In music, it is known as the “difficult second album”: how do you follow something that caught the popular imagination? Do you stick to the tried and trusted, risking accusations of repetitiveness, or do something different and risk alienating a loyal audience?
In restaurant terms, the same quandary applies. Sam and Eddie Hart opened Barrafina, on Frith Street, in 2007 – a no-bookings tapas joint, loosely modelled on Barcelona’s Cal Pep. Rave reviews followed, queues snaked along the street and it now has a Michelin star.
The brothers soon hatched a plan to open at a similar site in Drury Lane. But the project was delayed so long that the larger, more ambitious Barrafina on Adelaide Street opened before it, again to plaudits, especially for Basque chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho and her gutsy cooking.
The Drury Lane site (pictured) is finally open. As I sat at the bar, sipping a glass of the sublime house sherry, while trying to prevent the filling of a gloriously sloppy crab bun from falling down my front, it occurred to me that perhaps that “difficult second restaurant” is best opened third. While the layout is more or less the same as Frith Street, the menu is almost completely different. There is butifarra (Catalan sausage) cooked on a charcoal grill and served with a sweet stew of onions; pork belly – by turns smoky, wobbly and crunchy – with mojo verde, the lively Canary Islands herb sauce; imaginative salads (baby gem, walnut, botarga, manchego and pancetta, for example); and impeccably fresh seafood – look out for the majestic deep-red carabineros (when they are on the specials menu), which are to prawns as caviar is to lumpfish roe. Go before the theatre – actually, just go.
Oystermongers-turned-restaurateurs the Wright Brothers are on their fifth album – sorry, restaurant – and jolly good it is too. With outlets already in Borough Market, Soho, Spitalfields and Cornwall, owners Ben Wright and Robin Hancock (brothers-in-law, actually) have taken over a South Kensington bistro, previously La Bouchée, keeping the charming très parisien feeling of the narrow building and installing chef Philip Coulter, once of Racine, to man the stoves.
His happy touch with fish is evident in the gratin dieppoise, translated as “fish pie”, although there is no mash or pastry, just a silky béchamel sauce, blanched spinach and perfect flaky fish. Smoked mackerel rillettes, like ethereal fish paste, are partnered with tangy pickled cucumber; lemon sole is dressed with crab and capers; and rust-brown fish soup has a flavour as deep as the Atlantic. Downstairs, the sexy Mermaid bar serves oysters (£1 a pop, 5-6pm and 10-11pm), champagne and cocktails until midnight. Music to my ears.