What a beautiful week we’ve had: record-breaking temperatures and hours of uninterrupted sunshine. It was almost like being on holiday. Hours of reading outside, coming inside to find your skin a little pink despite the shade of the umbrella. With temperatures like that you can see the appeal of a siesta in the heat of the afternoon or waiting until 10pm to eat your dinner like the Spanish do. However, although it’s a Spanish restaurant, Barrafina is very much on a British schedule. There is absolutely no point in waiting until 10pm to eat there; without doubt all the specials will be sold out and you will almost certainly still have to wait in line. Then you’ll just be sunburned and hungry, nobody wants that.
The best thing to do is to arrive before they open, whether that’s the noon opening for lunch or the 5pm opening for dinner. Get there a bit early and secure your place in line. There are several locations, but Dean Street is probably the most popular because it’s held a Michelin star since 2014. When we ambled up about 4:50pm, there was already a line of about 40 people. So we had to wait. Luckily, drinks and bar snacks are available to order while you wait standing at the counter against the window, watching the world go by on one side and being enticed with sights and smells from the open kitchen behind the dining counter on the other.
Once you do get a seat, don’t make any decisions before you look at the specials menu. One of the servers will normally run you through it as well, so be sure to ask any questions. This is not a time to be shy — you may miss out on something spectacular. The stone bass esqueixada was fresh, but without the sharpness of a ceviche; the acid was muted by beautiful olive oil, creamy olives and red onions which must have been softened in citrus juice to remove their harshness. The oysters with green gazpacho were the only bum note of the meal — but it may be that I’m just not oyster-lover-enough to enjoy them when they taste like the bottom of a trawler! However, the gazpacho verde was herby, zingy and garlicky; good enough to drink — and I did! Last from the specials, we ordered the atuu adobo, which was chunks of tuna deep fried in a spiced batter with a lime mayo. The tuna was perfectly pink inside its crispy batter and the lime balanced the deep fried element.
The regular menu has plenty to offer too, with some classics like the buñuelos de bacalao (salt cod fritters), which were amped up with garlic in the fish mixture as well as in the aioli. The pluma (Iberico pork) with confit potatoes was perfectly cooked, deliciously porky and the potatoes were so silky you could barely keep them on the fork. The octopus with capers was simplicity itself, but a beautiful mix of tender and charred with punchy capers and parsley.
One of the good things about the setup at Barrafina, is that you can watch the chefs work. You can see everything that’s coming out of the kitchen and if anything catches your eye, you can just ask what it is! This is what happened with the chickpeas with morcilla ropa vieja (“old clothes”). It looked so simple, but the chef was preparing it with such care that it intrigued us. It is a classy version of what is usually a peasant dish, made of boiled meat that is shredded, thus the “old clothes”. For this version the chef cooks down bacon, chorizo and morcilla (black pudding) and serves the mixture on top of chickpeas. The chickpeas weren’t quite mashed and weren’t quite whole; they seemed to be silky and al dente at once. (As a side note, we liked this dish so much that I am trying to recreate it as I write this, so stay tuned for that.)
This is the third time we’ve been to Barrafina, but the first time in Dean Street and the first time that we could enjoy it as a proper evening rather than rushing off to a show or for a train. I love the freedom of tapas, not to mention the fresh, simple flavours and the ability to try so many different dishes in one sitting. Next time you’re in London and looking for a quick — or not so quick — stop, consider stopping at a Barrafina. Just make sure you’re there on time!