First impressions, they say, are misleading. As I enter Mas Q Menos, a tapas chain from Barcelona, I’m struck by its resemblance to a well-swept train-station Starbucks. But hold on. What about the service, the food, the atmosphere? It might seem like an anonymous coffee outlet, but it could be lovely.
No, it’s an airport lounge performing a not-so-hilarious spoof of a tapas bar. Songs by U2 echo in the background. Inoffensive wood-panelling is legion.
There are about a dozen tapas dishes to choose from. And yet the five we order feature exactly the same ingredients, most egregiously in the shape of factory-made biscuit batons. They’re sprinkled on the chorizo, they’re spread across the salchichón, they’re dumped beside the anchovies. All of the plates look like they’ve been carpet-bombed by the supermarket savoury aisle. Each of these crunchy twist-things tastes exactly the same – a dry, empty pantomime of thankless mastication. Their cone-like shape gives zero purchase when dipping, making their appointment as sidekick to a greasy bowl of melted provolone cheese wholly mystifying.
Mas Q Menos makes it impossible to sample their food without accidentally stockpiling cheap filler. The bread, soaked in olive oil and tomato, receives encore after encore, appearing alongside the breadstick things like some unbeatable superhero double-act. You begin to wonder whether anyone’s paying attention to what’s being served.
Even when these recurring oversights are ignored, the sunshine fund is still low. Chorizo, in suspiciously identical slices, doesn’t taste fresh. It’s indistinguishable from what you’d get in the supermarket. The same applies to the salchichón. The anchovies fare worse, coming in at just under £8. Four slices of anchovy, none thicker than a postage stamp, are served with the exact same chunky bread which partnered the other plates (although here you get four slices rather than two, bringing the grand total on our table up to eight). There’s not enough anchovy – kept company by a few strings of red pepper and four lonely olives – to top the bread. As a final affront, the anchovies, which as fish fans might recall are intensely salty, arrive liberally sprinkled with rock salt.
Dessert is fine, if you don’t like Spain. Out of nine desserts, two are vaguely Spanish. The rest are a loose alliance of brownies, sorbets and ice creams that could have been lifted from Frankie & Benny’s. I ask the waiter’s recommendation. The subsequent brownie looks fantastic, laced with pecan nuts and drizzled in thick caramel, but tastes stale. My partner’s chocolate fondant is about the same. Where’s the mel i mato, the Iberian answer to crème brûlée? Where’s the turón, the flan, the churros? Quick word about the British: they’ve been to Spain. Lots of times. It’s okay to serve actual Spanish cuisine.
If you’re looking for Spanish food, go to Boqueria in Brixton instead. This isn’t the tapas place you’re after. Mas Q Menos also serve bocadillos and toasted sandwiches, but the photographs on the menu look bad so I don’t order any. Sorry, everyone.
Mas Q Menos has been in Soho for three months. I ask our waiter how business has been. ‘Quiet’, he admits. He’s not wrong – for most of our meal, there are more waiting staff than diners. It’s sad to see a restaurant struggle, but London is heaving with top-quality Mediterranean food right now. To dine here instead would be like spending all night trapped in a cloakroom while a fiesta rages outside. Trust your first impressions and head elsewhere.
Mas Q Menos
68-70 Wardour Street
Tel: 020 7287 377