We both ran out of small talk
The connection seemed to go dead
Tapas bars work like this: you go in, you order a cana or a copa, you get a little bowl of nuts, olives or if you're lucky some fresh prawns , you order a couple of tapas for a few euros or a racion for a few euros more. The order will be shouted out to a hard-working chef, usually female, visible only through a small hatch. There will be the sound of deep-frying or the ping of the microwave if you’re unlucky. Your food will arrive with a basket of bread. You eat your food, hand over the money and move on to the next place. Well, they work like this in Spain. In London we still don't get it - over here they're just efficient devices for parting the honest working stiff from her money.
The latest of these ersatz tapas joints is Barrafina which is owned by another dos hermanos, Sam and Eddie Hart, also owners of Fino where I’ve had one decent meal and one horrible meal but with the common theme that they were both FAR TOO EXPENSIVE. The same problem afflicts Barrafina. The food is served on tapas plates and thus in tapas sized portions but comes at racion-sized prices. The result is that you order quite a lot, don't get particularly satisfied and end up paying though the nose.
There was a lot I liked about the place. The room was like a modern American Diner all bright and chromey. The seating is restricted to twenty odd bar stools (Warning. These weren't very substantial so if you have a little extra, ahem, heft in the stern region you may have a problem. My pert behind meant my stay was a comfortable one). I’m guessing that the inspiration was Cal Pep in Barcelona although why anyone would want to borrow from that tourist hell-hole defeats me.
The menu couldn't seem to make up its mind about whether to use Spanish or English so you got an odd mix of the two. On the one hand there was Jamon de Jabugo, Gambas Al Ajillo, Pimientos de Padron and Cecina but on the other there was Ham Croquetas, Prawn and Piquillo Pepper Tortilla and Sweetbreads. Starters were Para Picar whilst mains were Seafood or Meat. Odd.
Food for the most part was echt and tasty thanks to the no-nonsense young Basque cook, the type you could find in any hole-in-the-wall gaff in Spain. But therein lies the problem - the food was all decently cooked and the ingredients were good enough but the whole no better than you'd get in a vanilla tapas bar in Spain.
Jamon, was inexpertly cut and of not great quality. Cecina was better but an insubstantial portion. I only order Pimientos Padron these days to see how few of the little peppers restaurants will dare to serve - I wasn't disappointed. The best dishes were those that had been cooked. Croquetas were crisp on the outside and had a nice creamy jamon studded bechamel within. Gambas al ajillo were served straight from
the pan. Hot, garlicky and salty I greatly enjoyed de-shelling, chewing and
sucking the little blighters. Small Sardines though not quite as fresh as they should have been were nicely cooked al la plancha. Pulpo a la Gallega was small and tender with a nice smoky paprika sprinkled over it was missing the potatoes that usually accompany it. A morcilla dish disappointed only because of the three waffer-thin slices served up (I suspect a micrometer may have been involved at some stage). Sweetbreads came sauteed with some onions. All standard stuff really.
I skipped dessert and went straight for some decent coffee and a tremendous artisnal orujo which made me feel really good and softened the blow of the bill (while adding greatly to it).
Before we get all misty-eyed for the days of the days-old patatas bravas, rancid tortilla and tough-as-old-boots squid rings, tapas bars have improved greatly over the past few years but the price has also gone up out all proportion to quality of the ingredients and the skill of the cooking. My advice is save your pennies and take a weekend break in say Madrid or Valencia and see what tapas bars are really about.
On my way home I popped into Beard Papa’s, a Japanese chain which specialises in one thing - the best cream-filled choux buns you will ever taste. They make even top French patisserie taste like Hostess Twinkies. I scored a boxful and as I was chowing down on one – the crisp choux pastry shell melting away to yield a creamy, not oversweet, vanilla interior - I pondered upon the fact that I was eating something that was probably one of the best of its type and yet each one was about £1.30. That comes in at about one croqueta de jamon.