Wow, a real tapas “bar”. I always think that tapas “restaurants” have an odd feel about them. I always feel under pressure to order a stack of dishes at once and conform to the “starter/main course” way of doing things. So Barrafina is a breath of fresh air. Informal, an authentic Spanish feel, with a little bit of London style.
I first learned about Barrafina from reading London Eater, one of my favourite food blogs. The bar/restaurant is owned by Sam and Eddie Hart, two brothers who also own the Spanish fine-dining restaurant, Fino. I was warned by various food bloggers to be prepared for a long queue so 10 o’clock on a Saturday night was probably not the best time to visit. We admitted defeat and contented ourselves with a great burger instead. Happily, we were in the area the next day and made it our business to be first in the queue when the doors opened for lunch. Barrafina is pretty small, offering counter space to about 20 lucky diners. However, people are welcome to stand and wait with a glass of rioja at the counter along the wall.
We ordered a couple of glasses of excellent Rioja (“Urbina”) and asked for some “Croquetas” and the “Cold meat platter“. The croquetas were the best I’ve tasted, due to the excellent quality of the smoky ham within. Our cold meat platter contained a small selection of jamon, lomo, salchichon and chorizo. At £11.50, it was not cheap, but you could taste the quality in every slice. The jamon was of the “Iberico” variety and Barrafina proudly displays it’s Jabugo provenance. Even better than the delicious (and wildly expensive) jamon I ate in Madrid last year. We also ordered “Toast with Al-i-oli“, which turned out to be just that: a thick slice of toasted bread served with a generous portion of pungent alioli.
By now, The Wife and I realised how little conversation had passed between us since we sat down to eat. Sitting at the bar counter, we were captivated by all the activity in the open plan kitchen. The lightening-fast chefs cooked and dressed plates right in front us which provided great entertainment for two people so interested in food. I’ve stayed away from chef’s counters in the past (including the excellent Bocca di Lupo) but I now think I’m hooked. It’s a full-on foodie experience.
Another advantage to having the food prepared right in front of you is that you can make better selections from the menu. We couldn’t resist one of the daily fish specials, ordered by a chap seated next to us. “Fried grey mullet with spinach, raisins and pine nuts” was sprinkled with rock salt and dressed with good olive oil. So simple and utterly delicious. We were also hugely impressed with the “Chorizo, Potato with Watercress” dish. A chorizo sausage is split in half and baked in a hot oven then served simply with some watercress and a few waxy potatoes.
The Wife admitted defeat at this point, but I couldn’t resist ordering the “Octopus with Capers” dish I had seen so many of my fellow diners order. I couldn’t finish it, but it was very tasty and obviously very fresh. But then, anything served with capers gets my vote. There’s always room for dessert, so we shared an excellent “Crema Catalana” and waddled quietly out onto Frith Street.
My only criticism of Barrafina is the unexpected 12.5% service charge they slap on the bill. I don’t think there’s a need for it, you are eating at a bar after all…
I used to think of Soho as a bit lacking when it comes to good restaurants. Plenty of choice, but nothing you’d write home about. This theory of mine is now well and truly smashed. First, Bocca di Lupo and now Barrafina. Great stuff, I’ll definitely return.
Next review is Notting Hill’s “The Ledbury“. Stay tuned…