Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Review: Barrafina Frith Street

Snap Decisions

Cecina de León, or air dried beef at Barrafina

I'm spending a few days near London before flying to Bangladesh for the winter, and so I'm taking the chance to catch up with friends in different parts of the city. I stopped at Barrafina last night with a friend - completely unplanned and more as the first stop of many during the night as we met up with various other friends. As such, we didn't have a full meal but I wanted to write a quick review nonetheless. Barrafina had always been on my recommended list for good tapas, but until recently I flew to Spain so often I never really made the effort to visit. 

The interior is small, brightly lit and seats no more than a couple dozen people on stools around a bar/kitchen while people queue near the wall behind them. There are another three or four tables outside, with overhead heating for the winter. I hadn't realised the nature of the venue before walking in, and it was close to Christmas so the queue was long. We were quoted an hour waiting time, but were offered drinks and nibbles to pass the time. Normally I would have left due to both the length of the queue and the seating arrangements, but while we stood around thinking about alternatives we were told they had a table free outside. Living in Scotland makes London feel quite summery (even in December!), and we though why not since we weren't going to be there for more than an hour.

Service was quick once we were seated, but the waiter seemed disinclined to translate any words on the menu that weren't in English. At the very least he pointed out that the Cecina de León was the only non-pork item in the cold meats section, so we asked for that and then stuck to dishes listed in a manner we understood. We went for grilled quail with alioli from the regular menu and "gambetas" from the specials. For some reason our waiter was suddenly happy to translate again, explaining that "gambetas" were fried prawns served with a wedge of lemon. We rounded off our list with grilled artichokes and bread, as despite my love for meat I'm always a little uncomfortable without vegetables at the table. 

Gambetas, or deep fried, lightly battered prawns

The Cecina de León arrived first, accompanied by the bread. This was my first time trying cured meat as I'd only ever come across ham in Spain. I can't comment on the quality without prior experience, but I can report that the meat was salty, and more firm and chewy than I would have expected from such thin slivers. Definitely something I'll be looking out for again. The gambetas were good, crunchy with edible shells and all, but nothing above what I'd expect from an above average bar in Madrid. 

Grilled artichoke

There was a short but not particularly noticeable gap between the first two dishes and the artichokes, possibly explained by the cooking time. I was disappointed by the portion size but the artichokes themselves had that melt-in-your-mouth consistency I've never been able to achieve myself. The dip served with it was generously proportioned, which was good to see after experiencing minute condiment portions at other Michelin venues. Now if only Barrafina served a little more artichoke this dish would have been perfect!

Grilled quail with alioli

The quail was the last dish arrive, following on shortly from the artichokes. It was very good - flavoursome and tender. The meat was just a little too pink for my liking but I would still say it ended the meal on a high. The dip served alongside was similar to what we'd had with the artichokes and again proportioned correctly to be eaten with bread. I refrained from asking what it was though after the previously uncooperative ordering experience with our waiter. 

Fairly happy with the food we asked for the bill, which came to £41.50 for the four dishes described above, two portions of bread and two lemonades. Each of the tapas we'd ordered were the cheaper £7-£8 dishes, and each portion of bread cost £2 leaving me to guess that our lemonades cost around £3 each. If we were having a full meal, I'd expect to pay another £25 or so for a few more tapas or one or two of the expensive dishes. By all means consult the menu to work out exact costs, but in my opinion this place will cost £35 a head least, without alcohol. A little expensive for the food being served. They charge a discretionary 12.5% service on top of the total bill, which is ridiculous considering the majority of the clientele are seated around a bar. I paid part of it as I was seated at a table, the deduction made for the translation debacle at the beginning of our meal. Unfortunately, this led to the waiter telling me that I was paying the wrong amount, and this is reflected in the low service score below. 

I'm not sure how this place earned a star. I'm not going to complain about the venue as it is in fact typical of certain establishments in Spain, and in a way the more Michelin embraces diverse venues the better. The food is good, but hardly exemplary.  Barrafina is, ultimately, the kind of restaurant I would return to if it were local, cheaper and had shorter queues. Unfortunately, the wealth and hype in cities like London tend to distort that reality, as is evident from the restaurant's popularity. 

Food: 6.5/10
Service: 4.5/10
Atmosphere: 6.5/10
Value: 6/10

Final Score: 6/10

Contact Information
A: 54 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4SL
T: N/A
W: www.barrafina.co.uk

NB. The final score, while influenced by the sub-scores, is a qualitative reflection of my overall impression the establishment.

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