As I was in London for the UK Blog Awards this past weekend (no luck) it gave me the opportunity to try the highly acclaimed tapas bar, Barrafina. Supposedly based on Barcelona's most famous Tapas restaurant CAL PEP, Barrafina has exploded on the London restaurant scene which was acknowledged by the Michelin guide in awarding it a star. I didn't really know what to expect from a Michelin starred tapas bar, as a frequent visitor to Andalucia I have been in my fair share of tapas bars and restaurants. Most of them great. Tapas bars have a unique atmosphere and feel from the Iberico ham hanging from the ceiling, the relaxed atmosphere provided by patrons sipping on small glasses of ice cold Estrella Dam and the bar itself provides an eating experience that is excellently uncommon.
The atmosphere of the restaurant provided all of the above and more. Due to every seat being taken the the space was buzzing with a mixture of lazy lunchers, businessmen and singles not caring they were by themselves. Barrafina operates a no booking policy on a first come first serve basis. As it only opens for lunch from 12-3 you are one of the lucky ones to get seated straight away as all 3 of their restaurants are always queued out the door. We arrived at 2 and not surprisingly we had to join the queue. This isn't exactly hard work though as they provide standing benches around the outskirts of the restaurant to place your beer and whatever bites you choose to sample while you wait. We went for Charcuterie.
Just as our Charcuterie arrived we were informed we could either continue to wait for a seat at the bar (where you can see absorb the theatre of the open kitchen) or have a seat outside. We had no problem seating outside as it was a positively balmy afternoon and the seats were directly under heaters. Plus what we missed in looking at the open kitchen we gained in people watching through the hustle and bustle of Soho. Not a bad way to spend a Friday afternoon.
The stand out of the charcuterie platter was the Iberico ham which was a rich, salty and marbled with the fat of gods.
The next dish was the potato croquettes, perfectly crispy that oozed bechamel with more salty chunks of the fantastically rich Iberico ham. Probably the best croquettes I have ever had.
Next up were deep fried baby squids that were doused with freshly squeezed lemon. Salty, crispy and only just cooked making them what can only be described as crack snacks. Hard to find something better to accompany an ice cold beer.
When we arrived at the restaurant it became evident that there was a favourite dish among the clientele. Nearly every spot along the bar had a wooden chopping board with paprika coated Octopus. Having never cooked Octopus before I didn't know it was possible to cook it in such a way that it could be cut with a spoon. Dressed simply in olive oil and lemon juice along with a sprinkling of capers that counteracted the rich and smokey paprika, a truly fantastically simple dish that shows great ingredients cooked well need much else.
For me, the cuttlefish with Arroz Negro was the most attractive looking dish of the day. Spanish rice cooked in squid ink that gave it it's shiny black appearance. Topped with seared cuttlefish the dish was quite metallic tasting which I presume derived from the ink. Probably a dish I wouldn't order again but glad I did.
The last main dish was Red Snapper tempura with Aioli which was undoubtedly my dish of the year. The freshness of the fish was second to none which was lightly fried in a crisp tempura batter. The aioli brought an intense lemon and creaminess to the fish, I wish I had ordered two portions.
I believe it's impossible to go to a tapas bar and not order Patatas Bravas. Bright yellow chips cooked in olive oil (just like in Spain) served with a vibrant tomato-based chilli sauce. What's not to like?
Overall Barrafina proved to be one of the best meals I've enjoyed in some time. Given the restaurant's popularity, location and Michelin Star you are never going to assume a cheap meal. Most dishes are probably on average £10 and you are going to want lots. Our bill came to £160 with 4 drinks each, however, paying for food and service (which was as good as the food) of this standard is not something I begrudge one bit.