Just as I did its older sister The Palomar, I adored the food at The Barbary. As I was with Carolyn, our choices skewed veggie, but after having had my fill of rich meat the night before at Smoking Goat, this wasn’t such a bad thing. Here, there is nowhere to sit but the counter, and we waited about 15 minutes or so to get a spot. Space is a little tight – especially if you’re sitting next to a couple of entitled posh types, one of which keeps leaning on the bar so much their elbow takes residence on your placemat. Not mine actually – Carolyn’s, but I empathized with her annoyance.
We got a selection to share between us, then she got the cauliflower Jaffa style while I had the seabass to myself. First up the Bagel, encrusted with sesame seed (love!) and which came with za’atar to dip in or sprinkle over, but we used it to dip into our pumpkin (chunky and lush) and the selection of zhug, harissa, burnt and pickled chillies. The bagel was good enough on its own but even better for eating up all that other stuff. The pickles were crunchy and had a zing to them, as did the chilli. We had a little purple ball that I never would have identified as a pickled baby aubergine if I hadn’t been told that’s what it was, and it was a delight.
Halloumi fries came with a delicate, yet still fiery dipping sauce – and were a fairly meaty portion (even though you can never have enough halloumi). Tenderstem broccoli came with a thick slick of ‘black tahini’ which was wonderful. I have to say, the ‘soul’ of each dish was excellent but what brought the meal to new heights was the little extra dimensions, such as the tahini, or the dipping sauce, like bonus prizes of flavour.
I even really liked the Carolyn’s cauliflower, piled high with a sort of salsa, which is not normally my favourite veg. And the seabass didn’t even make me give a second thought to the meat dishes I could have had. I could just gush and gush about this place – everything was fantastic, a maelstrom of tastes – there never was a better excuse to laud small plate; you want to dip into each like a bee dipping into flowers, gathering up all the wonderful flavours and then dipping back in for more. A top restaurant of 2016.