PINCHITO & BARRICA: TAPAS TWO TIMES IN THE WEST END
The next couple of weeks are shaping up to be some of the best of the year and unsurprisingly they involve eating copious amounts of Jamon Iberico.
On Monday, I join my good chums at Brindisa for the launch of the new Dehesa, the latest release of Jamon Iberico de Bellota from the incomparable Joselito. A few days later, I fly to Seville and from there make my way to Badajoz, one of the spiritual homes of Jamon to spend some time with a producer discovering the secrets of creating the world’s single greatest item of food. By way of preparation and inspired by HP’s recent trips to Spain, I decided to make my own mini tapas crawl with visits to the two most recent additions to London’s seemingly endless production line of Spanish restaurants and tapas bars.
The new branch of Pinchito is located on the corner of Bedford Square, just off Tottenham Court Road. It’s décor and approach will be instantly familiar to anyone who has visited their first branch near Old Street or the now defunct PinXto People in Brighton. The offering is as much about the impressive cocktails created by co-owner Toby Garcia, as it is about the food and Pinchito shies away from the traditional approach to tapas bars in favour the nuevo take of Cal Pep in Barcelona from which it draws its inspiration.
A quick sampling of two staples shows that there is still work to be done in the kitchen. Rabas, that Cantabrian weekend favourite of squid, sliced thinly to look like tails (hence the name) and deep-fried was greasy, chewy and burdened with too fierce hit of paprika. Croquettes of “mixed meat” were better, well fried and with a dense filling, which would have gone perfectly with a glass of fino or a cocktail. The restaurant takes reservations and offers a wider menu of daily specials, but as with the branch in Old Street, I still think of Pinchito as an excellent bar that serves food rather than a restaurant, which does decent drinks. As the former, it is definitely worth a visit, as the latter it will need to up its game if it is to persuade people to linger.
Barrica, on the other hand has set its stall out to compete full on with the West End’s other Spanish restaurants. Located on Goodge St. a few doors down from Salt Yard, and in the space once inhabited by ill fated and appallingly names, Ooze, Barrica is an independent operation (not as reported owned by Spanish group Vino Tinto) and traditional in its approach down to the three jamons swinging from the ceiling.
There is an extensive wine list and a wide selection of pretty standard tapas. I chose two more dishes by which the intentions and abilities of any Spanish restaurant can be discerned. More croquetta of Jamon were tiny and had been cooked for too long on the outside turning from the pre-requisite golden to the point where they were just at the point of being burnt. The insides, however, were good, creamy and flecked with decent amounts of jamon, but far below what HP dubbed "The Croquetta D'oro" to be found at the three branches of Brindisa.
Which brings us to the Jamon Iberico Bellota. The ham at Barrica had been cut by machine. Although the fat began to melt to a lovely sheen, as it should, it was not enough to disguise the fact that the meat had begun to dry out and lose the delicate flavour of acorns for which it is so famous. At £12 a plate, one probably could not have expected much more of a serving of this perniciously expensive product. However, one could and should expect better quality of storage and preparation for what is the benchmark of any Spanish restaurant with serious ambition.
Some places to their credit (Vinoteca for example) have taken Jamon Iberico off the menu because they cannot sell enough at the price they need to charge to keep the product in peak condition. I suspect Barrica may come to the same conclusion not too far into their existence. It would be a good decision given the poor quality of the plate with which I was presented.
Both Pinchito and Barrica have opened recently. However, both were charging full whack, so must feel that they were offering full value for money. I only sampled two dishes in each place, as much as I could manage and the very nature of a tapas crawl. I will probably head back to both to try more, but on this showing, Pinchito is looking the more likely prospect of the two, if mainly for the fact that Toby Garcia makes some of the best drinks in town.
What both places really achieve however, is just making me long to be back in Spain. Soon come.