Barrafina is a highly sought after, no reservations Spanish tapas restaurant down a quaint street just off the Strand. With 2 other restaurants in Covent Garden and Shaftesbury Avenue respectively, and an elegant but flirty vibe, there’s no excuse not to visit.
The large glass windows invite the diner into the light modern interior long before you walk through the door. With a maximum party of 4 and no reservations, it is very likely you will have to wait for a seat at the winding bar. The bar sits you right in front of the kitchen worktops and is the only dining space in the whole restaurant that creates an intimate and personal feel to the dining experience: one that is all about the food.
Jostling shoulders with your neighbours as you sit on the high stools watching your food being prepared is certainly not a traditional British dining experience, but there is not a better way to serve these kind of dishes. Snippets of completely different conversations mingling together creates an exciting atmosphere, very much like a real Spanish tapas bar, but with a cosmopolitan twist of the light modern interior, perfectly suited to the diverse streets of London.
I thought the best person to join me would be a Spaniard themselves to really put the cooking to the test, considering Barrafina brand themselves as being an authentic Spanish tapas bar. I am pleased to say Barrafina did not disappoint their reputation.
Over the course of your stay, you are served by one waiter/chef who works in front of you the entire time. This is lovely because you receive a very personalised service, with inclusion of a third person as much or as little as you like, who is incredibly knowledgeable about the food, the wine and the history.
I’m going to make a special dedication to the wine we drank: as a Spanish white, the Hart Bros Special Selection Albarino was beautiful; I personally have not enjoyed a wine like that in a while. Not too dry, with delicate flavours and a pleasing colour, it was a talking point.
As a starter, Ignacio and I shared a plate of pimientos de padrón; a typical Spanish dish of green padron peppers covered with crystals of salt. What is so fun about this dish is that not only are the peppers a tasty start to the meal, they also have the Russian roulette quality of every one in seven being red hot spicy. Let it be known that wine is not a suitable substitute for milk for sure…
As usual with tapas bars, the food comes out when it is ready and is great to share between friends or lovers – as I have mentioned many times before, this is my favourite style of dining for the bond and ease it creates between the people you are dining with. The arroz de marisco is a seafood rice dish, similar to paella but creamier. It was very well cooked with strong flavours, but I would have liked to have seen more seafood if I’m honest. The lubina (sea bass) took a little longer to cook, but was absolutely fantastic. Cooked to perfection over the fire and presented as the full fish, it was delectable. Sea bass is a bony fish, particularly presented in full, so be aware of the pin-bones that you may have missed when deboning it yourself, but this is no criticism to Barrafina. The one thing I would say is that it would have been nice to have had a fish knife to debone the bass, but this is something I find fault of almost all restaurants I visit when eating fish, so I’m really just nit-picking here. The skin was well seasoned and salted, allowing it to be eaten as well as the flesh, which I am a fan of. I would highly recommend the lubina, but unfortunately, this was one of the specials that day so it is most likely not going to be on the menu if you go; however, I would be keen to say that any full fish they cook over the fire is likely to be very good.
Overall, I would very much recommend Barrafina to anyone who wants something a little different and uplifting. Spanish tapas presented as it should be with an upmarket twist. I would say that it is not likely to be a casual affair if you do go, so dress well and be prepared for a bill higher than your usual; but with great wines, fabulous fish and an exciting atmosphere, it should certainly be one on your list.
What Did We Have? Between 2
Pimientos de Padrón £5.75
Arroz de Marisco £16.50
Lubina (special) £23
Hart Bros Special Selection Albarino 2014 £9 per glass/£48 per bottle