We all love Spain, right? It’s the most visited holiday destination by UK tourists. Your ever-sceptical reviewer doubts, however, that little more than a dedicated minority sip sherry while on the Costa Brava or similar. Even fewer will likely do so on their return to the colder climes of the UK. Despite its food-friendly versatility, sherry remains a difficult sell. Wine educators cannot repeat often enough that the drink is naturally dry – about as far from Bristol Cream as it’s possible to imagine.
Gourmand Gunno found himself just before Christmas at Bar Pepito, for a masterclass in sherry and tapas pairing and it was a delight to venture several blocks south of King’s Cross, to Barrica in Fitzrovia for an almost comparably good experience. Both venues share an ethos of trying to create an eating-drinking space that would not feel out of place in Spain. Barrica is a light and spacious as Pepito is dark and cramped (in a good way). In Barrica, take in the chequerboard floor, marbled counter and swinging jamons. When our group of three arrived early on a weekday night, the venue was almost deserted, but even if London is not Madrid in terms of when diners head out, by 8pm almost every table was occupied. And with good reason. Beyond the sherry selection (which extends to around 20, taking in everything from Fino to Pedro), there is a credible wine list and around a dozen competitively priced cocktails.
In terms of the food, don’t necessarily expect boundary-pushing at Barrica; more very solid execution of proven classics. Boquerones (white anchovies) set the scene for what was to come; their salty tang pairing off superbly against a dry Manzanilla-style sherry. The mixed charcuterie board showed some inspired choices and we loved our chilli and garlic-infused prawns, but when it came to the venue’s specials, this was where Barrica really sang. A smoked aubergine and octopus salad was a novel take on two quite basic ingredients, yet the chef managed to combine smoke, salt and spice in each mouthful. With Amontillado sherry, this worked a treat. It got better too. Dish of the night was braised ox cheeks served in a Pedro Ximinez (sweet sherry) reduction. This was comfort-food par excellence; the sort of dish you want almost to sink into. One dining comrade described it as “heaven”; the other as “absolutely stunning” – praise indeed! Paired with Oloroso sherry, it was sublime. Pricing throughout was fair; £7-10 for each drink and a similar amount for the tapas dishes. Sure, the bill will add up, but it’s certainly worth it.