Barrafina, Drury Lane: The Small Joys of Small Plates
There’s something delightful about small plates. Blame it on my Indian heritage, but I’m all for culinary cultures that are centred on sharing. It’s also probably why Dim Sums, Sushis, and Tapas feature high in my list of all-time favourite dishes.
So, apart from the raving reviews I have heard about Barrafina, I was eager at the prospect of dabbling in different delicacies, the traditional way of indulging in Spanish Tapas. With the father in town, that only meant one thing: more food!
Since one can’t make reservations, I popped in earlier that morning to check what time one should arrive. “You’re back!,” joked the waiter, upon our return that afternoon: a small, yet sincere gesture. Word is we picked the perfect time to come, since a group of four had just finished their meal, which opened up enough spots for us to be seated at the rectangular bar.
The open bar makes for an intimate setting where you can see your food being cooked right in front of you. The whitewashed walls and furniture made for a light and perky ambience that is perfect for lunchtime.
Our waiter meticulously explains the specials, which change twice a day for lunch and dinner, making each dining experience unique. We pick the Grilled Fish and Calamari from the specials, and the Crab Bun and Baby Gem, Botarga, Walnuts, Pancetta & Manchego salad from the menu.
A glass of white wine is the perfect companion to our seafood-heavy meal.
The fish is cooked to perfection – the skin is thin and crispy without a hint of oiliness, and the meat is soft and lightly flavoured with herbs and lemon.
The Crab Bun, according to our waiter, is Barrafina – Covent Garden’s claim to fame. Yes, even the menus vary across their other branches in Soho and Trafalgar Square – in case anyone dare call them a chain restaurant! One bite into the bun will tell you why this is their menu’s star dish. The crab is soft with a buttery garlicky tanginess. It goes so well with the bun that I’m almost wondering why Crab Burgers aren’t a thing yet.
While taking turns between the fish and crab, arrives our Calamari, which has a suspiciously dark sauce for someone who’s never tried Squid Ink. But after trying it for the first time here, I’m almost worried it will never taste as good again! Cooked in a bisque style, this sauce has a fusion of flavours that makes you lick your lips, and spoon it down till the last bite.
The Baby Gem, which we decide to order half-way through our meal (because there’s no such thing as too many small plates) comes highly recommended by our waiter, as another Covent Garden exclusive. Its presentation is on point, as with the rest of the dishes, but I’m slightly skeptical that lettuce seems like the main ingredient. After all, how innovative can a lettuce-based dish be?
Luckily Barrafina is here to show us, because the leaves are drenched in a dressing that is honey-like with a hint of pungent, possibly from a dash of vinegar, which masks the over-sweetness. The combination of walnuts, pancetta meat, and manchego cheese, although in smaller proportions to the lettuce, richens the dish. It may not beat the Squid Ink bisque, but it definitely deserves an elevated status from a standard salad.
While I rarely turn down dessert, nothing on the menu catches my eye today, and I’m in no mood to risk the meal that was with an ending that’s less-than-perfect. The last few sips of wine are consumed and we’re off, but not for long, because my love for tapas and small plates is eternal.
Where: 10 Adelaide Street, Covent Garden, London WC2N4HZ