilling around tables in the dining room.  It’s chaotic.  At the back, there is a tall red wooden podium.  There’s a chair on the top of it.

Man with guitar.  Arriba, etc.

Man with guitar. Arriba, etc.

But don’t you worry about those last two-hundred-odd words because you’re here for Spanish food, and this is what M.D.F does best, because at the end of the day you wouldn’t have travelled to the arse-end of Waterloo to look at red walls and use a destroyed toilet.  Or have you?  We got the drinks in.  The wine list is huge, and you can also order plonk by the carafe which makes you feel sensible (the beer list is of a decent size too, but obviously lacking in carafes), so once that was all negotiated, we began to order.

Neat tapas trick alert – Jamie keyed the selection into the notes on his iPhone and when the waitress came over, side-stepped the pleasantries and showed her the screen.  ‘Mazing.

Three of us went to M.D.F. that evening.  One of us is a sucker for healthy food (even the smell of Haribo makes her nauseous, the lightweight), one of us eats relatively normally and the other one – me – eats whatever the hell he likes.  Luckily, such a disparate, voluminous and well-cooked tapas menu brings us all together in a seldom seen way – put simply, the food here is boss.  Ordering three dishes per person is more than enough for a good meal, and by and large you’re gonna luck out with most of the spread.

A plate of Serrano ham and Manchego cheese is uncooked, so how bad could it be (it was amazing) but a plate of chorizo and potato cooked in a spicy tomato sauce probably required a little more thought than carving and slicing, yet it was equally incredible, smoky, rich and abundant.  The mixed paella (with fish and chicken) was as good as the one I had in Andalusia and M.D.F.’s calimari, a dish that, like ribs, parts the boys from the men when it comes to execution, was perfect, with just the right standard of chewiness and a degree of flavour that would fool even the most hardy Londoner into believing that Waterloo has a marine offering rich in pickings, beyond the skulls and discarded mopeds usually found in the Thames.



Not everything succeeds; a place of courgette stuffed with cheese and mushroom was (literally) sloppily brought together and was akin to something I would have made myself after a night on Snakebite at Surrey University, and a salad of artichoke hearts was nothing more than a heap of mixed leaves with the eponymous ingredient scattered around the outside.  However, vegetables are good for you (as Maria reminded me throughout the meal) and the whole spread was brilliantly done, served swiftly by rapid Spanish waitresses who sidestep, lunge and even twerk between the queuing masses, trays of food held above their heads.  It’s nice though, because they pause just long enough to be pleasant and chatty.  We even had enough time for pudding, where a chocolate fondant and a Spanish version of crème brûlée (we think it was identical to normal crème brûlée) were both hailed as amazing, though an apple tart was as flat as a pancake and described by the ever hard-to-please Maria as an “…apple pizza.  Sheesh”

Sol y Sombras

Sol y Sombras

Aside from the occasional vegetable, any downsides to the evening?  Well, remember that podium with the chair?  Well soon the guitar player arrived and we were expecting singing, maybe a rendition of “Thriller” or “Monster Mash”, alas, we were left with just the Octobery sounds of the Med.  Also, a round of something called a ‘Sol y Sombra’, a nuclear-strength ‘cocktail’ made with brandy and anise was probably the scariest moment of the evening, putting even the Exorcist’s ‘Spider Walk’ to shame.  Still as it was cold outside and people were dressed up in alarming costumes (I met someone on the Tube dressed as Rebekah Brooks), a bit of Dutch courage as well as a beer coat was needed.  Down the hatch!  And ¡Salud!

Tapas dishes from £four to £eight each.  Wine by the carafe from £fifteen.  Cocktails £six-ish.  Guitar player: £free

mesondonfelipe.com | 0207 928 3237 | 51 The Cut, London, SE1 8LF

Square Meal Meson Don Felipe on Urbanspoon

© Mike Dalley, November 2013

© Mike Dalley, November 2013

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