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26-29 Dean Street
It might be modelled on Barcelona’s legendary tapas bar Cal Pep, but well-travelled readers reckon Barrafina Dean Street surpasses the original. The Barrafina chain is a homage to the traditional tapas bar, refracted through a very London vibe – a feeling enhanced by this handsome space (all steel, marble and mirrors) which takes up most of the ground floor of Quo Vadis. Classic croquetas, garlic prawns and grilled sardines are done to tapas perfection, deep-fried courgette flowers combine fragility with a hot spurt of grassy goats’ cheese, octopus is rendered meltingly soft and sticky from the hotplate, and Barrafina’s made-to-order tortillas, bound with barely set egg yolk, are the finest you’ll eat anywhere. To drink, an excellent choice of all-Spanish wines includes own-label Manzanilla and plenty by the glass. However, serving such “delicious and exciting” Michelin-starred food does have its downside: you need to turn up at Barrafina Dean Street before 6pm to guarantee a place at the counter, and even then you could face an hour’s wait – although it’s no hardship with a glass of rosé cava in one hand and a plate of ham croquetas in the other.
To celebrate the Year of the Woman, SquareMeal is running a series of interview profiles with top female chefs. Read here about Marianne Lumb’s colourful career as a private chef and the benefits of operating one of London’s smallest kitchens.
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SquareMeal 3 Stars
26-29 Dean Street
Tottenham Court Road Tube Station 179m
Leicester Square Tube Station 399m
Soho Theatre 38m
Prince Edward Theatre 121m
Mon-Sat 12N-3pm 5-11pm Sun 1pm-3.30pm 5.30-10pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 4
We have eaten here more than any other restaurant in London, it is always first on our list when we have a free weekend lunchtime to be filled. For some reason I never want to have to queue for dinner, but if I have to wait at lunchtime (which I rarely do because I sit outside from about 11.30am), then it is always totally worth it.
The staff are so friendly, knowledgeable and helpful (even if they have forgotten to charge us for our bottle of wine on 2 occasions - we told them and paid though)!
There are always lots of super fresh fish and salad specials, but honestly, the main draw for me is the board of hams, chorizo, lomo etc. and the ham croquetas - I adore them and refuse to share with anyone who is with me.
If you haven't been, go, you'll go back for more, I promise.
Barrafina is a lovely bar, serving tasty tapas in just the right proportions. I enjoyed the steak, the octopus with capers, tortillas and the cold meat platter. I waited for 1 hour 20 min for a table. I'm unsure if I'll be willing to wait again in the future though…That said, if you don’t mind standing in line in a cramped restaurant for over an hour, Barrafina will definitely be worth the wait.
I'll 'fess up. I'm a Barrafina fanboy. Other tapas joints come and go, but the tiny open kitchen surrounded by a ring of covetted stools has remained consistently one of my favourite places to eat. Freshly sourced food, cooked as simply as is needed, around that bright buzzy little bar. It's not one you'll often hear me recommend though, as it's another (possibly the first) of the no reservations crowd.
Get there dot on 12 for lunch and before 6pm if you need to know what time you're eating, otherwise just accept that you're going to have a wait, always. With a good glass of wine (or five) and great company the wait for a space at the bar won't be a problem but you will be there for a minimum of 2 hours. The small front of house team (most of the ‘waiting’ is done by the chefs) can be slightly stroppy and on occasions disorganised while you stand outside the hallowed ring of seats, this will be in part due to your frustrations as you inhale the tantalising fumes. They're friendly enough and endearingly quirky once you're sat at that marble counter.
Listen to the specials as they reel them off the tiny chalk board. Most are fish, different depending on the day. We started with lightly yielding razor clams doused in garlic and parsley off the board, fresh from the ice, to the grill to the plate in front of us, still alive as they hit the searing heat, a journey of no more than a metre from start to final destination.
From the same grill came tiny gamey quail, cooked well with a soft touch delivering the lightest crust. Other hits included a perfectly cooked frittata, its eggy innards oozing prawn and picante pepper, and a selection of meats, hand carved to order. So far, so excellent. If salt cod fritters, patatas and a heritage tomato salad didn't reach the dizzying heights it was because there wasn't a dizzying height needed.
A decent bottle of rose (with one or two supplementary glasses needed) and the bill came to around £50 a head. Perfectly acceptable for the quality and quantity consumed. Journey time, estimated at two hours, was closer to three, and as we finally rolled off our stools and out into mid-afternoon Soho, the queues had finally subsided.
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