Queuing isn’t for me. Unfortunately just about every restaurant in London has jumped on this damned no-reservations bandwagon. I get that it’s part of this informal Soho vibe, but most of the time you queue at these places for longer than you actually eat in them. There’s one exception to this, and that’s Barrafina. There’s a reason for the no-reservations here. It’s part of that authentic Spanish tapas bar experience. Seats around the L-shaped bar remain as difficult to get as when it first opened. Turn up as the doors open and you’ll still somehow find yourself behind a crowd of people. If you don’t get a seat, you’re invited to form an orderly queue along the back bar. But worry not, the waiters here are so good, that you’ll have a glass of wine in your hand in no time. And the wine here is really good, and really drinkable. I’ve lost count of the times that I have promised not to drink more than a glass, and then have finished a bottle of the Calcari 2011 Pares Balta (£30) before I’ve even been seated. Sometimes I get so carried away that after a good session at lunch I convince myself that work can be put aside for the afternoon and that I’m in need of a well-earned siesta. Mañana as the Spanish say. A lovely word that probably means heaven, to quote Kerouac. After enough wine here this really starts to resonate.
Once you’re seated, things get even better. First you get to watch head chef Nieves Barragan maintain a calm order and meticulously prepare the dishes. Her attention to detail is unbeleivable. I’ve seen her adjust a sauce three times with salt, almost reducing it down to adding a few grains to make sure it is perfect. And then there’s the rest of her team, who happily offer you advice as they carve away at huge jamón joints and top your drinks up. All of this before we even get to the food. The cooking reflects the surroundings- clean and with zero fuss. The best Spanish restaurants keep things simple, and here the there are no fancy cooking techniques here, just top ingredients perfectly cooked.
The Classic Tortilla (£6) is the best in London. They somehow manage keep the outer layer nice and crisp and the centre molten. It oozes out onto your plate as soon as you cut in. This beats any cold slice that you might get.
Just as good are the Ham Croquetas (£4.50), which although expensive little bites, are packed with that strong Spanish jamón flavour.
Pan con tomate (£4.10) is just as satisfying. They serve it with plenty of tomato rubbed on and a real hit of garlic, exactly the way it should be.
Also great are the Chicken Thighs with Romesco Sauce (£7.50). This sauce works just as well with fish, and really brings any dish to life. You’ll be licking that plate clean.
There’s always a good list of specials, and the seafood never disappoints. Today I went for the Razor Clams, simply grilled and served with olive oil and parsley. That’s all they need. The last time I was I had the Sea Bass with Jerusalem Artichoke Puree, Sage and Pancetta. If you ever see this on the menu then go for it, that puree will change your life.
There is no denying that Barrafina is at the higher end of prices for tapas, but then again this is Soho, not a little backstreet in the Basque region, and when the food and service is this good you really don’t mind paying. It is a great place to sit and enjoy the buzz over a couple of glasses (or bottles as tends to be the case) of wine. I’m yet to find a better Spanish restaurant in London, and it remains my favourite place to stumble out drunk, full and happy.
54 Frith St, London W1D 4SL