Barrafina, London

The first thought that will pop in your mind when you walk past this restaurant is probably “Why is there a massive queue?!”. The second thought would probably be “What is the name of this restaurant? I have to try it!”. Barrafina is one of those places that you-either-know-it-or-you-don’t. Nothing on the outside gives any indication to what the restaurant is called, nor what they serve. Well, it is a Spanish tapas restaurant bar located in the heart of Soho. It seats 23 people around it’s L-shaped bar with chefs cooking up a storm behind the bar. Barrafina does not take reservations so you’ll definitely be able to get a table…if you’re willing to wait. The picture above was taken at about 5pm, 30 minutes before the restaurant opened for dinner…

My dining partner and I arrived at the restaurant at approximately 6pm on a Saturday night and were standing out in the rain. The wait staff came out and told the people standing outside the restaurant (us included) that the wait would probably be about an hour. The couple in front of us were astonished, and decided to leave. The waiting time came as no shock to us because we heard that it was normal to wait about an hour and a half for a meal at Barrafina.

When we were finally shuffled into the restaurant and stood by the waiting area, watching the other diners at the bar enjoy their tapas. We decided to order two glasses of wine wine, and some pre-tapas starters to prevent our bellies from consuming itself.

The toast and aioli was okay. I think the aioli would have been better if it was more flavourful but there was nothing special about it so I shan’t dwell on it too much. The ham croquetas on the other hand, mmmm. It was very creamy and rich on the inside, hot toasty and crispy on the outside. One of the best I’ve had in a long time. We wanted more but decided to save our appetite instead…

The wait was long and tortuous. We spent the rest of the time counting the number of people in front of us, guessing where they were from, what they were doing. We started predicting who would leave the restaurant and how long the guests will take to eat. Our legs started to ache, and we desperately wanted to sit down. “The food better be damn bloody good” was what we kept saying at regular intervals. After waiting for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, there were finally seats available for us.

First up, we had the cold meat platter

To be honest, I didn’t know what I was eating because I couldn’t hear the waiter when he was describing the meats to us. It tasted good nevertheless, but at £13, I think it was a pretty skimpy platter of cured meats.

We had the clams (specials for the day) and gambas al ajíllo (garlic prawns) and jamón with spinach tortilla next…

The clams were really good, fresh and full of flavour. The garlic prawns were moist and aromatic. I think that the prawns were slightly salty, but it was tasty nevertheless. The tortilla was good. I’ve not had authentic spanish tortilla since I was in Spain. It was a little salty as well, but I’m assuming that it was because of the jamon.

Next, we ordered the Octopus with capers, Chips with brava sauce, Tuna tartare and the Sirloin steak with piquillo peppers and la peral.

My dining partner was adamant when I wanted to order the octopus, but I was insistent because I have not had a good octopus dish in a long time. We were not disappointed at all. The octopus was fantastic. I think it was the highlight of the meal at Barrafina. It was tasty, tender, not chewy at all. I wished there was more of it though.

We ordered the chips with brava sauce because we thought that a Spanish tapas meal would be incomplete without it. It was nice, the chips were crispy and it was not too salty. However, we both agreed that we would have preferred it better if it was potatoes with brava sauce instead…

The tuna tartare has to be taken with the avocado puree. By itself, the tuna tasted a little too salty for me and reminded me of tuna sashimi dipped in a lot of soya sauce.

The sirloin steak was very good. We ordered medium rare and it was served medium rare (which rarely happens at restaurants – it’s always too cooked for me). The meat was thick and juicy. The piquillo pepper was sweet and both the pepper and the cheese complimented the steak very well.  Even though Barrafina is not a steak place, the meat was very very good and I really really enjoyed it. However at £24.50, I would probably order something else the next time, and have steak at Hawksmoor instead.

Desserts: Chocolate tart and poached pears in red wine with marscarpone cream

There isn’t much crust in the chocolate tart so you’ll be getting a lot of chocolate out of this. The chocolate was sweet, with a tinge of bitterness exactly how good chocolate should be. It was creamy however not too rich and sickly. I loved the poached pear. I love any poached pear dessert, so maybe I am a little biased. The marscarpone cream was probably too much for us by then though, we finished the pears and left most of the cream behind.

We also had a bottle of Rioja Reserva 2007 Remelluri (90% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, and 5% Garnacha). It was aged for 16 months in neutral oak with black fruit aromas. It was rich and well balanced and we enjoyed it very much.

Barrafina is a lovely bar, serving tasty tapas in just the right proportions. Will I be back at Barrafina again? Well, I don’t know. I hate waiting and the thought of standing around for 1 hour and 20 minutes turns me off completely. The food is good. But I’m not sure if it’s that good. Barrafina has a sister restaurant, Fino, that does reservations. I think I will give Fino a try in the future, and if it’s good (or good enough), I will probably not return to Barrafina again. That said, if you don’t mind standing in line in a cramped restaurant for over an hour, Barrafina will definitely be worth the wait.

Ambience: 2.5/5 Forks (noisy, crowded, which is typical of any bar I guess)
Service: 3/5 Forks (wait staff seemed a bit overwhelmed)
Food: 3/5 Forks
54 Frith Street


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