Barrafina, Frith Street

Knowing that Barrafina spearheaded the no-reservations trend, I was determined to beat the Friday evening crowd by getting there for 5pm. However, this enthusiastic effort proved futile since my friend was delayed and incomplete parties can’t be seated. So I patiently waited for him, and then another 45 minutes before we were shown to our counter-side stools.

Ambiance and decor

The restaurant is small, with 20-25 covers facing the bright, bustling open kitchen. A shelf runs around the back wall, where you can stand and have a drink with a snack while you wait. The interior is well lit and feels intimate, despite the long queue and constant toing and froing of the wait staff. Perfect for people-watching in warmer weather, the terrace was pretty empty on my visit.

Service

The bar and wait staff were laid-back, clearly explaining the concept and what was in store. They were literally rushed off their feet, yet took the time to advise on wines and make conversation with everyone in line. Like in Spain, the dishes can be ordered all at once or in stages; we went with the latter and were able to enjoy them at a leisurely pace since there is no mention of table turnarounds. The only issue was when one of the chefs accidentally knocked over one of our drinks, which contained water and not red wine, thankfully.

Food and drink

Our chosen tipple was a bottle of spicy, fruity red wine. This was followed by a portion of ham croquetas with a surprisingly light batter and a cheesy filling which oozed out as soon as you take a bite.

Next up was the prawn and red pepper tortilla. Although this was pleasant enough, I was underwhelmed as I’d expected the flavours to be much bolder. My personal highlight was the tuna tartare, accompanied by an avocado mousse. The sesame seeds scattered over both fish and fruit skilfully tied them together and added some interesting depth. Until this point, I hadn’t felt like I was eating Michelin-quality food, but this raw number triumphantly silenced my minor quibbles.

Our final dish was the lamb sweetbreads. Each morsel was juicy and rich, and coated in a generous amount of herby sauce, which was mopped up with bread. I tend to give bread baskets a wide berth since they fill me up too quickly, but these thick slices had an irresistible crunchy crust and super soft centre.

Verdict

All in all, I enjoyed Barrafina and plan on visiting the Adelaide Street and Drury Lane branches to work my way through the menu, including their tempting specials. While the dishes were to my liking, I’d expected to be wowed by more than just one. The friendly service created a relaxed atmosphere, which is no mean feat when it’s so busy. However, this means that the noise levels do rise during the evening, so I’d recommend going for a quick catch-up if you can get there for a reasonable time, otherwise be prepared to wait.

Budget: £35 pp, including service.

LinksBarrafina, Frith StreetBarrafina, Drury LaneBarrafina, Adelaide Street

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