`We don't take a siesta'. We meet tapas revolutionary, Omar Allibhoy

Updated on 02 December 2011 | 0 Comments

Tapas is set to take over Britain, fitting perfectly with our new 'graze and go' culture. We meet one of its rising stars to find out more

Omar Allibhoy came to England just over six years ago because he wanted to learn English. He figured once he’d done that, he could travel to places like India or Thailand, and learn the great cuisines of the world. ‘However I fell in love  - both with London and with my now wife - and ended up staying’ he tells me.

‘My first job was doing a buffet in a hotel, and I couldn’t speak a word of English. So I started with the basics, I picked things up quickly, and soon joined Jason Atherton when he was at Maze’ He then left for his first head chef job at Essence, a tapas restaurant in Central London

Prior to this position he didn’t really think about cooking Spanish cuisine, being more interested in learning new skills and techniques from all over the world. But it was while at Essence that he saw how poor Spanish cuisine was in Britain.

In the Pub

After a spell at Essence Omar began doing tapas in pubs. ‘I’ve always thought a pub seemed to me to be a place with drinks - like a tapas bar - but with the food missing’ he says. ‘How is it possible, the culture of the pub is so fantastic, and pubs can be so beautiful, but there is no food?’ They were soon doing tapas in five pubs in London until the downturn forced them to stop.

At home

Another one of Omar’s pet peeves is that not enough people in Britain try cooking Spanish cooking at home, whereas most of us probably eat something Italian inspired at least once a week. ‘Why is this? Well the simple answer that most people gave me was that no one has ever showed them!’ he says.

The mission

Like Che Guarva in the Motorcycle Diaries, Omar set out on two wheels to take tapas around Britain. He and a friend called Dani drew a letter T for tapas on a map of the UK, and followed that as his route. ‘I wanted to demonstrate how easy it is, we cooked with whatever we found - we had one burner, one chopping board, one pan and two knives’.

Talking about a revolution

It was on this trip that the seeds of the revolution were sown. ‘Tapas revolution is bringing tapas and Spanish food to the people’. Omar’s inspiration is taken from Madrid where he tells me ‘You can go for a coffee before you go to work, or a pastry on your break at 11, or have the ‘menu del dia’ for lunch, or an early evening drink, or dinner - we are open. We don’t have a siesta, because that’s how it is in Spain.’

Of course, sometimes people do spend two hours over lunch, with a cost of £40 a head, but most of Omar’s customers are people wanting a quick drink, something nice to eat and a sit down. Which is why the average spend is £13 a head and they’re off to the next thing after 35 mins.

Location, location, location

With the above in mind, it’s no coincidence that Tapas Revolution have chosen to open in shopping centres. The first branch was in Westfield, and Omar’s second is in Bluewater. It’s a marked contrast to the likes of other Spanish businesses that have chosen London’s Soho or Bermondsey as their first spots. The choice of malls brings proper tapas to a wider audience. Having said that Omar’s no fool, and he and his backers are at present keeping an eye out for a prime central London location, so watch out for that. His other eye is cocked northward, with a never-say-never attitude to opening in other cities.

New breed

Omar is one of a new breed of Spanish restaurateurs, chefs and business people who are leading the charge of all things Spanish. Proper tapas can surely become more popular in the UK as it perfectly fits the way we eat now. We want food quickly, but we don’t really have the time for a full four course, French style, sit down, lunch or dinner. In urban areas at least, we’ve become grazers, nibblers, and pickers, all washed down with a few drinks. Tapas perfectly fits into this new lifestyle.

‘Now even other cultures are getting in on this trend, so you see Indian tapas or Italian tapas’ says Omar. ‘But Spanish tapas is not a trend, it’s a tradition.’ 


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