Barrafina

The thing that has always put me off about going to Barrafina, a Spanish tapas restaurant owned by Sam and Eddie Hart (the brothers who also own Quo Vadis and Fino), is the fact that you have to queue for a seat. Whenever I’ve walked into Barrafina and asked them about the waiting time, the standard response has always been 40-45 minutes. This is why I have never eaten at the restaurant even though it has been opened for a number of years.

Well I finally decided to brave the queue. Even with an early 6.15pm arrival, the wait still ended up being an hour, the boredom of which was alleviated only by the fact that you can order drinks as you stand in line. By the time we were seated, not only was I starving, I was also a little irritable after having stood for so long. But eating at Barrafina made it all worth while. It was like an epiphany, and I now understand why the crowds come back again and again and endure this exercise in patience. It’s simply because the food is so damn good.

To get us going were ham croquetas (2 for £3.50). The filling was made up of a decadent, runny béchamel sauce with ham that oozed deliciously as you broke into the crispy breadcrumb casing. These were scrumptious. Gambas al ajillo (£7.70), prawns with garlic, were moist, tasty and aromatic from the garlic.

Ham croquetas & garlic gambas

Ham croquetas & garlic gambas

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Dean Street Townhouse – Visit #2

I like Dean Street Townhouse. My last meal there (to read about that meal, click here) was very enjoyable and it’s the kind of place I’d happily go to again and again. I was especially looking forward to trying the grouse that I had spotted on their menu. Not that many restaurants in London serve grouse even when it’s in season, so it’s a bit of a treat.

To start was a soused Cornish mackerel with sea purslane (£9). As one would expect, there were wonderful vinegary properties to the fish, similar to what you would find in the Scandinavian pickled varieties. The accompanying purslane, tapenade and wafer-thin crisp breads worked well with the mackerel, although this dish didn’t feel particularly autumnal. But it was great if pickled fish is your thing.

Soused Cornish mackerel with sea purslane

Soused Cornish mackerel with sea purslane

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Koya

Koya is the hottest udon-ya in London right now. In fact, it’s the only proper udon-ya in London where a man in the basement makes the noodles by rolling them with his feet for five hours every day. The restaurant is homey and simple, with tiled floors and pinewood furniture. The tables are for sharing, and it’s the kind of place that you imagine would be fantastically warm and cosy in winter. As I walked in, I couldn’t help but be taken in by the wonderful, gentle aroma of the delicious, smelling miso soup. Perfect for the onset of the autumnal weather!

Udon noodles are the highlight here, but I wanted to try some of the other dishes as well. From the specials menu, baby clams steamed in sake (£8) were nicely cooked such that they were still firm. However the accompanying broth was extremely salty which made it quite overwhelming.

Baby clams steamed in sake

Baby clams steamed in sake

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Polpetto

Having recently gone to Polpo and enjoyed it, I couldn’t wait to try its recently opened sister restaurant, Polpetto. Perched on top of the legendary Soho pub, The French House, it is a tiny imitation of its bigger sister. Not only is the dining room smaller, the décor, with its hole in the wall look, is more subdued and relaxed. Unlike Polpo, Polpetto doesn’t come with its own bar area, so I can only guess that those waiting for tables must do so in the pub downstairs.

The menu is similarly designed to Polpo’s – barcaro type eating at reasonable prices. We started with several items from the cicheti (small bites) section. Our first choice was the duck and porcini meatballs (£1.50 each) which were divine. Packed full of rich duck and porcini flavour, the only slight drawback was that I got too much black pepper in one particular mouthful as the seasoning hadn’t been evenly dispersed throughout the meat. The meatballs came out piping hot – so hot in fact that it made me wonder if they had been microwaved before serving.

Duck & porcini meatballs

Duck & porcini meatballs

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Polpo

I’ve been past a Polpo a few times, and the queues have always deterred me from going. The restaurant operates a no-reservations policy during dinner time which means if you want a table, you have to go early, wait or get lucky. So I decided to try my hand at turning up at 6.30 to see if I could avoid the queue. But alas, it was to no avail. A 45 minute wait ensued, and I have to say, it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences. First, the bar is tiny with barely any standing space. Second, there were already loads of people waiting, which made the tiny space seem claustrophobic. Third, we were told we weren’t allowed to wait outside with drinks even though some people did. And finally, to make an unbearable situation worse, our drinks (a glass of proseco and coke) weren’t cold. The coke hadn’t been refrigerated, although we did get a glass of ice to go with it. Hmmm.

But when we finally did get a table, I found the food to be quite delightful and the prices reasonable. Polpo is a Venetian style Bacaro with tapas-style dining. We started with some chopped chicken liver crostini (£1.50 each) which was rich with the flavour of pure liver. This was very tasty but it could have done with a little acidity to cut the richness.

Chicken liver crostini

Chicken liver crostini

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Gauthier Soho

Selection of breads

Selection of breads

21 Romilly Street was previously the home of Richard Corrigan’s Lindsay House, a restaurant that I enjoyed immensely and preferred much more than his current venture, Corrigan’s. But whilst I liked the food, I was never enamoured with the building itself. A 4-storey Soho townhouse, it is narrow and tiny. Lindsay House closed last May, and the site was taken over by Alexis Gauthier, who recently left his post as head chef at one Michelin starred Roussillon. I believe the reasons for the move are complex, but from what I could gather from our waiter, Alexis now becomes proprietor as well as chef. This is a serious move as he took his sommelier from Roussillon to Gauthier Soho as well.

The dining room is sparsely finished, and with the all-white walls, the space feels formal and stiff. I also found the acoustics ill-judged. Early on in the evening, with only 3 seated tables, the room was deadly quiet. This meant that S and I ended up whispering. Girlie gossip is not something that you necessarily want to share with strangers. Later on, when the restaurant became busier and noisier, we struggled to be heard.

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Bob Bob Ricard

I liked the décor at Bob Bob Ricard, a self-billed deluxe diner. A throwback to 1930s glam, I adored the train carriage booth seating and the buttons which allowed you to call for the champagne. Nice! The marble columns and mosaic floor finish off the glamorous look.

But the décor was about all I liked about at the restaurant. My starter of scallop and shrimp pie, set in a scallop shell and topped with piped mash potato was beautifully presented. But the scallop was a bit fishy, suggesting that it wasn’t fresh. The accompanying cream sauce with mushrooms and shrimp was nice, although unpleasantly, there were bits of grit in it.

Scallop & shrimp pie

Scallop & shrimp pie

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Dean Street Townhouse

After several unsuccessful attempts, I finally managed to secure a reservation at Dean Street Townhouse! You couldn’t imagine my excitement. This restaurant has set the blogosphere alight, and I’ve been pretty keen to try it ever since it opened late last year. For those familiar with the Soho House Group (Houses include Soho House, Shoreditch House; restaurants include Cecconi’s, Cafe Boheme, Electric Brasserie), it’s pretty easy to picture how stylish it is. The restaurant is housed in an unmissable beautiful cream coloured Georgian building that seems to light up Dean Street. The interior doesn’t disappoint either, with its plush booth seating, red leather backed chairs, vintage chandeliers and a massive American-style bar that runs the length of the room. This place spells glam, and it’s been known to draw in the rich and famous!

The food is billed as British, and for starters I chose the scallops in the half shell (£10.50) which were juicy and succulent. They were covered with some finely chopped wild boar and ramson (wild garlic) that gave them a crispy finish. Lots of butter rounded off the ensemble, leaving the scallops exploding with rich, decadent, buttery overtones. However the presentation – two shells plonked on the plate with no additional garnishing – seemed dull.

Scallops in the half shell

Scallops in the half shell

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