When Barrafina launched earlier this year with a "no bookings" policy, 90-minute queues built up to try the London restaurant's tapas offering. Tom Vaughan managed to get a seat
Despite boasting über-cool tapas restaurant Fino as their first London site, Eddie and Sam Hart make no attempt to hide the fact that the concept behind their new restaurant Barrafina is closest to their hearts.
Eddie explains that, when looking for a site for Fino back in 2003, the original idea was to launch a restaurant similar to what Barrafina is now: a tapas restaurant with stools ranged around a central bar, based on the pair's idolisation of Barcelona tapas bar Cal Pep. However, their failure to find a suitable site for this led to the more formal, sit-down Fino, which was launched to great fanfare nonetheless.
It wasn't until a site became available on London's Frith Street that the pair could finally launch Barrafina. The restaurant, which opened in January and has 23 seats in winter with an extra eight alfresco seats in summer, an open kitchen and a fresh seafood display, virtually designed itself, says Eddie. "We knew what the main features were going to be. After that it was just a case of making sure the style wasn't going to date quickly."
A la carte
The menu features a selection of regular à la carte dishes. Spanish cold meats include jamón de Jabugo (£12.40), cecina (£4.20) and lomo (£5) from three different suppliers, one of whom Eddie calls "the man with the van", who drives up from Salamanca every fortnight. The para picar (aperitifs) include marinated olives (£2.50), caperberries (£2) and the pimientos de Padrón pan-fried peppers (£4.50), one in six of which is hot, that are gently daubed with rock salt and seem to disintegrate on the tongue.
Among the hot meats, the grilled chorizo with watercress salad (£5.50) oozes red grease like chorizo should, while the morcilla with piquillo peppers and sautéd potatoes (£5.50) is rich, soft and well-married.
The three tortillas, which have proved the most popular dishes, are classic (£4), prawn and piquillo pepper (£5.80) and jamón and spinach (£5.50) and are all cooked to order. To ensure that the onion and potatoes are cooked enough, they are all fried at length in the morning, making, in the case of the former, what Eddie describes as "almost an onion marmalade", which leaves the centre of the tortilla gooey after cooking.
The backbone of the restaurant is the fresh seafood. Two suppliers contribute to the seafood display, and only the freshest produce makes it into the restaurant. "The emphasis is on sourcing, not saucing," says Eddie. "We want the flavour to come from the freshness of the seafood, not a complex sauce. We send back fish if they don't have the brightest of eyes."
Daily specials concentrate on simplicity. There are up to 10 available at one time, and in the past these have included palourde clams (£6.50), cooked a la plancha with just salt, pepper, lemon juice and parsley large diver-caught scallops (£4), cooked in a similar style or a whole sea bream (£14), cooked a la plancha with seasoning, thyme and bay leaves.
When I visited, the specials included lightly floured baby red mullet (£6.50) - which was to battered fish what Valrhona chocolate is to the Curly Wurly bar - and cockles, parsley and chilli pan-fried in sherry and its own juices (£7), which, after polishing off the cockles, I had no shame in finishing with a spoon.
In tapas style, dessert dishes are more a sweet accompaniment to espresso than a full-blown course. Crema catalana (£4) is a Spanish crème brûlée, while Santiago tart (£4) is a popular dessert of coarsely ground almonds and quince.
The restaurant is already turning over about 800 covers a week, with an average spend of £35. But, as the critics found out, a 23-seat restaurant, a "no bookings" policy and critical success mean that stools aren't always easy to come by.
What's on the menu
Barrafina, 54 Frith Street, London W1D 4SL. Tel: 020 7813 8016. Website: www.barrafina.co.uk