“This salad is the hero of tapas and wine bar dining.
With Spanish blue, jamon and honey, a spectrum of wine possibilities come to mind,
from a chardonnay with rich oak to a jammy pinot noir.”
It’s located right in the heart of Sydney CBD. It’s hip and spunky. The long tapas bar stretches the length of the restaurant, opening its arms to people walking along Bligh street. And the sunny al fresco area is filling up with the weekday lunch crowd.
Spanish style tapas has become a popular hit in Sydney recently. What’s not to like with tasting plates of jamon, olives, cheese, grilled prawns, tuna and braised lamb ribs?
And the good folks at Barrafina Tapas Bar have cordially invited me to bring a few friends to check out new dishes created by new executive chef Ran Kimelfeld.
There is something convivial about bar dining. Whether it’s a wine bar, oyster bar, sushi bar, pizza bar, noodle bar, dumpling bar and in this case a Spanish tapas bar, this trend has caught Sydney like a raging fire.
Restaurants are allocating valuable and often stylish space for diners to perch on stools and sips cocktails before engaging them with a mouth-watering selection of tasting plates.
It’s convivial because when you’re on a romantic date, the theatrics of a barman mixing cocktails or a chef preparing food are fun, sexy and entertaining to watch. When dining solo, conversations with bar staff can often make your meal a whole lot more enjoyable.
A 32-degree Celcius day in Sydney calls for a few refreshing Spanish sangria with red wine, slices of orange, apple and grapes.
Though it’s a Tuesday, a good sangria can bring your weekend forward by a few days.
“Does the food here need to be any good?” my friend Monk suddenly says while sipping his sangria.
“What do you mean?” I ask puzzled.
“Full compliments to the boss of this Spanish joint” he replies.
“But you haven’t even tasted the food yet” my other friend Stroppy says.
“Forget the food, every waitress walking around this restaurant looks like some catwalk model. I am happy just sipping my sangria looking at them!” Monk declares to us.
“Ah, I see what you mean Monk. If the food tastes as good as how these girls look, it’s a bonus for you then!” I tell him.
There’s a fair bit of fruit in this sangria and red wine taste is dominant. Though there are many sangria racipes, I personally prefer a stronger mix of brandy and spirits for depth and complexity of flavours. Thirteen dollars is definitely not cheap compared to other good sangria I have tasted.
The one-page tapas menu offers a selection of seafood, meats and salads designed to be shared. I like the sleek and stylish black slates that our tapas comes in.
The deep-fried batter for three zucchini flowers is light and crisp. The salt cod mayo adds body to the flowers like a savoury ricotta cheese stuffing. To me, this is cold beer and chilled riesling territory and Sydneysiders should be thankful we have the climate for this kind of food.
Yellow fin tuna is gently a la plancha (seared on a griddle) and raw in the middle. Coated with roasted black and white sesame seeds, the Japanese sushi element is beckoning me to request chopsticks in a Spanish restaurant.
But a clever twist of finely diced olive tapanade with sweet white peach and chilli vinaigrette turns this dish delightfully Mediterranean.
A medley of pan-seared scallops sit on a bed of chorizo slices and sweet corn puree. Gentle spice from the chorizo combines well with the sweet and plump scallops while the corn puree offers a rich, creamy mouthfeel.
Another chef special hits our table ~ bold chunks of braised octopus, tossed with diced tomato, black olives, preserved lemon and micro herbs garnish.
The salty chew of octopus with sour bits of pickled lemon is mouth-watering.
Tomato cubes are bold and firm. Personally, I think ripened cherry or grape tomatoes sliced finely might give this delightful dish even more elegance and sweetness.
The marriage of sweet figs with pungent blue cheese is a classic after dinner treat and of course I’m talking about figs being the sweet beautiful wife and robust cheese the renegade husband.
Add crisp jamon, mustard leaves with a drizzle of honey and this combination turns into a vibrant Spanish style salad.
This salad is the hero of tapas and wine bar dining. With Spanish blue, jamon and honey, a spectrum of wine possibilities come to mind, from a chardonnay with rich oak to a jammy pinot noir.
King prawns arrive from Yamba, one of New South Wales’ most important prawn farming areas.
This tapas dish is testament to Sydney’s fresh and vibrant seafood. The prawns are sweet, firm and juicy. Roasted almond flakes, crisp jamon bits and ajo blanco add crunch and creaminess.
It’s a compliment to a Japanese sushi master to use your fingers when eating sushi. I’m not quite sure about Spanish culture but I ditch my fork and knife anyway. Prawns this fresh deserve the personal touch and joy of eating with your hands.
Pulled pork slider is laced with a streak of red paprika and pimento.
The bun is crisp with a gentle sear from the grill. The pork is sweet with sauteed apple, pickled onions and a smoky barbeque sauce.
My tolerance for sweet tastes is relatively low so I find this slider too sweet for my liking although Monk and Stroppy are in favour.
Chicken drumettes are crisp and juicy when dipped into a paprika mayonnaise.
A touch more seasoning tucked under the crispy chicken skin would elevate these drumettes to category 3 – 4 cold beers during happy hour at the bar.
So when in Barcelona, you do what the Spanish do. This icy cold Estrella Barcelona is in tradition with dry style beers which I enjoy.
On a warm day like this, it’s difficult to find a better combination of cold beer with fried chicken.
Veal meatballs are stuffed with ricotta and pinenuts in a rich tangy tomato sauce and sprinkled with chopped chives. I mop up some sauce with the crisp sourdough.
“Nice but my wife’s home-made meatballs taste better!” Stroppy proudly blurts out to Monk and me.
I am feeling a little irritated by Stroppy’s stray comment as I tuck into my meatballs.
“Hey Strops, does your wife look as beautiful and sexy as these girls here?” I ask him.
There was silence. And we continue enjoying our meal.
The “all day lamb ribs” give me an image of tender, succulent meat falling off the bone. With a gentle yield of my knife, this image comes true.
Membrillo or Spanish quince paste adds a sticky sweet taste to tender lamb ribs but something is amiss because I enjoy bold flavours with this style of food. I try to find a second taste sensation with some fresh black pepper.
For complexity on sweetness, I think these ribs would be jiving to a spicy Spanish flemenco with some pickled jalapeno rings.
Dessert is a medley of white chocolate parfait, Spanish churros and a lime and mango crema catalana.
Three churros sticks are crisp, firm and dusted with cinnamon sugar. The chocolate sauce is rich with hints of cinnamon and spice.
The dessert selection is short with just three items. From the Catalan people of northern Spain, crema catalana is answer to the French’s crème brûlée.
The flavour is lime and mango which is enhanced by strawberries, raspberry and blueberries.
A chef special white chocolate parfait is light yet creamy with a crispy pistachio wafer and summer berries.
Flavours are exciting and service is efficient.
If you want to spend happy hours of a Friday afternoon on a sunny terrace nibbling chicken drumettes and washing it down with a few cold beers, Barrafina Tapas Bar should be on your bucket list.
So dear readers, which is most important when you go to a restaurant – food, service or ambience or a combination and if so to what degree?
ChopinandMysaucepan dined as guests of Barrafina Tapas Bar. Prices are included for readers information. All opinions are our own.
Barrafina Tapas Bar
2 Bligh street, Sydney
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9231 2551
Opening hours: Lunch Monday to Friday, Dinner Tuesday to Friday