London’s first Barrafina has sparked three offshoots with their own distinct personality (Drury Lane, Adelaide Street, Coal Drops Yard), but the Soho original is the one that corresponds most closely to many people’s idea of the perfect tapas bar – chorizo and chipirones, gambas al ajillo and grilled sardines, all washed down with cava and sherry, Albariño and Tempranillo.
The Hart brothers’ “unbeatable template” shows in the venue’s marble surfaces, open kitchen, red-leather bar stools and mirrors, while the food is “endlessly fascinating and endlessly enjoyable”. As a fail-safe, the Barrafina classics beg to be ordered. A trio of prawns, pale and pink, arrives fresh from a sizzle on the plancha scattered with thick slices of crunchy fried garlic. There’s more garlic in the puréed tomato dripping off a slice of toasted sourdough. Made-to-order tortilla – plain for preference, prawn and piquillo for a change – leaks egg yolk at the gentlest prod of a fork.
But don’t ignore the daily specials chalked up on the blackboard. Deep-fried artichoke flowers, prickly as sea urchins, or crisp nuggets of battered cod with a gazpacho-like salmorejo sauce are far classier than your average tapas. And save space for a slice of Santiago tart, as sweetly almondy as a glass of Amaretto.
Downsides? There’s only one. Unless you arrive before 6pm, you can forget about getting a stool at the marble bar in under an hour, though ever-charming staff are on hand to feed the queue with oozing ham croquetas and glasses of their “sublime” own-label Manzanilla (“a perfect partner for the entire menu”, as it happens). Our advice? Pop in for an off-peak lunch and plan a siesta afterwards.