For a genuine taste of Spain, Soprano Tapas and Wine Bar on the High Street is not to be missed. We speak to owner Maurizio Di Santo to find out more about how this continental corner of the town continues to delight diners with its truly eclectic range of dishes, cocktails and unforgettable flavours
Tell us about the background of Soprano
The restaurant was started 10 years ago. I used to have an Italian restaurant at the top of the town, but I always wanted to come to the High Street, so we started to rebuild the place from scratch. One day I was painting the door outside when a customer passed by and said: “I hope it’s not another Italian restaurant!” We’d thought to do a posh Italian restaurant, but because of that customer we decided not to do Italian.
Why opt for Spanish tapas instead?
I used to live in London, so tried to remember the last restaurant that I would usually go to, which was a tapas place in Hammersmith. Even though Italian does much more for business, I felt a tapas bar was missing in Tunbridge Wells, so opened it for myself based on what I missed and where I’d like to go.
Where did the name come from?
We had the place and the cuisine, but were missing the name, which needed to be memorable. When we opened, it was around the time of the last series of The Sopranos, so everyone was talking about it. I liked it, so we named the restaurant after the TV show and have been busy ever since.
What was so appealing about Tunbridge Wells High Street?
I used to work in London in a place called Paparazzi. I wanted to open my own place, and someone said Tunbridge Wells was a great location. I came and liked it, and we opened the first restaurant at the top of the town. I always liked the High Street, which is like a little village, and think it’s the best place between the top of the town and The Pantiles. I know everyone around here and it’s a lot more communal, whereas it wasn’t like that at the top of the town. It was the perfect spot that I’d always been looking for.
How about some of your bestselling dishes?
The thing we could never take off the menu is the meatballs, or ‘albondigas’, which is very popular, the chorizo and the ‘flamenquìn’. We change the menu every six to eight months and try to use a lot of local suppliers. Being Spanish, there are a lot of things that aren’t produced over here, so we try to source the meat, fruit and veg locally, but the rest comes from either Italy or Spain.
Are cocktails a big part of your menu?
We’ve been to different bars and restaurants in New York and London to look for inspiration for the new menu, including wine, beer and cocktails. We’ve tried to push ourselves on gin, which is very trendy at the moment, as well as vodka and rum, and we use a lot of spices and fresh fruit. People sit at the bar with an aperitif, so we’ve tried to include that more, which does work; 10 years ago, people wouldn’t have had an aperitif, but now they do. When we opened, we found that tapas and cocktails was the new fashion in England.
In what ways does Soprano offer a truly authentic tapas experience?
When people come here, they don’t need to spend £40 or £50 on one or two courses; a table of four might have between 12 and 16 different dishes, so you can try a bit of everything without it being expensive. Some people who might never order chorizo, for instance, will try it because they’re on a big table where it’s being ordered. Sometimes you go to a restaurant that serves a starter and a main course, but if one of them isn’t good or doesn’t meet your expectations, your meal is ruined. But if you’re eating 15 dishes and you don’t like one, you’ve got 14 others to choose from.
Is there a big social aspect to the restaurant as well?
People in Soprano socialise a lot; they’re chatting, sharing and talking a lot on the same table, or from one table to another, whereas if you’ve got a starter and a main course, you concentrate only on eating the food. Here, there’s always sharing and chatting because the food isn’t coming all at once; it comes and goes and people want to try the different dishes and understand what they are.
Would you say there’s a big demand for this type of dining experience in the town?
There’s a big community in Tunbridge Wells of English people who have travelled to Spain, but there was nothing for them to come back to. People who go to Spain come to Soprano to have that same holiday feeling and chat about where they’ve been.
So, is it just about Spanish food?
I think Soprano is a bit of a mix of Spain and southern Italy. People know the restaurant and want to see what’s happening. We don’t just do Spanish; we have a bit of everything. I’m not a great believer in going to a Spanish restaurant and having only Spanish food and drink, because that creates a limitation. You need to keep searching for new products, new spirits, new cocktails and new ingredients.
Finally, what are your hopes for 2016?
When we opened, we were fully booked a month in advance for the first nine months, and in a few years’ time, we’re going to be one of the oldest private restaurants in Tunbridge Wells, which we’re really proud of. We’re looking to hopefully open another place this year, but when, where and how remains to be seen. We’ve got quite a few plans, but it’s going to be completely different and not Spanish. We like challenging ourselves, so it’s important to keep changing something every year, while keeping the identity the same.
Soprano Tapas and Wine Bar
56 High Street, Tunbridge Wells,
Kent TN1 1XF
Monday to Friday
12:00 pm – 3:00 pm & 6:00 pm – 12:00 am
Saturday – 12:00 pm – 1:00 am
Sunday – Closed