There’s a lot not to like about Barrafina. For instance: the layout, which sits precisely 29 diners behind a cramped L-shaped counter. Everyone else waits – for up to two hours! – directly behind them, getting in the way of pained-looking hosting staff and audibly wishing the people ahead of them would eat a bit faster. Meanwhile, Hoppers next door and Flat Iron round the corner are deploying virtual queue systems to excellent effect – the nearby pubs are awash with happy diners-to-be sipping glasses of wine while they wait for their table to be ready.
Other black marks: it won’t sit groups of more than four, and the staff wear branded polo shirts. Bag hooks are positioned, irksomely, right in between your legs. There’s no music. And, despite the counter-style dining, you don’t get a proper butcher’s into the kitchen. The reward for not being able to properly look one’s dining partner in the eye is a chaotic view of staff ringing up orders and fannying around with micro-herbs.
But but but. But. All is forgiven when the food actually appears, in dribs and drabs, as tapas is wont to do. We devoured bread, olives and a bottle of cava in the queue, shuffling awkwardly up the restaurant every ten minutes or so. We also had a pair of Ham Croquetas (£5.00) without which I would have sacked off the whole enterprise and gone to Ceviche over the road. Those two gently but firmly crusted globes of gooey goodness were a promising overture to what would promise to be a magnificent symphony of flavour. (God, I’m gushing. Hold on to your hats, it’s only going to get worse.)
Pan Con Tomate (£3.50) was one of the first off the blocks and reminded me a lot of the epic bruscetta I had in Italy, in that both dishes comprised toast and sweet, zippy tomatoes in a luscious scarlet. It was shortly followed by an expensive but nevertheless magnificent courgette flower, stuffed with soft, light goat’s cheese to the point of borderline obscene seepage. It’s not really designed to be shared, but we did, because a) the dish is a ticking fat bomb and b) it costs £7.80. For one. A friend of mine has recently taken to gardening and has started producing courgettes in alarming numbers. They’ve gone full Triffid. The other day she told me she throws the flowers away and I nearly smacked her.
I adored the Grilled Quail with Alioli (£9.00), but then anything with garlic mayo is a bit of an easy win with me. Rosie suggested the Baby Gem Salad with Anchovies and Smoked Pancetta (£7.50), which I would never have picked out myself but which I’ll certainly pick out in the future. The leaves were lightly charred with softly wilted edges, enthusiastically doused with a garlicky dressing and topped with the aforementioned meaty bits, the pancetta crispy and the anchovies subtle.
Other treats included octopus (£9.80), which was cooked slowly to achieve a meaty, succulent texture and dressed with smoky paprika, olive oil and capers. We ordered a scary-looking cuttlefish and chickpea dish off the specials board, the key ingredients trapped in a thick, sludgy squid ink sauce. It reminded me slightly of the highly distressing scene in The NeverEnding Story when Artax gets sucked under the swamp. Fortunately, the dish was much less traumatising, delicious even, despite its unappetising resemblance to nobbly tar.
So Barrafina deserves a spot on every committed foodie’s bucket list, but, as ever, my advice is to avoid the queue. Queues suck. You have better things to do. (If you need tapas at peak time, try Copita, which doesn’t have a Michelin star but is still very good.) Save Barrafina for a staycation, or a day you can get off work early (arrive before 5:30pm to beat the worst of the rush).
Rosie, who’s been worshiping at Barrafina’s alter for much longer than I, suggests volunteering for one of the less popular outdoor tables, which sit below powerful heat lamps. According to her it’s a pleasant spot even in the depths of winter, though she may be biased as outdoor tables mean she can have a fag whenever she fancies. (How very European.)
Barrafina, 54 Frith St, London, W1D 4SL
Photo credit: Rosie.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.