Harden's survey result
“The tapas is perfection and the equal of Cal Pep in Barcelona” at the Hart Bros’ “vibrant” chain of small (typically 30 covers) no-bookings bars, which its vast fanclub acclaim as “the best tapas in London or in the UK or perhaps even in Europe north of the Pyrenees!”, with “delicious, ultra-fresh seafood” a particular highlight. The preparation at the counter is “still a great piece of theatre” and – buoyed by its “exceptional, friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff” – helps create a feelgood experience. The queue used to be part of the ritual, although the ability to book is one silver lining of Covid-19. The Pandemic has also led to the reformatting of the Drury Lane branch as ‘Barrafina Mariscos’ with a seafood menu and waiter service.
“The tapas is perfection and the equal of Cal Pep in Barcelona” at the Hart Bros’ “vibrant” chain of small (typically 30 covers) no-bookings bars, which its vast fanclub acclaim as “the best tapas in London or in the UK or perhaps even in Europe north of the Pyrenees!”, with “delicious, ultra-fresh seafood” a particular highlight. The preparation at the counter is “still a great piece of theatre” and – buoyed by its “exceptional, friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff” – helps create a feelgood experience. “Don’t be put off by the queuing – it’s part of the fun: sipping on Cava and nibbling on Jamon as you snake your way to the front of the line!”. This year, the group added a “slick outfit in the new Coal Drops Yard development” – “it lacks a bit of the charm and vibe of those in Soho and Covent Garden, but the edibles are still very edible!”
“The perfect alternative to a trip to Spain!” – in fact “the food is better than in Barcelona” in the branches of the Hart Bros’ small chain, which pays homage to that city’s Cal Pep with its small (no more than 30 covers) bars in Soho and Covent Garden (and – arriving in autumn 2018, in the trendy new Coal Drops Yard development in King’s Cross, alongside a covered and heated terrace separately branded as ‘Parrillan’). Confidently ‘surfing the Zeitgeist’ – no other individual restaurant, never mind group, has ever achieved such an outstanding and consistent level of support in the survey, over many years. There’s “no booking and no fuss” – “you often have to queue” (though drinks and nibbles help enliven the experience) and seating is “counter-stye” at the bar (“which works less well for any kind of group, but for couples is ideal”). With its “bold Spanish flavours” the tapas selection is “arguably some of London’s best food at any price, and remarkable value” (while by the same token “watching the chefs at work is brilliant” – “there’s nothing theatrical, but it’s mesmerising seeing experts so engrossed in their stations”). “The wine list is short, punchy and perfectly complements the food”, “staff seem to be having as good a time as the clientele” and the overall effect is properly “effervescent”. Top Tip: “always go for the daily blackboard specials, especially the fish”, which is “cooked to a tee and beautifully seasoned”.
“The wait can sometimes be twice the time spent at the counter”, but no-one seems to mind at the Hart Bros kick-ass small group of Barcelona-inspired tapas haunts in Soho (now relocated to the ground floor of Quo Vadis) and Covent Garden. “The buzz is amazing” and, having nabbed a perch (fewer than 30 in each branch), everyone “loves the open kitchen and watching the keen staff at work”, while the dishes themselves are genius – “fresh seafood is amongst the highlights” but “even something as simple as tomato bruschetta is transformed here”. (So far, the February 2017 departure of founding group exec head chef, Nieves Barragán Mohacho, to found Sabor, has had zero effect on ratings – the new incumbent is Angel Zapata Martin.)
Smart West End places where it's 'all about the food' are all too rare. So it's hard not to warm to this Barcelona-inspired newcomer. Hard-edged and marbled - in Continental-style - the dining room has space for just a single counter, and a row of stools.
Its pedigree is encouraging. This is the latest venture from the Hispanophile Hart brothers, whose first venture, Fitzrovia's modern tapas bar Fino, has rightly met with high acclaim. (Sam and Eddie are - a rarity for Brit restaurateurs - scions of a family with a decent track-record in hospitality. Daddy Hart owns and runs a number of ventures, including pukka country house hotel, Hambleton Hall.) Their new opening takes for its inspiration a well-known Barcelona tapas joint, Cal Pep.
We'd found it difficult sitting down with a menu rather than choosing by eye, but fortunately, one of the owners took pity on our indecision - clearly a Hart with a heart - and did the choosing. The initial salvo of dishes - a platter of delicate cold meats, a flavoursome and crunchy tomato bruschetta and an extremely well dressed green salad - impressed. Clams and squid - both a la plancha - were also good, as were chorizo-based dishes. Weaker items included rather floury patatas bravas (chips 'n' tomato chilli sauce), and - at the pudding stage - a crumbly and intense chocolate tart eclipsed a surprisingly uninspiring crema catalana.
Bottom line, though: all pretty good. If there is a catch - and we think there is - it's that old chestnut, pricing. A generous (but not gluttonous) lunch for two, with one bottle of wine equivalent, was over £90. We know that costs are way higher in Soho than they are in the back lanes of Barcelona, but even so'
lunch noon - 3 pm, dinner 5 pm - 11 pm
Last orders: 11 pm, Sun 10.30 pm