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El Cantara (Bar, Restaurant)

Picture of El Cantara in Soho, London

45 Frith Street, Soho, London, W1D 4SD
Cuisine: Spanish
Tel: 020 7734 6868 | Email to El Cantara | Transport: Leicester Square | Write review

El Cantara Review

El Cantara is featured in these Guides:

Best for: Rooftop dining, Spanish cuisine in Soho, cheap eats, pre-Theatre restaurant feed

Great: Service, decor, roof terrace, Moroccan tagines

Buildings, they do burn. Not much good comes from wood, brick and fabric turning to ash. When buildings burn, people run, fireman work, and insurance cheque writers get hand cramp. On the whole, people generally aren’t too happy when buildings go whoosh. Phoenixes, on the other hand, use the moment as their time for glory.

A few years back this Soho restaurant called in the firemen and the insurance bods. A phoenix was released from the flames. A happy phoenix that rose up from the ashes of central London and swooped across the European landscape, steering its fiery snout towards a Mediterranean tan and an inevitable dodgy Spanish/Moroccan accent.

Our phoenix was having a very good time indeed and with his new found freedom fancied himself as a bit of a cultural collector, buying up authentic Moroccan tiles and water features, genuine wooden doors from Grenada, and wines from Spain.

But despite being quite taken by the Mediterranean sun, culture, food and people, the phoenix ultimately yearned for his London home. Plus, he didn’t really have anywhere to put all his new stuff. So one day he decided to return to his roots, to seek a marriage between old and new. He stowed his belongings beneath his blazing wings, along with gifts of Moroccan organic soap for his guests (also available at Harrods), and flew back to Soho (just opposite Little Italy, right next door to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club).

He also brought with him ochre coloured walls, many flamboyant cushions, fresh modern tables (that no more than two persons could comfortably sit at), cheap cocktails (even by the jug), and an upbeat pop soundtrack that was as far removed from contemporary British music as one can get without mentioning the word ‘Eurovision’. Clearly, he felt every day should feel like a Friday in Marrakech.

My friend and I recently visited the phoenix, and he was a most gracious host. As soon as we walked in we felt as though we’d entered someone’s house. There were iron railings outside, a proper front door, and a hallway filled with family photos. A couple of the phoenix’s new family welcomed us. They were far too blonde to be Spanish or Moroccan (Scandinavian, at a guess) but they were extremely friendly nonetheless.

From there our visit took various intriguing twists and turns. Sat in the open window of the ground floor brasserie, we watched the world of Soho (so fond to the phoenix’s heart) pass by in all its beauty. Our eyes were briefly distracted from this vantage point by the enormous menus put before us, a page spilling over with phrases such as Cazuelita de Garbanzos (chickpea & onion casserole), Calamares a la Romana (squid with garlic mayonnaise), and Merguez Briwat (spicy lamb & feta pastries).

The calamari turned out to be a pale imitation of our expectations and there were a few minor temperature issues with the tapas. The Albondigas, however, proved to be no ordinary meatballs. These were meatballs that had learnt how to dance and play music. The peas that swam in its tomato and cumin sauce were also enjoying the fiesta. In a toss up between the 20-odd tapas dishes on offer, these won hands down.

A phoenix is a hot character by nature, and when taking the form of a beautifully presented tagine (fish or lamb, both are fantastic), he burns with a mighty rage. Hot; lava hot. So hot that the accompanying lemon had to be rescued with a spoon, then cooled off before having the requisite pressure applied to its sides to encourage its tangy juices to join forces with the broth. Thank goodness for the Moroccan Guerrouane Blanc which, although lacking in boldness, was crisp and dry enough to tear through the haze of steam.

There is life beyond the brasserie though, and the El Cantara phoenix has an immaculate downstairs bar for party bookings, as well as a secluded restaurant upstairs. The aspect which makes the phoenix most proud, however, is its little secret: the roof terrace; Soho’s only roof terrace (open to the public), apparently. No bigger than the imagination requires, and yet cosy enough for a nesting phoenix, the terrace promises sun, shish and decent amount of indecent canoodling; but not in front of the children, please.

The over 30s tourists and visiting dignitaries downstairs in the brasserie (the only youths are the waitresses) will happily part with their money without ever leaving the ground, satisfied with their cinnamon lamb cous cous. For us (eternally) young and restless Londoners, however, cous cous is dish best served on the terrace of dreams, beneath the sprawling blue (sometimes overcast grey) canopy of contentment. This is why the north African-southern Spain accent of the El Cantara phoenix is oh-so very Moorish; if not moreish too. more

Christian Rose-Day

Customer Reviews for El Cantara

Average (based on 6 votes): 6 Atmosphere: Value: Quality:

The following customer reviews are not endorsed by Fluid London and are simply those of users who wish to publish their independent experiences of El Cantara.

“Booked there specifically for the roof terrace but told it was closed . Our glasses of champagne were room temperature and so was the bottled water. Fortunately my cocktail had plenty of ice in it so that was refreshing. The starter tapas were nothing to rave about. Our main courses of lamb tangene were incredibly salty, far too much. This left us thirsty the rest of the night of course.We left there very disappointed that we ever booked there as we had been so looking forward to the evening. We didn't want to stay for dessert. First and last time.”
Atmosphere: Value: Quality:
Zara, Canterbury (2 years 10 months 16 days ago)

“There are two reasons why I would visit this nifty Soho restaurant: the meatballs and the roof terrace. The first were out-of-this-world delicious. The second is a cosy little hideout. I love hanging out in Soho and I found this to be a nice stop off point before heading to one of the many bars in the area later in the evening.”
Atmosphere: Value: Quality:
Cheryl, Stockwell (5 years 10 months 10 days ago)

“Celebrated my wife's birthday here on July 30th 2010. There were six of us at her party. We were advised to go for the set menu - the Casablanca feast. I must say that food and wine were exeptional! The interior of El Cantara is very stylish, we loved the Moroccan and Spanish details in the decoration! Will return there on out next trip to London.”
Atmosphere: Value: Quality:
Mary, Maryland (5 years 11 months 17 days ago)

Show all user reviews for El Cantara

“Excellent cuisine and service, and generally very good value all round. I went as a 4 but can see that El Cantara would favour romantic 2s, and maybe large parties that could take over the place.”
Atmosphere: Value: Quality:
Roland Street, Maidenhead (8 years 25 days ago)

“Fantastic place. A great fusion of Moroccan and Spanish food. Reasonably priced with a fun atmosphere. Had a meal there with a few friends and enjoyed every second. The staff were friendly and tentative. Definitely recommend for parties. Will be going back.”
Atmosphere: Value: Quality:
H Harrak, london (8 years 1 months 12 days ago)

“Fantastic Place, great place to mingle with mates over Tapas and good wine. Friendly staff and the owners actually served our table ensuring we got the best service possible! Good atmosphere with flamenco music playing in the background..... i am going back this weekend with my partner this time for a romantic meal for two.”
Atmosphere: Value: Quality:
S Duval, London (8 years 1 months 19 days ago)

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El Cantara Opening Hours

Monday: 12:00pm - 1:00am Friday: 12:00pm - 1:00am
Tuesday: 12:00pm - 1:00am Saturday: 12:00pm - 1:00am
Wednesday: 12:00pm - 1:00am Sunday: 12:00pm - 12:00am
Thursday: 12:00pm - 1:00am    

Additional Information

  • Cuisine Type: Spanish
  • Dress Code: Not Specified
  • Group: El Cantara

El Cantara Food & Drinks

El Cantara Food Menu

Food downloads

Food Menu
Our restaurant has had a million pound refurbishment bringing you the best of Spain and Morrocco to the heart of Soho. Split over three floors El Cantara serves traditional authentic Morroccan and Spanish cuisine whilst being enveloped in our fresh, lavish and plush surroundings.

El Cantara Drinks Menu

Drink downloads

Drinks Menu
Our bar staff mix up contemporary cocktails and Sangria, together with a lengthy catalogue of premium spirits. Complementing your food is a strong but succinct wine list, encompassing a range of strong reds from Rioja and smooth whites from North Africa

El Cantara Hire Details

Three seperate private rooms available to hire: Lounge Bar, First Floor decorated with mainly Moroccan artifacts including an outdoor shisha terrace and the Ground Floor - a spanish style restaurant.

Updated 03/08/2010

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Venue ID: 19187

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