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Posts Tagged ‘Barrafina’

Polpetto - as close as I got to eating there, sadly.

Like most food lovers in London, I like the small snack-y Italian dishes served at Polpo.  Their fried goodies, pizzas and seafood are dependably good; prices are reasonable; and the atmosphere’s lively.  The only thing not to like are the queues that form every night thanks to Polpo’s no-reservations policy.

So really, I should have known better when my friends and I made plans to drop by Polpetto (Polpo’s recently-opened sibling) on a Wednesday evening.  Optimistically, I’d hoped that because we were arriving just before 7 pm on a Wednesday, and because the initial-opening hype had died down, the wait would be minimal.  Based on early reports by Gourmet Chick and Hollow Legs, who were at Polpetto during their soft opening (when prices were 50% off), Polpetto sounded like a real winner.  So I figured the risk of a wait would be worth it.

Well.  The four of arrived at just before 7 pm, and the *single* four-person table was occupied.  (Polpetto, you may have heard, is about half the size of already-tiny Polpo).  So Polpetto’s maitre d’ took one of our mobile numbers and promised to text us when the four-top was free, which he estimated to be in an hour, max.

The French House, the pub downstairs, was heaving, so we parked ourselves next door at slightly-seedy-looking Lupo (whose bartender, by the way, gets a shout out for exceeding expectations).  We chatted, we sipped, we waited.  At 8 pm, we received a text saying the table in question had skipped dessert and was on coffees.  We got excited and finished our drinks.

8:05 pm – We received a text saying that Polpetto was cash only that evening.  So we wandered around Soho for the next 10 minutes looking for a cashpoint.  They’re not as ubiquitous as you’d think.

8:15 pm – We received another text informing us that the table in question still hadn’t paid their bill.

8:30 pm – We gave up on Polpetto and just walked over to Leong’s Legends (which is clearly visible from Polpetto).  Good ol’ Leong’s.  There, we loaded up on xiao long bao (slowly going downhill, but still better than most London versions), dou miao (sauteed snow pea leaves) and pork belly dishes (both the gua bao “taiwanese kebabs” and the braised dish).  £15 a person.  All good.

Really, nothing is worth a 90-minute wait (at least).  And why is Polpetto able to seat only one group of four at a time?  Were there no adjoining two-person tables that became free over the course of 90 minutes?

Advice:  If you want to eat at Polpetto, go as a party of two.  Not four.  And have a backup plan.  Leong’s will do just nicely.

Alternatively, don’t even try to get into Polpetto.  London Eater thinks there are more misses than hits on the menu anyway.  If you simply must have your bacaro experience, stick with Polpo instead, where even on a bad night, I’ve never waited more than an hour.  And at Polpo, you can order food while you wait at the bar, which is something you can’t do at Polpetto.

Restaurants of London:  please please take bookings!  Dishoom, Barrafina, Polpo — we love you yet we hate you for not taking bookings.

Leong’s Legends, 4 Macclesfield Street, W1D 6AX; 0207 287 0288; closest Tube station:  Leicester Square

Polpo, 41 Beak Street, W1F 9SB; 0207 734 4479; closest Tube stations:  Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus

Polpetto, 49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG; 0207 734 1969; closest Tube station:  Leicester Square

Leong’s Legends on Urbanspoon

Polpo on Urbanspoon
Polpetto on Urbanspoon

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arroz negro at Fino

arroz negro with grilled baby octopus at Fino

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.

clams with ham at Fino

clams, sherry and ham at Fino

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.

lamb cutlets

lamb cutlets

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.

freshly-fried donuts at Fino

freshly-fried donuts at Fino

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
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Happy new year! Eight days late, I know.

I had a fantabulous trip back to the U.S., full of family, old friends and good food. I hope you and yours had a happy holidays, too.

Now I’m back in cold, foggy London. My gym is packed to the gills. Accumulated email at work is driving me nuts. So it’s definitely January, and I thought I’d kick off 2009 with a quick look back at 2008 with my five favourite London restaurants last year.

In choosing the restaurants for this highly-esteemed list, I considered only the places I visited at least every two months in 2008, or in the cases where it’d be cost prohibitive to drop by that often, restaurants that served me a meal so good in 2008 (and with service and decor so nice) that I think constantly of returning. [For the complete list of London restaurants I’ve blogged about, check out the London Restaurant Reviews page of my blog.]

In alphabetical order:

  • Barrafina Everything I ate at Barrafina last year was a hit. The main deterrent to my going more regularly is the prospect of having to queue to get a coveted bar stool. But the tapas at Barrafina is so head-and-shoulders above that of its closest competitors, Tierra Brindisa, Tapas Brindisa and Moro, that if time’s not an issue, it’s Barrafina for me.

    54 Frith Street, W1D 4SL, 0207 813 8016; Closest tube station: Leicester Square

  • Mangal Ocakbasi – This Turkish grill is worth the schlepp to Dalston. At least five times last year, Jon and I found ourselves gobbling down the mixed grill there. The kofte and lamb chops particularly rock my world. Although it’s annoying (especially in cold weather) to get jammed up in the entryway because of Mangal’s popularity, one look at that massive indoor grill and hood, and you know it’s worth the crush and wait. The meats here are always cheap and always good.

    10 Arcola Street, E8 2DJ; 020 7275 8981; closest tube station: Highbury & Islington, I guess, but Dalston Kingsland Overland is by far the closest mass transit point if the Overland is at all handy for you

Of course, it was tough for me to keep my list to five, which I guess is why making lists can be valuable. Pearl Liang, Hakkasan, Le Cafe Anglais, Tayyabs, Tomoe and the Marquess, for example, were places where my money and time were consistently well spent in 2008 (and 2007 and 2006 . . . ). But even listing them in this paragraph is cheating on this concept of my top 5.

Now, looking forward to 2009, I’m following in the footsteps of my fellow bloggers and listing the places I’d love to visit during this coming year. Right now, Galvin Bistro de Luxe, The Square, Chez Bruce, and a return to Murano to try out the dinner menu are in the cards. Maybe a trip to Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road thanks to Intoxicating Prose’s rave review in November 2008. (I was so disappointed by my Fat Duck visit in April 2006 that since then I’ve been wary of 3-star Michelin experiences – and expenses – in London).

In any event, here’s to Jon and my staying employed so we can keep on eating and traveling in 2009 . . . .

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