Until this week I’d never been to Barrafina. Although I’d like to pass this off as the ice-cool evasion of what, for everyone else, had been the hottest thing since Josper grills, it really was just the significant failing of a professed restaurant buff. I couldn’t even recount a visit to Fino, the bigger, restaurantier brother of Barrafina, by way of consolation either. Both Michelin starred Frith Street and the younger Covent Garden joint (it’s more like Charing Cross), which opened last summer, have eluded me for reasons entirely unknown.

So when an old friend, (now a chef saddled with those famously antisocial working hours), proposed an early dinner one Monday evening, the chance arose to alleviate the Sam-and-Eddie shaped monkeys from my back and see what all the fuss was about. Best of all, it would be at a time that wouldn’t involve lingering in the doorway trying to stare diners off their stools in order to pinch their perch at the merest lift of a buttock. This was the only way to get a spot at one of the Hart’s incredibly popular, no-booking tapas bars.

At five sharp we were the first through the swish glass doors of the Adelaide Street restaurant, rewarded for our punctuality with the choice of any of the 29 red leather stools beside the impressive marble countertop. It wound a smooth curve before straightening and running the length of the room, its polished top and stainless steel trim coalescing kitchen and dining room with a magnificent shine.

We chose a couple next to an Estrella tap, with a good view of the solid top cooker and the deep fryers that prickled in anticipation of a good handful of Padrón peppers. It was all-at-once a triumph in design, spectacle and most surprisingly, ergonomics. You could sit here comfortably for hours, lower back in tact, surrounded by boards of jamón and glasses of sherry with the luxury of elbowroom and an unrestricted view of the kitchen: its rhythmical routine, its gentle clatter, its zest and vivacity clearly seen, heard, felt and ultimately, tasted. It was a sensory occasion culminating in the eating of some astonishingly good food.

Inspired by the tapas bar Cal Pep in Barcelona, Sam and Eddie Hart have recreated an authentic and extensive range of tapas – everything from stuffed courgette flowers to milk fed lamb’s brains with a long list of specials covering everything in between. Head chef Neives Barragán Mochado didn’t appear to be working this evening, but her brigade danced between each other popping lovely crab croquetas – balls of pink béchamel laced with crabmeat – into the fryers, along with finger-sized anchovies, dusted in flour and served them simply with horseradish alioli.

Simplicity of this nature relies on a certain quality of ingredient. A single carabinero – one of the most coveted prawns in world – was the size of a small lobster, cooked a la plancha with some garlic and olive oil. Squeeze its head onto some of their Quo Vadis bread, and you’ll struggle to find a mouthful anywhere that can match it for flavour. It was a fine example of what Barrafina do so well.

A board of Cecina de León- slices of air-dried beef – were as delicate as silk handkerchiefs, subtly aromatic with a lustre of olive oil. In contrast the hunk of suckling pig appeared from a hidden oven with a brittle skin that cracked like sugar work revealing its fatty meat beneath.

Little tortillas kept the line cook busy, requiring constant jiggling and flipping to perfect its dappled browning and fondant centre, sticky with caramelized onions. It was a dazzling elevation of egg, onion and potato into something quite exceptional.

Once you’ve got a stool, hang on to it. Linger, dawdle and order more. Savour it. Who cares what you spend when it’s this good. You’ll never recreate this stuff at home because it revolves around produce you’ll never find. It’s simply brilliant.

And if the desserts have been cleared and the cheese has been sampled and the bill has been paid and there’s a couple breathing down your neck so ferociously it’s untucking your shirt and it’s finally time to leave, remember not to sigh to heavily because it may just send a blizzard of freshly cut chives from their mise en place into the galley beyond.


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