I’ve passed the Barrafina in Adelaide Street many times. It’s on my frequent route from Waterloo, via Hungerford Bridge and Villiers Street, as I cut up Adelaide Street from The Strand and into Covent Garden. It always looks inviting and I’ve always been on my way somewhere else. The second of three Barrafinas in the capital, it won Best Restaurant at the National Restaurant Awards earlier this year so I knew I’d have to go sometime and last night provided the perfect opportunity. I was on my way to meet some friends from the London Italian Meetup Group at the Royal Opera House to see La Nozze di Figaro. We were meeting at 6.20pm and the opera was to finish at 10.35pm. There was no way I would manage a whole evening without food! A couple of plates of tapas early evening seemed ideal. I wouldn’t want to eat a lot … but I would want to eat something!
The long queues at this no-reservation restaurant are now legendary but as I went in not long after they opened for the evening at 5pm, there was no problem getting a seat (by the time I left near 6pm it was very busy indeed). There is a long, long marble-topped bar that curves round towards the back and overlooks the cooking area.
It occurred to me later that some of my best meals in recent years have been sitting on stools at bars overlooking kitchens – Bocca di Lupo, Palomar. And, of course, when you’re on your own it’s perfect. Also perfect was the welcome. It was so warm that it was almost as if I was a regular. But there was nothing over the top about it. Just nice. Inside the restaurant is sleek and sophisticated but warm and cosy too. The bar stools offer red leather cushioned comfort where one could happily sit for a long time.
I was given a small board with specials on it but said I wanted something light; just a couple of small plates before I went on to the opera. I ordered a drink while I looked at the menu.
It felt like sherry would be a good choice as I was in a tapas bar and there was a good selection but I do like my fizz so I went instead of a glass of cava: Pares Balta Brut Cava (£5.50), and it was delicious. The menu was so inviting with lots of tempting dishes but pretty much immediately I decided on Salt Cod Fritters (£6.50) because I love salt cod dishes. I thought a salad would be good to go with it and the salads were very exciting. What to choose? The waiter helped and suggested Fennel, Comice Pear & Radish (£6.80), which was an excellent suggestion. Would that be enough? I asked him. (When you first visit a place you’ve no idea of plate sizes.) Yes, he told me, but you can always order more later if you want.
The fritters were wonderful: the salt cod coated in a good batter flavoured with chilli and herbs. On the side was a pot containing a kind of tartare sauce – and a very good one. These came slightly before the salad. When that came it was a fairly large plate, which I didn’t manage to finish – so plenty for two.
This was stunningly good. It was one of those occasions when you wonder how something so simple, with so few ingredients, can taste that good. Of course, I love all the ingredients in themselves – and fennel particularly is one of my favourite things – but there was a wonderful freshness about it … this was no salad that had been hanging around; this was freshly put together. The pear was at perfect ripeness and sweet and slightly soft against the crunchy aniseed fennel; the radishes bringing a peppery bite. It was all wrapped in a delicious dressing of olive oil and lemon, flavoured with chopped fresh herbs. It almost hurt me to leave some but I really was full before I finished.
I’ll definitely have to go back and next time with some friends as there are so many dishes I want to try and it’s good to have a few people so you can order a few plates and share. There were some lovely fish dishes on the specials menu as well as the main menu, but also of course wonderful Spanish hams, suckling pig, tortilla. Lots of gorgeous things, top-notch cooking, fabulous atmosphere, friendly. Well my enthusiasm abounds … it really was as good as I’d been hearing. I could have stayed happily longer but the opera and Italians called …
And really, there are few things nicer than some great food followed by a visit to the amazing and beautiful Royal Opera House, especially with a good group of people and to see Mozart’s delightful Marriage of Figaro.