|Barrafina in Soho, London|
It's always good to see the owners tucking in with gusto when you visit a restaurant. As were Sam and Eddie Hart at their tapas bar, Barrafina, recently. OK they were hosting a journalist but there was no evidence of special treatment other than they seemed to be working their way through the whole menu. That says a lot for the Harts' confidence in the food and their chefs. I have to say, having eaten at Barrafina a number of times of late, it's not misplaced.
That's not to say they do everything right. For me, the bread used for the Pan con Tomate is neither correct nor light enough, and you can pay quite a premium for some of the 'Specials'. Although portion sizes of these dishes are more raciones than tapas. A dish of Middlewhite Pork Leg with barely wilted baby spinach leaves on a recent visit was £14.80 and, tender Ryeland Lamb Shoulder with sweet fresh peas was £16.80. They were undeniably delicious but neither cut of meat is expensive to buy. That said, the ingredients are good, and the chefs cook up a storm right at the mid-section of the bar. There isn't a bad seat in the house.
Most of the tapas average around £6.50. Gorgeous individual Classic Tortillas are cooked to order and served up with just the right amount of ooziness. Ham croquetas deliver the essential crispy outside to yielding inner and the super-fresh fish is proudly displayed on ice. Recently, chipirones were particularly tasty and razor clams were beautifully flavoured with a zesty gremolata. Wines are good value, Finca Manzanos at £4.00 a glass and Cuatro Rayas 2009 at £4.80 for instance, though you can drink more adventurously and expensively, and there are sherries of course. A 12.5% discretionary service charge is added to the bill. I've never spent more than £30 a head here.
The Hart brothers were influenced by visits to Spain with their Mallorcan mother and cut their teeth on their restaurat Fino in Fitrovia. I have to say I wasn't a fan but the influence of their visits to Barcelona's Cal Pep tapas bar is clear at Barrafina and, for me, the Harts have produced something even better than this Barcelona institution. I think I know what the best tapas bars have in common. Obviously the quality of the food and drink and good staff are the core. The regular presence of the owner(s) matters a lot and chefs cooking right in front of the customer adds to the pleasure (on both sides I think). The ratio of chefs to waiting staff seems to be a factor. In London, at both Barrafina and my other favourite, Josẽ in SE1, the chefs outnumber the waiters, and in both the food is top notch.
Barrafina has the buzzy atmosphere you expect in the heart of London's Soho. Staff are welcoming and clearly happy to be there. You're likely to have to wait in line, but it's worth it. It's a beautiful bar, well located, and I'm confident you will have as good a time there as I do.
54 Frith Street
London W1D 4SL
Tel: 020 7813 8016