I will never pass up an opportunity to a new Spanish restaurant, especially when overseas. A two-day layover in London on a recent trip to Greece provided me with just such an opportunity. Knowing London has probably the best Spanish food scene outside Spain (due in part to its proximity to Spain, the availability of authentic Spanish ingredients, and a multitude of Spanish chefs who have “migrated” to the British Isles), I was very excited at the (hopefully) gastronomic experience I was getting ready to enjoy. I most certainly was not disappointed!
Barrafina is a modern Spanish tapas bar owned and operated by brother restaurateurs Sam & Eddie Hart. Soho’s trendy Frith Street is the home of their first of two locations. It was opened in 2007, after returning from a trip to Spain (in 2002) and wanting to recreate one of their favorite restaurants, Cal Pep, of Barcelona fame. Unlike the size of many British (and American) Spanish restaurants, this space is home to an L-shaped bar with only twenty-three stools. Their second location on Adelaide Street in Covenant Garden (which opened in 2014) has twenty-nine stools as well as an event space. Neither restaurant takes reservations (except for the event space).
The menu consists of traditional and contemporary tapas from all regions of Spain, created skillfully by Basque-born Executive Head Chef Nieves Barragan Mohacho. Sourcing the finest of ingredients from both Spain and the British Isles, her menu is replete with traditional fare. Her “specials board”, however, changes twice daily and reflects the best available for the current season.
Arriving at an hour which would be considered far too early for a Spaniard to partake of dinner (but obviously not for the Soho locals), I was instantly greeted by a cozy space with a line of folks waiting for a coveted seated at the bar. Anxious to score the perfect stool, I quietly queued up along the entry wall which sported a lengthy mirror; it served only to heighten my anticipation of the amazing food in which I was about to indulge.
A limited menu (“para picar”) served to curb the hunger pangs I was experiencing. From the hottest Pimientos de Padrón I have ever tasted to creamy Croquetas de Jamón to a humungous slice of Pan con Tomate, my palate was being teased, and I was all but ready to give into the provocateurs advances. A delicious and unique white wine from Madrid (2012 Navaherreros White) kept me in check. A short hour later I found my place at the bar and one of the most incredible Spanish meals I have experienced this side of the Iberian Peninsula.
My mother always told me, “Don’t eat with your eyes.” Sorry, mom! It was time to get let gluttony take charge. Unlike many American restaurants where you are rushed through a meal to make way for other waiting guests, Barrafina was a breath of fresh air for this Hispanophile. Take your time perusing the menu, order a couple of dishes, enjoy them, and then order more. The night is yours to enjoy!
I forget how long I sat there chatting up our Spanish server about what to order next. The list of dishes consumed was varied and delicious, from Jamón and Spinach tortilla to Octopus with Capers and Chipirones which were cooked to perfection. The crowning moment, however, had to be when the Pluma Ibérica with Confit Potatoes arrived. If you have never had the pleasure to partake of any part of the Ibérico pig, you have never achieved a gastronomic orgasm. It was perfection on a plate. Check the menu below for a more complete list of the treasures which await you.
What was also refreshing to see was a wine list built exclusively around wines from Spain. No French or California bottles dotted the list; just bottle after bottle of familiar and non-familiar blancos, rosados, tintos, and Sherry. This is a great opportunity to try wines and varietals with which you have no familiarity. Do not hesitate starting with the house wines. Barrafina has four incredible house wines (one white and three red) from varying regions of Spain. Take your time and sip through Spain. The perfect food and wine pair is just around the corner.
Interested in checking out and preparing the recipes from this amazing restaurant? Try the 2011 book, Barrafina A Spanish Cookbook. It boasts over 120 recipes with step-by-step instructions on how to create your own experience at home. But trust me, you will want to experience Barrafina first-hand, in person. Hop in line, grab a couple of tapas and glass of wine while you wait for a stool at the bar which will lead you to an unforgettable Spanish food and wine experience. ¡Buen Provecho!
Life is short. Drink Spanish wine!