Barrafina x 2 (London)

Back to London and eating: here is a quick report on Barrafina, the very popular tapas bar, or rather the very popular three tapas bars. The original opened in Soho in 2007 and there are now branches in Covent Garden and Drury Lane as well. Extremely popular, the original Barrafina was apparently a trendsetter in the “no reservations” blight, and even now, a decade later, people can be seen queuing up well before they open, at lunch and dinner. The missus and I ate weekday lunch at the Soho branch in late May and could only snag the last table outside, despite showing up just slightly after opening time at noon. A few days later I dined with a friend at the Covent Garden branch on a Wednesday and we got the last seats at the bar right as they opened. Does the food live up to the hype? Well, it’s not life-changing, and Barrafina is certainly not the best restaurant in London, but the food is quite good. 

It helps to be familiar with Spanish food when ordering here as the menu descriptions are not detailed and the servers are too busy to describe things well. Unfortunately, we are not very familiar with Spanish food and so didn’t do the best job of ordering at the Soho location: a few too many deep-fried things, two of which we didn’t think would be—and our server did not draw our attention to the deep-fried nature of our order. Still everything we got was very good and the portion sizes were generous. In fact, one of the dishes we ordered off the specials menu—which changes regularly—never showed up (no, we weren’t charged for it) and we didn’t regret it as we were already quite full.

At both locations—and I assume the Drury Lane branch is the same—the main action is inside (the Covent Garden location does not have any tables outside—at least none that I saw). Everyone wants a seat at the counter. At the Soho branch they do have a few tables outside and though I dislike eating at street-side tables, we didn’t want to wait 45 minutes for a seat at the counter. The servers did a good job of keeping an eye on us but it would have been nicer to be at the bar; the seats at the table may have been more uncomfortable and cramped and the sun shone directly on our faces.

What we ate:

  • Chipirones: From the regular menu. I knew chipirones were baby/little squid/cuttlefish but not having paid attention to the fact that they were in a section titled “Frituras” I was not expecting them to be deep-fried. They were perfectly deep-fried, however, to a crispy crunch, and we were not unhappy to eat them.
  • Piquillo Croquetas: From the specials menu. This is the dish we expected to be deep-fried; it was and it was also very good, filled with cheese studded with bits of sweet piquillo pepper.
  • Classic Tortilla: From the regular menu. This was really rather good, crisp on the outside and the inside oozing egg yolk when cut. A rather large portion as well.
  • Pig’s Head. From the specials menu. That’s all it said and we did not divine from our server’s rapid fire recitation that this too would turn out to be a croquette. Well, it did and even though it was rather good we were a little deep-fried out.

All this plus a glass of their house sherry—a Manzanilla bottled by Hart Bros. (not sure if this is the same set of Hart Bros. that are a familiar name to whisky drinkers)—came to just about £42 with included service charge, or just above £21/head. Not bad at all for London, especially at such a hot spot, and if you subtract the sherry it would have been just about £17/head.

Here are pictures of the Soho meal. Scroll down for Covent Garden.

Things were a little less hectic at the Covent Garden branch, which is a bit larger, and my friend and I had seats at the very end of the counter, where it was relatively quiet: nice as we hadn’t seen each other in more than a decade. Armed with the experience of the Soho meal we got a more balanced order in. Interestingly, while there is some overlap in the menus, the branches seem to have a fair bit of variance in what they offer—both on the regular menus and in their specials. I guess this encourages people to try to get to all the branches.

I ordered entirely from the regular menu on this occasion.

  • Fuet Selection: Fuet is a type of Catalan salami, I guess. Both the varieties were very good—I regret to inform that in the midst of catching up with my friend I failed to record the details of each type.
  • Pan con Tomate: I’d coveted these as they were delivered to a neighbouring table at Soho and I’m sorry to say that this was just okay: the tomatoes were fine but nothing to get excited about. A very large portion.
  • Morcilla and Piquillo Pepper Tortilla: Also large, also excellent.
  • Queen Scallop Ceviche: My friend was already full at this point and so I just got one order of this. Quite good and a dramatic presentation but not a very large portion. Just as well.

They did not charge us for a bottle of sparkling water they offered my friend as he waited for me; and no sherry was consumed on this occasion (I had to teach right after). The food and included service came to a bit less than £32 and we were quite sated.

Both meals were quite pleasurable but I’m not sure that a return to Barrafina would be high on my list on my next visit to London. If I lived in London, however, I’d probably stop in for a quick bite quite often—though probably closer to the end of the lunch service if I could manage it. Those who’ve eaten widely in Spain can tell me how Barrafina compares.

Okay, up next, another curry house, this time in Shepherd’s Bush.

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