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Barrafina Review

Lizzie Mabbott queues, eats and rekindles her love affair with quail

Written by . Published on August 9th 2011.

Barrafina Review

THE proliferation of places to go to on a Friday night without booking in Soho, are slowly expanding. Polpo and Polpetto remain a Venetian light in the darkness, but Barrafina has been a stalwart. I arrived at 6:30pm on a Friday night thinking surely, people don’t eat this early?

They do. They very much do. I joined the back of a long, winding queue and I looked forward to the point when they brought me a drink. Further to that, a gooey ham croquetta made appropriately with béchamel and studded with flesh was a delicious accompaniment, one needed for the 40-minute wait that we had settled ourselves in for.

Sitting at the bar, and both being enthusiastic cooks ourselves, a silence descended, as uniform tortillas were turned out from cast iron pans by the chefs.

Let’s get one thing straight. Barrafina is not, in any way, cheap. When a platter of octopus arrived, we were stunned by it’s £9 price tag. “Is that all?” asked my companion. We put the slivers of octopus in our mouths, and there in lied the question of it’s price tag. The best octopus ever. A platter of cured meats, £6 cheaper than the Jamon Iberica itself, we thought better value, and we chomped down with gusto.

Octopus with capersOctopus with capers

Sitting at the bar, and both being enthusiastic cooks ourselves, a silence descended, as uniform tortillas were turned out from cast iron pans by the chefs. We ordered a prawn and piquillo version. Bursting with slivers of potato, the omelette oozed seductively as we cut into it. I mused that together with the meat platter, a perfect lunch could be formed.

The clams had to be tried, but they were ultimately disappointing. Expecting the fruitiness of the sea, instead we were greeted by a tinge of bitterness and a feeling that the clams could have done with more cooking.

Mojama, chicory and pomegranate saladMojama, chicory and pomegranate salad

The mojama (cured tuna) tasted of ham, and that is the highest compliment I can pay it. Served with bitter leaves of chicory, the tart, tangy pomegranate seeds brought the dish together. The obligatory vegetable dish, to keep the scurvy at bay, came in the form of Coca Mallorquina, a spinach tart with pine nuts. It was strangely curried in flavour and rescued by the sweetness of sultanas. And then, the glory. My dish of 2010 was Barrafina’s grilled quail aioli and it did not disappoint tonight; the salty, crispy-skinned, punchy sauce provided ample reminder of how good it was.

The dessert list, both overwhelming and unimpressive, was superceded by a need for a refreshing and reviving brandy, if it can ever be called that; served to us warmed over a glass of hot water, our first instinct was to neck the water, but soon we found the amber nectar was what we desired. Though there were numerous people queuing for our seats, we were never rushed; instead, urged to take our time. If you’ve got half a ton to drop and a free evening, you won’t get better than Barrafina, even if you have to jostle elbows.


Rating:       17/20

Breakdown:  8/10 food
                   4/5 service
                   5/5 ambience


54 Frith Street
London, W1D 4SL


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Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.

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