The welcome:Tucked away in Neal’s Yard, with no obvious branding or sign except on a stylish stone doorstep, it’s easy to walk past The Barbary. But, we suspect that crowds of people waiting outside will soon be a giveaway.
With a no bookings policy (with the exception of at 12 noon and 5pm) and just 24 covers, prepare to queue. But do so leaning on the bar, with a steady flow of drinks and snacks from smiley staff, safe in the knowledge that the food is absolutely worth it. (The nibbles to sustain you while you wait are an event in themselves.)
The room: A horseshoe-shaped bar dominates the room. Diners sit around it, on high stools looking in to the open kitchen. Flames roar on an open grill amidst the bustle of dishes and drinks preparation and pulsating mood music. It’s atmospheric without veering into theatrics.
Even the dourest of diner will strike a rapport with friendly chefs and staff, who are only to eager to share tidbits of dishes, recommend their favourite aperitif or join you in downing a shot.
If that sounds a bit forced, or jolly-hockey sticks, fear not: the bonhomie feels neither fake nor intrusive.
The food: We tried The Barbary with high hopes — as devoted fans of The Palomar, just days after a visit to the mothership restaurant that inspired them both, the Machneyuda in Jerusalem.
And the food still exceeded expectation.
Broken down into baking & grinding, earth, sea and land, the menu is made up of small plates combining Israeli comfort food with warm Mediterranean flavours. The list of drinks is small but perfectly formed, and complemented by staff whose suggestions are to be trusted.
Dishes come all at once and are designed to share, ranging from a very reasonable £3.50 for chargilled Naan bread to £19 for the finest Galician Sirloin.
A sesame-studded Jerusalem bagel is the perfect vehicle for creamy, zesty Baba Ganoush dotted with toasted pine nuts. Order the Harissa, Burnt & Pickled Chilli for a hot smoky hit. Meaty highlights include a rich Pata Negra Neck with whole cloves of confit garlic and the meltingly tender yoghurt-marinated Chicken Msachen, a traditional Egyptian dish that’s finished off on the grill. We’re warned that the slow-cooked Octopus tentacle is a divisive dish and so plump instead for a delectable swordfish.
But the real revelation is the Cauliflower Jaffa Style. Golden, crispy florets, doused in tahini and cut through with buttery citrusy sauce left us feeling almost evangelical about the vegetable.
The sweet section of the menu is, aptly, called ‘heaven’. The crisp honey-soaked filo pastry and creamy, tangy sweet mozzarella and goats' cheese filling of the Knafeh is pure unadulterated bliss — even if it did leave us groaningly full.
Would we go again? In a heartbeat: we just hope that the rest of London doesn’t cotton on too quickly.
|The Barbary Covent Garden restaurant review
|The Barbary, 16 Neal's Yard, Seven Dials, London , WC2H 9DP | MAP
|Covent Garden (underground)
25 Aug 17 – 25 Aug 18, Open 12pm-3pm and 5pm-10pm Monday to Friday, 12pm-10pm Saturday, and 12pm-9.30pm Sunday