Barrafina, Drury Lane 

Barrafina Drury Lane

With tapas taking London by storm, it makes sense for Sam and Eddie Hart to open their third Barrafina (they’ve a Michelin starred one in Soho and another one on Adelaide Street in Covent Garden) and for me, this one is easily their best.

Outside Barrafina

Like the others, it’s a simple set up; a large counter with stalls overlooks the bustle of the kitchen, giving the place a surprisingly serene atmosphere. It’s not always everybody’s cup of tea, but watching chefs preparing the food before your very eyes has always rather excited me.

Inside Barrafina

We started with the tapas staples; pan con tomate (£2.80 each) and croquetas (£4.80), the latter being packed full of piquillo peppers, which was heavenly.

Pan con tomate Barrafina

Croquetas Barrafina

A crab bun (£8.80) will no doubt become a signature dish. The soft bun, topped with poppy seeds, sandwiched the most glorious of crabby concoctions; wet and sloppy with flavour in abundance.

Crab bun Barrafina

From the short list of daily specials, we went for the deep fried rabbit shoulder (£8.50) which was like posh KFC – and I really like KFC, FYI. ‘Milk fed lamb sweetbreads’ (£12.80) was more of a rustic affair. I could have done with a loaf of bread to mop up the rich, buttery sauce.

Rabbit Barrafina

Sweetbreads

A slice of chunky chorizo (£8.50) came atop a crunchy romesco sauce which was a dreamy combination. My favourite dish however, was a simple plate of spuds (£5.80) topped with an intense lardo butter, which once melted, created the best potatoes you’re ever likely to eat.

Chorizo

Potatoes in lardo butter Barrafina

We finished off with a torrijas (£6.80), a traditional Spanish pudding similar to eggy bread. The nutty, sweet caramel sauce was exquisite – worth the extra stone I no doubt gained.

Torrijas Barrafina

So the food at Barrafina Drury Lane really was faultless. I blame it for my disappointing meal at Jason Atherton’s Social Wine and Tapas the very next day. Because when you taste tapas this good – it’s hard to better it.

5/5

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Red’s True BBQ, Shoreditch

Red's True BBQ business card

With two Red’s True BBQ in Leeds and another in Manchester and Nottingham, the chaps behind this Texas inspired BBQ joint seem to have taken the North by storm. Now residing in the old Casa Negra site in Shoreditch (opposite Merchants Tavern) they are hoping to become the ‘go-to brand for authentic barbecue in the UK’.

Outside

To be fair, we visited on the their fourth official day of opening so the inevitable teething problems were present but it was the food that really let everything down. The menu is alarmingly huge, almost as big as the dining room, and utterly confusing.

Inside

We started with some housemade beef jerky (£3.50) which was quite minging. I should point out it was my first time trying jerky and I think it’s just definitely not for me.

Beef jerky

Next up were chicken wings (£4.95) which arrived stretched out on the plate looking like frog legs; they didn’t look in the least bit appetising. Mac n cheese balls (£4.95) were nothing like the delightful MEATliquor ones – here there was way too much claggy cheese sauce and not enough macaroni.

Wings and mac n cheese balls

For main, my gentleman companion ordered the donut burger (£12.95) mainly out of curiosity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m open to the donut thing – I tried a donut bacon sandwich at Bird and loved it. But here, the two steak patties, which were grey and completely overcooked, sandwiched between a not particularly good donut, were terrible. Not nice in the slightest. And the measly pile of fries lay there under seasoned and under cooked.

Donut burger

I went for a half rack of Memphis-dry St Louis ribs (£14.50) served “naked/dry” with a side of grilled cheese Texas toast. The ribs were super fatty making them a tad sickly along with the sweet and salty dry rub. The cheese on toast tasted like cheese on toast – but I’ve made better at home.

Ribs

There’s pretty good BBQ available all over the shop in London at the minute. Sadly, I don’t think Red’s True BBQ has brought anything new, or particularly nice, to the party. The staff are certainly sweet and charming, but the food left me reaching for the Gaviscon.

2/5

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Social Wine and Tapas 

Social Wine and Tapas business card

With Pollen Street Social, Little Social, Social Eating House, City Social, Berners Tavern, not to mention a plethora of restaurants all over the world, can Jason Atherton do no wrong? Well I think he might have stretched himself one too far with his latest opening Social Wine and Tapas on James Street, right opposite Patty&Bun.

Outside

It’s an odd space made up of lots of little dining rooms. We were seated at a cramped table which couldn’t have been more in everybody’s way. The lighting was terrible; a spotlight shone in my gentleman companion’s face like he was being interrogated. The crippling rock music, I’m not sure anyone enjoyed listening to Staring at the Rudeboys by The Ruts, was SUCH a misguided choice. Nothing felt like it worked together.

Inside

The food on the whole was fine but everything, and I mean everything, was seriously over salty. Ham croquetas (£4) had generous amounts of salty ham, but then to be sprinkled with salt seemed overkill.

Ham croquetas

Pan con tomate (£2.50) had a sweet tomato topping but the plate was covered in salt. It was if there had been an accident with the salt shaker. The Jamon and manchego cheese toastie topped with a quail’s egg (£6) was probably the best thing we tried, mainly due to the addition of some pepper. Heirloom tomato salad with truffled burrata (£6.50) needed far more burrata which was a shame.

Pan con tomate

Cheese toastie

Heriloom tomatoes

Schezuan fried chipirones (£6.50), which are little baby squid, were crisp but the accompanying squid ink aioli had the texture and appearance of crude oil; it was most unpleasant to eat. Gloopy, claggy and flavourless.

Chipirones

Rose veal and foie gras burgers with pulled pork (£12) were better but there seemed one too many flavours present; they drowned each other out. Cumbrian lamb rump with crushed potatoes (£12) was pleasant but the dollop of saffron aioli tasted like that of Lenor. Seriously. I can still taste it now. It really wasn’t very nice.

Burgers

Lamb

Instead of dessert we opted for cheese, a Bosworth Ash goat, Sharpham soft and a Beauvale blue (£9) and even the blue cheese was salty.

Cheese

London is clearly going through a surge in tapas and it feels like Social Wine and Tapas have jumped on the bandwagon here. That’s fine if it’s well executed but all the elements don’t gel together particularly well. And that music really is awful.

2/5

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Prawnography, Old Street Roundabout

Prawnography menu

It’s an odd place to go for a bite to eat I’ll give you that; the thought of eating on a polluted roundabout in the middle of Old Street doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. But what is now known as the Magic Roundabout, accessed from the underground tube entrance, is a rather charming space filled with two bars, Burger Bear and Prawnography.

Outside

It’s by one of the chaps behind London Mess which has hosted numerous pop ups across the city. The premise is simple; order at the counter (the kitchen is absolutely tiny) then grab a seat at one of the picnic benches and wait for your food to arrive.

Prawnography

I went for an “absolutely bloody massive XL tiger prawn” (£14) in a Szechuan butter with beer bread. I upgraded my fries to the crab meat fries (£4 extra) which I thoroughly recommend doing. They would have been perfectly glorious on their own but loaded with heaps of crab meat and drenched in Thousand Island dressing, they were easily the best chips you’ll find in London. Or anywhere else for that matter. Oh, and that giant prawn was pretty spectacular too with lots of lovely charred bits adding loads of flavour.

Prawn

I also went for a bacon wrapped scallop (£3 each) which would have only been bettered by slightly crisper bacon. The scallop itself was plump and perfectly cooked. The quality of the seafood was spot on – clearly making three trips a week to Billingsgate is worth their while.

I popped into Prawnogrpahy for a quick solo lunch and I absolutely ruddy loved it. The whole spider crab (for two to share) looks like the thing to order so it’s made me positive I want to return. A seafood shack in the middle of Old Street roundabout. Who knew?

4/5

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Balls & Company, Soho

Balls and Company business card

Balls & Company in Soho – there’s a joke in there somewhere but I’m too respectable for that. Anyhoo, this is Greek Street’s latest opening and it comes from Australian born Bonny Porter (previously of The Arts Club and Village East), who’s attempting to make the ‘humble meatball more refined’.

Outside

It’s a small restaurant which was rather loud on our visit, but that does at least dampen down the neighbouring table’s conversation which is never a bad thing. There’s a tiny open kitchen at the end which adds some adventure.

Inside

The balls are served in fours (£8) and with a choice of sauces. The Wagyu, served medium rare, was of super quality; the flavour was divine. The accompanying romesco sauce was sweet and nutty. Chicken balls came topped with a béchamel sauce which had been baked on giving it a much firmer texture than I expected. Again, flavour was big and bold. The pork balls, in a classic sweet tomato sauce were lovely. Sides of thick cut chips and market greens (both £4) were great; the chubby chips being well seasoned and crispy.

Balls

The only problem I had with all the balls was the lack of sauce – there was nowhere near enough. I like my balls dripping, like the ones at Oldroyd in Islington, where there’s more sauce than meat. At Balls & Company they seemed a little too refined.

Dessert was a strange one; a really good brownie (£5) was topped with Persian candy floss which had the texture (and appearance) of my Granny’s hair. Seriously. Very strange indeed but quite fun.

Dessert

I didn’t dislike Balls & Company, far from it; service was certainly charming and there’s a fun vibe about the place. I just hope they get some more sauce going over those balls. But for food that doesn’t break the bank, you could do a lot worse.

3/5

I dined as a guest of the restaurant.

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Goodman City

Goodman City business card

A trip to Goodman Mayfair last year provided me with the best steak I’ve ever eaten; our 900g USDA bone-in Porterhouse was simply exceptional. My only problem with London steakhouses however is the price – if they weren’t so expensive I’d probably eat in one every day.

Outside

I was pleased then to see that Goodman in the City offered a set lunch menu; two courses for £18 or three for £22. We were seated in a booth in the bar area which was a more than pleasant place to sit as it made for some light relief, sheltering from the wealthy suited chaps that were inevitably present.

Inside

To start, tomato and mozzarella salad was like the one you might find at Pizza Express but I say that not in a bad way – I love that salad. And tomato and mozzarella is one of, if not the best, flavour combinations ever.

Mozzarella salad

The 10oz New York Strip (£6 supplement) with hand cut chips was a generous size for a set lunch menu. The thick band of fat was crisp and charred while the meat was a blushing shade of pink in the centre. You could tell it had been cooked by someone who loves eating steak. The chips had the perfect balance of aggressive seasoning with crispy and soggy coating – which is everything I look for in a good ol’ chip.

New York Strip

We ordered a side of carrots in a ginger and lime glaze (£4) in a vain attempt to be healthy. Our waitress kindly brought out all the sauces; béarnaise, peppercorn and horseradish gravy which were rich, sticky and exactly the sort of thing you want to smother your meat.

Sauce and carrots

I guess the real fun to be had at a steakhouse is ordering a giant chunk of beef complete with bone and getting stuck in. But I for one was pleased to know there’s a slightly cheaper way of doing it too. The steak was delicious, the service was friendly – which makes for a pretty good lunch in my book.

4/5

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Paradise Garage, Bethnal Green 

Paradise Garage business card

Based on Paradise Row in Bethnal Green, just a few doors down from Mission, this is the third restaurant from Robin Gill – he also owns the ever popular Dairy and Manor in Clapham. It’s a really cute space with turquoise banquettes round the edge and bar stools overlooking the open bar and kitchen; there’s a slight Soho House feel to things.

Inside

Our tattoo-laden waitress was possibly the friendliest we’ve come across; a total charmer. We opted for the tasting menu (£45) even though plenty from the a la carte sounded right up my alley.

To start, some sourdough bread with whiskey butter and slices of salumi were as good a start to a meal as you could hope for. The butter, which had a milky texture, was divine.

Bread

Salumi

Sweet corn with hemp seed was so good I momentarily forgot my hatred of sweet corn. The charred corny jewels had a smoky flavour which was lovely. Salt cod brandade, squid ink, olives and shellfish crisp was a nice little nibble and Willy’s mackerel tartare, kohlrabi, apple and grilled lemon was a seafood delight.

Sweetcorn

Salt cod

I was less keen on the globe artichokes with padron peppers, partly because I’m not overly keen on artichokes and partly because I didn’t feel cohesion in terms of flavour. Smoked eel was far more appealing – who doesn’t like smoked eel eh? The accompanying Norfolk pears, seaweed and mousserons sang together like a glorious choir.

Globe artichoke

Smoked eel

For main there were two options; Welsh lamb rump with sweetbread and peas, which was heavenly, and a Chart Farm venison haunch which was only let down by a slightly dry texture. A miso glaze provided plenty of favour though.

Lamb rump

Venison

A palate cleanser of cucumber sorbet, melon and basil was most peculiar but it did the job brilliantly. Desserts were a real highlight; my Innis and Gunn beer ice cream (a type of craft beer), blackberries and almond biscuit was an impressive blend of sweet and savoury. The same could be said for the caramelised white chocolate with strawberries. Both looked and tasted beautiful. And cheeses, three from Neal’s Yard, were exquisite.

Cucumber sorbet

Innis and Gunn ice cream

Caramelised white chocolate with strawberries

Cheese

What I love about Robin’s food (along with head chef Simon Woodrow) is he rarely plays it safe. The ingredients and flavour combinations are daring, often unusual and really rather exciting. Sometimes they’re not perfect but it doesn’t matter, because when they’re good, they’re spot on. Marry that with some super friendly service and you’ve got the makings of another fine restaurant.

4/5

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