Eat+Drink

Enjoy the food. Savor the conversation.

Barrafina (London)

Barrafina
37 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4SL
www.barrafina.co.uk ($$$)

Eat AND Drink: Tapas restaurant that revolutionized the restaurant industry in London a decade ago is still a must-go destination for food lovers.

 The only sign that you are at Barrafina is a small name on the front door.

The only sign that you are at Barrafina is a small name on the front door.

I first visited Barrafina shortly after its opening in 2007.  The casual, no-reservations, counter- seating-only tapas restaurant that places you feet from the chef's restaurant would go on to revolutionize the London restaurant scene and remains one of Soho's favorite destinations 8 years later. 

 You know you've reached status when you don't even have to put your name on the restaurant to be overflowing with hungry diners.

You know you've reached status when you don't even have to put your name on the restaurant to be overflowing with hungry diners.

This year marked my 5th or 6th visit to Barrafina, and I am thrilled to say that it remains my absolute favorite restaurant in the world, having lost none of the quality despite enduring popularity. 

 A maximum of 23 customers at a time are waited on by the bustling staff.

A maximum of 23 customers at a time are waited on by the bustling staff.

With only 23 seats at an L-shaped counter, customers line up for open stools, during which time they can watch the flurry of dishes pass in front of them while enjoying a pre-meal glass of wine or cocktail. Usually, by the time you are seated, you have a good idea of what you want to eat. 

 The catch of the day are on display for you to select from.

The catch of the day are on display for you to select from.

But the printed menu is only half the story, with an extensive selection of daily specials to take advantage of the freshest fish, seafood, and vegetables available. Typically half of my order comes from the specials menu. 

 With an extensive Spanish wine list, you can sample any by the glass selections before ordering.

With an extensive Spanish wine list, you can sample any by the glass selections before ordering.

The food is complemented by an extensive selection of Spanish wines, many available by the glass or bottle. Even though the turnover is fairly rapid for such a fine meal, the staff never make you feel rushed and will answer any and all questions. 

 The charcuterie plate is to die for!

The charcuterie plate is to die for!

The real key to Barrafina is in the flavors! The charcuterie platter features a selection of very tasty cured meats. 

 Ceviche scallops.

Ceviche scallops.

On any given night, there is a selection of market fresh scallops, prawns, or if you are really lucky, razor clams (I wasn't so lucky this visit). 

 The grilled octopus is one of the signature dishes - so tender and flavorful!

The grilled octopus is one of the signature dishes - so tender and flavorful!

Easily my favorite dish is the grilled octopus. So tender with just a hint of spice and saltiness from the capers. I took a peak into the Barrafina cookbook to discover the secret is to boil the octopus for 5 hours before grilling it! 

 If heirloom tomatoes are on the specials board...you owe it to yourself!

If heirloom tomatoes are on the specials board...you owe it to yourself!

Your best bet for vegetable dishes is straight from the specials board. These heirloom tomatoes were huge and bursting with flavor that you can never get from a store bought tomato!

 One of the original signature dishes, portuguese sausage on roasted potatoes. 

One of the original signature dishes, portuguese sausage on roasted potatoes. 

And even though I was bursting at the seams by the time the roast potatoes with sausage arrived, I made sure to not leave a single potato or watercress behind! 

Barrafina cracked the code of high-end casual dining years ago - the courses were well paced out and reordered to make the most sense flavor-wise. You can order all at once or start with 2-3 dishes and go from there as something new catches your eye. Given the sheer volume of food my dinner guest and I ordered tonight, our food bill only tallied just over $80 for the two of us and we were well satiated.

Success has led to rewards - from opening two sister restaurants within 5 minutes walking distance (Covent Garden and Drury Lane), to the awarding of a Michelin star (a feat nearly unheard of for a "casual" dining experience).  Word has it that the original Frith Street location might be moving around the corner, but hopes are that all the ingredients that make this a winning and unique dining experience remain unchanged.