The Barbary, Covent Garden is definitely one of my top five London restaurants.
What makes the Barbary special, you ask?
First, I love Neal’s Yard, where The Barbary is located. It’s this playful culinary and shopping gem that takes you away from the busy roads of Covent Garden.
I love its informal 24 seat sit-up bar, facing an open kitchen, not unlike it’s parent restaurant Palomar (but which also has a regular seating area). Whilst not everyone likes to sit by the bar and perhaps its not ideal for groups as you’re unable to face your foodies-in-crime, it is perfect for a date night or an outing with your BFF (who could also be your date). If you ever have a chance to pause from your conversation, its also great fun to watch the Barbary chefs toy with chunks of meat on the grill or pull out perfectly oblong, perfectly coated sesame Jerusalem bagel from a clay oven.
And without doubt, I love the food.
Serving Berber-inspired food (including Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Libyan, Israelite influences), the flavours are as indulgent as they are simple.
The Jerusalem bagels: not too unlike the vendors in Jerusalem, they serve za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix) for dipping in a paper bag – whereas in Jerusalem it’s wrapped in newspaper pouch. Served straight from the clay oven, they are delicious with condiments.
Condiments: we ordered a side of Baba Ganoush (right) and Zhug (Yemenite hot sauce with parsley coriander), Harissa (Maghrebi hot chili pepper paste), Burnt & Pickled Chilli. I really liked both dishes. They were uncomplicated, rich in flavour and depth, and fuss-free – a perfect accompaniment to the Jersualem bagel. Both sides were priced at £5.50, with the bagel at £4.50.
The menu: sees a range of small plates grouped into categories Sea (Fish), Earth (Vegetables), Land (Meat) and Heaven (Desserts). These categories are grouped under the heading A-LA-ESH, which I suppose is coming from the Hebrew word Al ha’esh which literally means “on the fire”. We ordered one from each, except for Land.
We were recommended the Cauliflower Jaffa Style from the Earth section. This dish is composed of a deep fried cauliflower head topped with finely chopped tomato, lemon and coriander. It was tasty and had a nice texture to it. (£7.50).
We also tried the octopus mashawsha (a style of hummus with whole chickpeas) from the Sea section, which included a charred octopus tentacle topped with this type of hummus. Whilst delicious, this price of this plate is steep, at £17.50. You have to be mentally prepared to fork out two tenners for a tentacle.
Dessert: Whatever you do, you cannot, just cannot leave without dessert. Well, we ordered two, just in case: the Smoked Cigars with Goat’s Cheese Ice Cream (left) and the Hash cake (right).
Both were divine, confirming that there was absolutely no exaggeration in placing them in the Heaven category. The Smoked Cigars were similar to a Turkish baklava in taste, with the delicate savouriness of the goat’s cheese pairing excellently. The hash cake was the most incredible density of pistachio goodness, served with a dollop of cream.
There are no bookings so be prepared to queue unless you’re eating slightly before everyone’s off work. We went at 6.15pm and we found seats straight away.
Location: The Barbary | 16 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP