A couple of weeks ago, while waiting on the hour-and-a-half-long queue at Barrafina, I thought about how lovely it’d be to eat Barrafina’s food without having to wait ages. (It says volumes, by the way, that I still thought the food at Barrafina was worth the wait).
A few days after my re-visit to Barrafina, I saw Tamarind and Thyme’s post on her delicious meal at Fino, the older sibling of Barrafina, where you can eat your tapas *and* make a reservation for a proper table. Sounded perfect. So I called Fino to book dinner on a Friday night with two friends visiting from New York.
Without totally veering off into a full rant, when I called the restaurant, Fino’s receptionist promptly informed me that they’d need the table back in two hours. Now, it’s not that I often sit at a table for more than two hours, but I like knowing that if I wanted to order a few more drinks or linger over dessert, I could do it hassle-free. Isn’t that part of the premium you’re paying for food at a pricey restaurant? It seems many London restaurants think imposing a time limit on your dinner counts as acceptable customer service. I’m not down with that. (Yauatcha is the worst of the bunch – I think they’re down to a sprint-like 90 minutes these days).
Anyway, we showed up on time despite going first to 33 Charlotte Street and finding it’s a Zizzi (Fino’s entrance is actually around the corner on Rathbone Street, not on Charlotte Street, where one would think 33 Charlotte Street would be found).
Our server highly recommended (i.e., pushed) the special of the day, a braised leg of lamb, and made a point of checking with the kitchen to confirm it was still available before letting us order it. Ten minutes after we’d placed our order, someone else came to tell us the kitchen had run out of the braised leg of lamb. At this point, it was around 8:15 pm, so it seemed odd that the specials would be gone already. Not a huge deal, but between the reminder that I had to give back my table at a certain time and the minor hassle of having to order more food after I thought I’d gotten ordering out of the way, I wasn’t enjoying myself.
And the food wasn’t nearly as across-the-board good as it is at Barrafina. Maybe it would’ve been different if we’d called ahead and ordered cochinillo like Tamarind and Thyme did. Maybe then we wouldn’t have ordered so much tapas and found that while half the dishes were pretty good, the other half were pretty awful.
For example, being one of the legions who love Barrafina’s razor clams, I was sorry to see no razor clams on the menu at Fino. But we settled for the “clams, sherry and ham,” which clams turned out to be chewy and flavorless. Our table picked at the ham bits, which were as good as boiled bits of ham can be, but at £8.70, this dish left me feeling robbed.
Several orders of lamb cutlets and an order of rump lamb were tender and juicy. Very good, though the sauce accompanying the cutlets didn’t add much (other than a few gazillion calories).
Other winners of the evening were the the arroz negro with grilled octopus (creamy and soft baby octopus melting into the rich earthiness of black beans), crab croquetas, classic tortilla and pan con tomate (the last three almost identical to the excellent versions at Barrafina, with the crab being a higher-end version than the ham one at Barrafina).
Severe disappointments (aka insults to how hard I work for the money I spent at Fino) included the asparagus (four grilled-to-mushiness spears for £7.50), the arrocina beans (described as being cooked with morcilla, but really, I didn’t see any sausage in there, which made the dish just a soupy mess of beans for £7.80).
Overall, dining at Fino was a mixed bag. Our meal might have ended on a high note with two orders of the freshly-fried, light-as-air donuts (they’re excellent and I can’t deny that Tamarind and Thyme’s photo of her Fino donuts heavily motivated me to make a booking). But instead it ended on a sour note when we were rushed away from our table upon the arrival of the two-hour-deadline.
At £160 for four with wine, our meal cost (on a per person basis) about what we usually spend at Barrafina. That said, I’ll take the queue and barstool seating at Barrafina any day over a pre-booked, sit-down meal at Fino. You could undoubtedly have a great meal at Fino if you ordered very carefully (or were v. lucky – in which case, I’m taking you to Vegas), but I’m just too lazy to bother.
Fino, 33 Charlotte Street, W1T 1RR (entrance on Rathbone Street), 0207 813 8010; closest tube station: Goodge Street