I shall cut straight to the chase: the new Barrafina is super good.
You need more?
Well, it’s the same as the first incarnation, really. In a ‘same, same but different’ kind of way.
Picture a long, thin, white room. Red bar stools, the occasional splash of chrome. A hard stone counter separates a throng of customers from a good handful of chefs and servers beavering away. There’s always a ham being sliced, and at least three prawns on the plancha. Sherry, fizzy beer and wine flow. It’s loud, busy and smiley. There’s a hint of Seville, but you’re actually in Soho (or, now, Covent Garden). Every four minutes or so, a punter cuts into an utterly gorgeous bronze tortilla, and gasps as it oozes gastro-sex juice from the middle: the perfect puck.
If the above seems familiar, you will know that Barrafina’s long established Frith Street site doesn’t do anything particularly dramatic or fancy. In the main, it simply cooks very good ingredients, very well.
It’s the same on Adelaide Street too. Save that there are few a subtle differences.
For whereas the original restaurant is the very embodiment of quality, timeless and, ultimately, safe tapas, at the new place we see that whilst it’s still all about well-cooked premium ingredients, many of them are decidedly edgy.
Barrafina mark II features tapas mark II. Instead of ham, croquetas are filled with crab; ham and spinach tortilla fans can now graduate to tortillas dotted with morcilla and piquillo peppers; fluent Spanish speakers may struggle to work out a few of the dishes; and others options are in plain English, but are for fifth quarter fiends – think pig’s ears, lamb’s kidneys, lamb’s brains, braised ox-tongue, and plates of mixed offal.
Over a late and leisurely lunch (the perfect time and situation), we sat confused by much of the menu, but willing to submit to it all.
We knew, of course, that chipirones are deep fried mini squid. A good-sized plate of them came in crisp, light tempura batter, interspersed with little shrimps. It needed salt and a squeeze of lemon. Both were on hand.
We didn’t know what to expect of ortiguillas. They were, in fact, sea anemone. Again deep fried, but this time a thicker, crunchier, darker batter held a soft bite of salty rock pool. I’d had them once before. I’ll certainly have them again – though they may be an acquired taste.
Slow cooked Iberian pork ribs, on the other hand, are categorically not an acquired taste. One is born to crave them; for those forbidden to enjoy, it’s major a loss. This is soft, yielding flesh packed with flavour, more than holding its own in an intense sauce. Pintxos Morunos were porkish too – chargrilled chunks of tenderloin draped with a soft and sweet sheet of red pepper. Beautiful.
What more? Good sized crab croquetas came stuffed with a white and dark meat heavy béchamel. Flawless. Papas alinadas featured tuna belly, extremely creamy boiled potatoes and a few slices of eggs. Well seasoned, and glistening with top end olive oil. As is a common theme, the magic of this was in its apparent simplicity and cleanliness.
I had sight of a quite beautiful looking bowl of atun en tomate. Divine cubes of tuna, charred on the outside, pink in the middle, coated in a thick sauce and sitting in a puddle of potato purée that looked so full of oil, it may as well have been alioli.
A handheld chalkboard displayed a few sea-based daily specials. I remember turbot, mini red prawns and maxi red prawns. The latter were, I think, simply to be taken raw with a sprinkling of salt. At £14-ish for just one, they’re a luxury for gastronauts with the deepest pockets. Reluctantly, we had to look elsewhere on the list for our treat – sand sole were delicate, lightly battered little fellas. Interesting, but maybe not as affirming as the payday loan shrimps might’ve been. Sigh.
The one so-so plate was frit Mallorquin – bits and pieces of varied offal, a few shrimps, some lengths of fennel, maybe the occasional sweet hit of red pepper. It lacked the balance and spark of the other things we had …
… but it also probably suffered because it followed the dish of the night, maybe even the year: milk fed lamb’s kidneys, which came on a hot grill, gingerly carried over from a white hot Jospar oven. The heat’s important. A quick blast provides colour, flavour and a little crust on the outside, well before the inside cooks through and toughens. That inside is creamy, heavenly, only slightly ferrous. For all the intense heat, though, it’s the freshness and, I guess, the milky feed that makes this as good a piece of offal as you’ll get in a restaurant. So, so good.
We shared a sweet plate of mini doughnuts with chocolate sauce, but that was probably one dish too far. Estábamos lledos.
Wine is fairly priced and well curated – there’s a decent amount available between £19 and £35, which feels unusual, these days. The service was attentive, friendly and helpful.
The team behind Barrafina (the Hart brothers and Nieves Barragan Mohacho) have done an impressive job. Frankly, no one would’ve batted an eyelid and, indeed, would probably have been full of praise if they’d simply replicated the original offering.
Instead, whilst there’s a familiarity in setting and overall package, the menu is bold, brave, grown-up and occasionally adventurous. It’s almost as though, for the last seven years, they’ve been prepping central London for the restaurant and, more specifically, food they wanted all along.
Can you tell I liked it? Thank goodness I made that clear at the start.
Barrafina, Adelaide St in 3 words
The lamb’s kidneys.
Expect somewhere between £40-70 per head with booze
www.barrafina.co.uk - 10 Adelaide St, WC2N4HZ – no phone