Barrafina London


I’ve had Barrafina Tapas Bar on my London list for ages, but somehow didn’t manage to make it until recently. Everyone I know tells me it’s possibly the best in London – Giles Coran, not given to unbridled praise, wrote in The Times ‘Barrafina is a tapas bar and the best of its kind, the food is fantastic. When they opened in Soho four years ago Sam and Eddie could scarcely have predicted how successful their no-reservations tapas bar and restaurant would be – it’s packed and buzzing all the time, always stylish and lively.’

Having failed to get in a couple of times, I arrived at noon and just managed to ‘bag’ two stools at the bar counter with a perfect view of the busy ‘scene’  and the tiny kitchen at the end.

Basque born Nieves Barragan Mohacho is the head chef of both Barrafina and Fino (another gem just off Charlotte Street in the West End of London) She and her team work magic in this tiny space, this is not complicated restaurant food its gutsy fresh, sometimes delicate, sometimes hearty food that comforts and appeals – I loved it. All round me were regulars some of whom had been eating at Barrafina a couple of times a week for several years – everyone was eager to suggest their favourite menu item that I shouldn’t miss.

First there’s food to eat with your fingers, pimentos de Padron, salt cod fritters delicas, the Spanish equivalent of Devils on Horseback and croquettes.

Then there’s cold meats, fish and shellfish – if you’re lucky there might even be my favourite, razor clams and I had an exquisite sea-bream carpaccio with rosemary oil – a ‘don’t miss’ tip from’ my new best friend’ on my left. The problem is choice, of course there are tortillas, cocos, (little Spanish pizza with spinach, pine kernels and raisins) but then there could be suckling pig or rabbit, a roast cumin rubbed pork with quince. Go with several people so you can share tastes and then you might even have room for pudding – maybe a pot of their classic crema catalona.

I so love living in the country but I found myself envying the guys at either side of me who worked in the high rise offices close by who could look forward to popping in every couple of days – I’ve decided I’m going to try and lure Nieves over to teach a Tapas class at the Ballymaloe Cookery School next year.

Meanwhile Sam and Eddie have decided to share some of their secrets in Barrafina – A Spanish Cookbook published by Fig Tree. Here are some of my favourites.




Delicias by name, delicious by nature! These are the Spanish equivalent of the 1970s English classic ‘Devils on Horseback’, and traditionally come from the town of Elche, inland from Alicante. They differ from their British cousins in being stuffed with almonds and fried until crisp. At Barrafina they serve them with a little watercress salad.


Serves 4 as a tapa


12 Marcona almonds

12 large pitted dates

6 thin slices of smoked pancetta

1 small shallot, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons Moscatel vinegar

a bunch of watercress

Maldon salt

Stuff an almond into the centre of each date. Cut each slice of pancetta in half, then wrap each date with a piece of pancetta and secure with a toothpick. Repeat with the rest of the dates. In a bowl whisk together the chopped shallot, olive oil and vinegar. Add the watercress, season with salt and mix well. Heat about 1cm of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan and fry the dates on all sides, until the pancetta is brown and crisp. Alternatively you can heat oil to 180°C in a deep-fryer and deep-fry the dates for 30 seconds.

Serve at once, with the watercress salad.


Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce


At Barrafina they use deepwater mussels from theDorset coast. Lightly cooked in this piquant sauce they make a delicious starter, or, with lots of good bread and a little salad, a more substantial meal.

Serves 4 as a tapa

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

salt and freshly ground black pepper

500ml tomate frito or passata

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika

600g mussels, cleaned

4 tablespoons manzanilla sherry

4 tablespoons chopped fresh

flat-leaf parsley

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small, heavy bottomed frying pan. Add the onions and thyme and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Put the tomate frito into a medium pan and heat gently until it comes to the boil. Add the cayenne pepper and paprika, season with salt and pepper and set aside. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan until it is smoking. Throw in the mussels, discarding any that are not tightly shut or that refuse to close when you tap them. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the sherry, cover the pan, and cook until the mussels have opened. Discard any that remain shut. Add the tomato sauce and cook over a high heat for another minute to thicken the sauce.  Put the mussels and sauce into a serving dish, spoon over the onions and the chopped parsley and serve with good bread.


Chicken with Romesco Sauce


Barrafina’s most regular customer, Mike ‘Mustachio’ Goldman, has eaten there over 500 times over the last three years. He often requests that they feature this dish as one of their specials, as it is a particular favourite of his. Needless to say they often oblige.

Serves 4 as a main

4 x 150g chicken drumsticks

4 x 160g chicken thighs

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

½  recipe quantity of Romesco Sauce (see recipe)


Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6. Put the chicken into a roasting tray. Drizzle it with olive oil, season it with salt and pepper and cook in the oven for 30–40 minutes, until cooked through and golden brown.

Gently warm the romesco sauce in a small pan and serve with the chicken.


Romesco Sauce


Romesco sauce is extremely versatile and can accompany fish, meat and vegetable dishes. It comes from Catalunia, and there are many different recipes and variations. Romesco keeps well in the fridge.

Makes enough for 6-8 generous portions

(about 650g)


1 dried red chilli, soaked in

warm water for 2 hours

4 dried choricero peppers (see page 000),

soaked in warm water for 2 hours

5 plum tomatoes

100ml olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 whole head of garlic, halved horizontally

100g blanched almonds

1 slice of good-quality

white bread, about 2cm thick

50ml sherry vinegar


Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Drain the soaked chilli and choricero peppers, then remove the seeds and set aside. Put the tomatoes into a roasting dish. Drizzle them with a tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap the two halves of garlic in foil and add to the roasting dish. Roast in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. When cool enough, pop the garlic cloves out of their skins and set aside. Meanwhile, in a separate smaller roasting dish, toast the almonds in the same oven for 2 to 3 minutes until lightly browned. Be careful – they burn fast! Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small frying pan and fry the bread on both sides until golden brown. Put the chillies, choriceros, roasted tomatoes, garlic, almonds, bread and vinegar into a blender or food processor. Add 100ml of olive oil and blitz until smooth. Season with plenty of salt and pepper and keep in the fridge until needed.


Chorizo, Potato and Watercress Salad


Chorizo is one of those things that while very delicious by itself is best appreciated when combined with something else. This recipe has been on the menu at Barrafina ever since it opened. Indeed, a small riot might ensue on Frith Street if they ever left it out!


Serves 4 as a light main

5 tablespoons olive oil

400g new potatoes, cooked

and halved lengthways

salt and freshly ground black pepper

240g small cooking chorizos

40g butter

4 tablespoons chopped shallots

4 tablespoons chopped fresh

flat-leaf parsley

60g watercress


Heat an overhead grill to medium high. In a heavy bottomed frying pan, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil until beginning to smoke. Add the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook until nicely golden brown. While the potatoes are browning, split the chorizos in half lengthways and score the cut side with a crosshatch about 1mm deep. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Add the butter and shallots to the potatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley and remove from the heat. Drizzle the watercress with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and serve with the potatoes and the grilled chorizo. You can spoon a little of the oil from the chorizo on to the potatoes for a little extra oomph if you like.


Recipes extracted fromThe Barrafina Cookbook, Published by Fig Tree



Pop-up Tapas. Contact Sinead at Stephen Pearce Pottery in Shanagarry, East Cork to find out when the next Tapas night is scheduled – great vibe and delicious little bites – €2 – €3 each. Bring your own wine – telephone:  021 4646807 – facebook: Sineads at Stephen Pearce.


Exciting workshops and Courses at Seedsavers in Scarif, Co Clare

Sunday 9th October – Fruit Trees – How to Plant and Maintain – half day course

Sunday 16th October – Vegetarian Cookery Soups and Stews

Saturday 22nd October – Cider Making

Saturday 29th October – Full day cheese-making course

Phone: +353 61 921866   Email:  /

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group Event – ‘The Global Food System’ – Modern food production and trade and its consequences for health and the environment with Dr Colin Sage, Department of Geography, UCC. Crawford Art Gallery Café on Thursday 27th Oct at 7.30pm. Entrance 6 euro including tea/coffee.


Butchery & Small Scale Meat Production Workshop Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown, in association with the Rural Food Skillnet is offering a two day course demonstrating the butchering of a side of beef, a lamb and a pig into retail cuts for people who are already selling or considering processing and / or selling meat from their own herd. Wednesday 26th & Thursday 27th October 2011 at Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown, Dublin 15. Phone 01 8059592 – 087 2243712


About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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