54 Frith Street,
Soho, London W1D 4SL
Tel. 020 7813 8016
Food type: Spanish (Tapas)
Nearest tube: Leicester Square
We were around in London yet again and wanted somewhere casual where we could dine without the need for booking. Barrafina perfectly suited the bill and was close enough that we did not have to go out-of-the-way to get to. There are currently three branches of Barrafina in London but in the 2015 guide, the original outlet located on Frith Street was awarded a Michelin star. The restaurants do not take bookings and sitting around the counter-top is on a first come, first served basis. This makes getting a seat here even more difficult. The queues here are known to be legendary and we were there to witness it first hand towards the end of our meal. With that in mind, we started waiting outside the restaurant at 4:45pm and no problems snagging seats when the restaurant opened at 5pm.
There are two menus available. The standard a la carte menu features tapas classics and is designed by Nieves Barragán Mohacho who was around the evening we visited. You may remember her from Ramsay’s Best Restaurant TV series – she was the chef that got very p*ssed off with the hair plant by the secret diner. In addition, each outlet will also have a daily specials menu featuring just the core ingredient – the ingredients themselves are on display from where we were sat. Our waiter would explain how the ingredients are prepared.
Before we even had a look at the menu, we quickly placed an order for some jamon and pan con tomate to go with a cold glass of cava. The pan con tomate was excellent with crispy grilled bread and chopped tomatoes with plenty of err… tomato flavour. The iberico ham is sourced from Cinco Jotas and as expected was of very high quality.
When I saw carabineros on the menu, I could not resist ordering a portion. At £16.80 each, the pricing was on the chunkier side. However, the prawns did not disappoint. The chef showed the utmost respect to this priced ingredient by simply grilling it and serving it with a little salt and pepper. The prawns were perfectly timed – the flesh barely set and there was plenty of yummy prawn heads to be sucked on.
Next were some artichokes which had been deep-fried and served with a little aioli. The cooking process created a unique contrast of textures with the outer leaves crispy and crunchy while the body of the artichoke had the expected slightly firm texture. The aioli served with it had a nice garlic note to it although for me either the artichoke or the aioli (or both) could have done with a touch more seasoning.
This was followed by a tapas classic of octopus and capers. The octopus tentacles were slow-cooked and were meltingly tender seasoned with a dusting of paprika and salty, tangy capers. The dish was fine although I prefer the version served at Cambio de Tercio where the octopus has a nice charred note to it as well.
We tried another special – deep-fried red mullet which reminds me a lot of my childhood. The mullet was kept whole (head, tail and bones intact) and deep-fried to give a crispy exterior while the flesh flaked away beautifully. As a kid, I ate plenty of mullet cooked like this so it definitely scored points on the nostalgia front.
My fiancée wanted some patatas bravas but on the menu they instead had chips with bravas sauce. The chips were fine (double cooked as opposed to triple cooked) although the bravas sauce for me could have done with a bit more kick.
Our favourite dish of the day was the pluma iberica which had been sitting on the grill for quite some time, yet was (correctly) served pink. The pork had an insane amount of marbling and was like eating a slab of butter. The richness of the pork was balanced with a little piquillo pepper.
At this point, my fiancée was feeling full, but I could not resist ordering a portion of cockles. These were simply cooked with shallots, garlic and white wine sauce and finished with a little olive oil. The cockles were nicely timed and tender, and the resulting broth was delicious.
We finished with a couple of desserts – poached pears and crema catalana which were both fine. Our server was absolutely lovely and offered us a little (complementary) sweet sherry.
Here’s the thing. We really enjoyed our meal at Barrafina. We loved the casual dining concept, relaxed atmosphere and non-pretentious cooking. By the end of the meal, I was still wanting to eat everything else on the menu. If that is not praise enough for the cooking here I don’t know what is. Where I am left a bit puzzled is the award of a Michelin star. Is it seriously better than Cambio de Tercio, Fino (when it was open) or the other Barrafina outlets? To be fair, this is not the fault of the restaurant but more a problem with how erratic Michelin is. Just forget it ever has a Michelin star, order yourself a glass of cava and just eat your way through the whole menu.