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Jan 1, 2010 08:42 AM

Barrafina Report - London

I mistakenly posted this first in international, but it belongs here.

Just got back from a few days in London and one of the places DH and I enjoyed was this super tapas bar in Soho, near Frith and Bateman. This is a true tapas BAR.... no tables, just counter seats and standing areas (no reservations). The offerings include both the printed menu and a long list of specials, mostly fresh seafood but also a few meat specials like the plates of suckling pig we saw go by as we waited for our seats . Sadly, they were gone by the time we sat down at the counter.

We started while we waited for seats with a plate of marcona almonds and some chorizo/potato "chips" that were strips of chorizo wrapped in potato and friend -- greasy but delicious.

Once we sat down, picking our order from among the interesting looking items that were listed (and went by) was a (pleasant) challenge. We ended up ordering some classics for this trip:

-- the Gambas al ajillo -- extremely fresh, sweet shrimp with plenty of garlic slices. Rather than sitting in garlic infused olive oil, these were quickly grilled but still very garlickly.
-- Classic tortilla, made to order. Oh yum. The onions were highly caramelized and the interior of the little tortilla (a 4-5 inch individual one) was still slightly runny. Overall flavor was like a great french onion soup turned into a Spanish tortilla. Two other variations were also available.
-- Grilled lamb chops. Two, served rare, drizzled with chive oil. Delicious.
-- Octopus with capers and smoked paprika. Very good, very tender octopus.

Would definitely go back. It was fun watching the action and there were some very interesting things on offer. Seafood specials that day included giant madagascar prawns, razor clams, whole lemon sole, sea bass, small clams. Plenty of Spanish meats, including jamon carved to order.

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  1. Barrafina is great. Many people might be put off by the no reservations policy as well as the absence of tables, but I think that makes it a great place for two people to go on a whim for dinner, and once you're inside, the extensive wine by the glass list makes the wait go quickly (I order the Marcona almonds also at that point). But even though they're open late, as you found out, you really need to get there early in order to try out the nightly specials.

    1. Glad you liked it! If you manage to return, I heartily recommend their croquetas, the tuna tartare which is like diced rubies, any of the fresh seafood (razor clams were particularly good) and, of course, the jamon.

      1. Thanks for the report - do they still have the turon assortment for dessert? Do give El Piratas de Tapas in Westbourne Grove a try next time, I though their cooking was slightly more precise and refined.

        1. I too am glad that you have discovered this wonderful tapas bar. Not only is the food superband the atmosphere great, but the wine list is great as well. It's a rare thing to find a Prioirato on a list in the UK. Not only good for dinner, but smaller queues at lunchtime.
          I haven't been but am told by my significant other that Brindisa close to Borough Market is also well worth an outing?

          7 Replies
          1. re: Snufflehound

            I prefer Brindisa at Borough to Barrafina.

            But am I alone in thinking that the rave reviews of "Tapas" in London are a bit of a mystery? Is there a touch of the emperors new clothes syndrome here? Or is it that the general standard in London is still quite low, thus these are relatively good?

            Compared to Spain I find most London Tapas bars deliver average food at high prices. OK my comparator is Spain; I get excited by the food I eat in Spain (San Sebastian in particular) but leave most London places unmoved.

            1. re: PhilD

              I like Brindisa quite a lot - wish they had a bigger space. There is a very long-lived tapas place on The Cut near the Old Vic- can't remember the name. I once ate there with a friend who loves it and has been eating there since childhood. I didn't think much of it at all, but we are all different with varying taste buds and thank goodness.

              1. re: zuriga1

                It's Meson Don Felipe. I haven't been there, but also have a friend who has been eating there for years and loves it.

                1. re: Joan Kureczka

                  Thanks, Joan. Maybe I should try it again if I'm in the area. Unfortunately, Master's Superfish is just a block or so away from there.. and very tempting. My friend isn't young, so Don Felipe must have been around a long, long time.

              2. re: PhilD

                I think pricing is hard to compare, because eating out in London is much more expensive than in any city in Spain in general. But I would argue that London might be the best place in the world to eat Spanish Tapas outside of Spain.

                1. re: Malik

                  I agree about price, it is tricky to do a euro for pound conversion. But if you look at relative cost i.e. tapas compared to restaurant food I would say London Tapas are expensive.

                  You may well be correct that London tapas are the best of the rest, but that doesn't explain why people rave about them. I find most of the London bars do quite simple, quite basic dishes, there is little of the innovation or complexity you seen in good Spanish bars. The London bars are OK, and they deliver reasonable food for a reasonable price, but are they really truly good when compared to what Tapas should be?

                  1. re: PhilD

                    I agree that they're not truly good compared to the upper tier of Tapas bars in Spain, but then again they're better than the not so great places I've had in Spain. As for price, it just so happens that the tradition around tapas (served in bars, often eaten standing up, large competition, etc) means that they're particularly cheap in Spain relative to the quality of the food being served. It's a little bit like coffee in Italy where you get a cappuccino for 1 euro in the south (a bit more up north), as long as you're willing to drink it standing up.

                    I like London tapas restaurants mainly because I can find the classic tapas dishes that I may not want to make at home (tortilla for example), and for their generally simple and good treatment of seafood. On the other hand, I do find that the menus are too static, so they don't exactly encourage too many repeat visits. That's one of the reasons I like Barrafina, because at least they have those nightly seafood specials that change regularly.