It shares a neighbourhood with the most polished and formal of skyscrapers in Sydney’s CBD district, you’re more likely to spot the latest in officewear trends with a glance your fellow diners, and its interiors of dark walls, light wooden wall furnishings and metallic accents channels minimalist sophistication. One conversation with Barrafina executive chef and owner, Peter Varvaresso, however, reveals that the energy driving this tapas bar is anything but stiff-necked or formal.
Barrafina is the second restaurant for Peter, who also runs taco specialty restaurant, Contrabando, and spends much of his time (literally) running up and down the stairs between the two venues. Barrafina’s menu was largely borne of Peter’s experiences travelling across Spain for three months and working for free at restaurants in famous food capital, San Sebastian, a veritable culinary melting pot of top chefs from all around the world. He speaks enthusiastically of the Spanish food culture and the distinctive practice of hopping through bars filled with open plates of assorted tapas. Barrafina means ‘fine’ or thin, in reference to the shape of the bar, and Peter hopes to transport this practice over, once Barrafina’s bar license is approved.
The lunch menu at Barrafina is designed for sharing, in true tapas style and a nod to Peter’s own Greek heritage. That being said, the portions aren’t terribly large for a sharing plate, considering their price point, but it was enough to satisfy our party of three.
Our beautifully presented ceviche of ocean trout, ruby grapefruit and piquillo pepper ($22) was cured with lime, which gave it refreshing, citrus undertones that enhanced its freshness. The beautifully plated dish was dotted with an incredible basil aioli, which was creamy and packed with flavour. The aioli also served as the unifying, balancing factor between the sweet, unexpected flavour of the ruby grapefruit sauce and kicky, slow-burn spiciness of piquillo pepper sauce.
You need to enjoy anchovies to like the fish fingers with white anchovies, salsa romesco and polenta fries ($14) as the flavour of the dish is dominated by the saltiness of the white anchovies, along with the spices in the salsa dotted on top. The well-fried polenta ‘finger’, with the consistency of a really crumbly hashbrown, brings an interesting texture to the dish and absorbs the flavour of the anchovies well. The anchovies remain a little bit of an acquired taste but the overall flavours of this dish quite accessible, even for first timers.
The bread buns sandwiching the contents of the soft shell crab slider ($9) could have been warmed a little to really enhance the contents but was, instead, a little cold and heavy, which was unfortunate. That being said, the avocado mousse and chipotle mayo added a wonderful creaminess and the overall effect of the salad in the slider is light, putting the spotlight on the crab. The seasoning dusted on the crab was a little too sweet, however, and could have benefited from some more spice elements.
The next dish we tried was a new one, not yet on the menu but going up soon. The grilled artichoke salad incorporates a wheaty, nutty flavour at its core, enhanced by sour-cream-like flavours in the aioli, which uses preserved lemon rind from another octopus dish which, consequently, has a much more nuanced flavour. It’s definitely a busy dish, incorporating a myriad of interacting flavours: the distinctive taste of grilled cauliflower, the chewiness of broken wheat, the fragrance of thin almond slices and the occasional small burst of sweetness from the scattering of pomegranate seeds (which were a little awkward to eat with the rest, unless you just chewed the actual seed).
Barrafina was definitely saving the best for last with the pan-seared scallops with chorizo and sweet corn puree ($25). Featuring gigantic Queensland scallops, cooked to tender perfection and topped with a light touch of pepper to tie into the flavours into the chorizo, this is an obligatory order and the definite star of the meal. The chorizo slice that formed the ‘base’ for the scallops was an interesting flavour choice and may have otherwise been in danger of overwhelming the delicate flavour of the scallop, but Barrafina avoided this by keeping the chorizo ratio small and balanced the saltiness with the sweet corn puree.
We finished our meal with the Dessert Storm ($12), with camomile tea, green tea and a mocha ($4 each) to wash it down. The Dessert Storm features a saffron and vanilla flan, with pistachio baklava, basil syrup, ruby grapefruit and citrus pearls. The basil syrup gave the dessert an unexpected, unique and herby flavour that played well off the slightly burnt caramel of the flan. It does make the dish a little divisive – you either like the flavour or don’t. The slightly sour flavour of the grapefruit evens out the flavours of the dish. Unfortunately, the tiny citrus pearls, which I expected to contain syrup like ‘fruit pearls’ at frozen yoghurt places, had the consistency of slightly more viscous jelly and it didn’t quite provide the burst of citrus that would have helped balance the flavours more.
I do have to say that Barrafina is definitely better at plating their savoury dishes than desert, as the presentation of both desserts could have been a little more delicate and the flan looked particularly messy because of the syrup (or is perhaps simply in need of a different plate).
You’re going to need help with Pop Your Cherry ($15), even though it does not specify that it’s a ‘sharing’ dessert. The elements of this chocolate cherry fondant work like a dream together – the cherry foam and cherry gel practically punches you in the nose with its sweet-and-sour flavour, which simultaneously cuts through the rich, dark chocolate of the fondant and calls to the pops of flavour from the whole cherries hidden. A scoop of vanilla gelato provides much-needed lightness. This is a dish equally for the terrible breakup and the euphoric job promotion, or simply an end-of-week treat (and may even earn you a kiss from a Miss Australia winner. You’ll have to ask Peter for the full story).
Punchy and bold without sacrificing sophistication, Barrafina’s food brings a pop of life into its surrounds. Peter’s warm enthusiasm for his food and his ‘family’ of staff is infectious and, if all goes to schedule, there will not only be Barrafina open tapas but plans for Tru Food Kitchen, a healthy, organic corporate catering pop-up, and a bar venture named Mr Wolf.
Watch this space.
2 Bligh St, Sydney, NSW
(02) 9231 2551
Web: Barrafina Tapas
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Barrafina Tapas