fino, fitzrovia – review

arroz negro – squid ink risotto 

Along with Japanese and Turkish, I’d say
Spanish cuisine is right up there in my top three favourites. Quality cookery
shows (namely A Cook’s Tour of Spain hosted by Thomasina Miers in 2008 and more
recently Rick Stein’s Spain from 2011) have done wonders in opening my eyes to
the regional nuances and the ingredient staples that make Spanish dishes so
identifiable and exceptional. 

I recall watching with salivating jaw towards the
floor under the influence of both amazement and excitement as I began to realise
what I thought I knew about Spanish cuisine was barely the tip of the iceberg.
Couple these shows with the immense presence of all 960 pages of ‘1080 recipes by Simone and Ines Ortega’ in my kitchen with its own gravitational pull and
beautiful colour shots of traditional Spanish dishes from the country’s
best-loved food authorities, and I was sold for life.

The Spaniards love their beans, vegetables, nuts, pork, seafood, garlic and cheese – what’s not to fall for? Dishes are often stained the fiery colours of the flag from the Spanish flavour signposts that are smoky red pimentón de la Vera (one of my favourite spices of all time – a separate post about it here) and the golden glows of saffron, along with sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. 


Here’s a shopping list of what you would find in a typical Spanish larder: chickpeas, chorizo, pancetta, cured ham, lentils, octopus, olives, pimentón, rice, salt cod, almonds, dried beans, fresh white anchovies, manzanilla olives, and so much more. It makes me want to jump on a plane yesterday.

chorizo iberico 


But here’s a joyous piece of news, there is no need. For Fino situated on Charlotte Street presents London with the same quality, freshness and
delight you would expect from dining in
 Castile–La Mancha
itself, but with a modern twist and closer to home. 

Both Fino and Barrafina
(the Soho sister restaurant) are run by brothers Sam and Eddie Hart with the
former opening its doors in 2003 as one of the first restaurants in London to
offer contemporary Spanish food. The kitchen is commandeered by Executive Head
Chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho with roots in the Basque country, and the menu is
fluid with seasonality dictating the provincial dishes that are made available. 

The focus on ingredients is centred around the best Spain has to offer
alongside available local produce. Having been privy to nothing but glowing
reports from friends and colleagues who have sampled it, I’m still trying to
figure out why it’s taken me so long to visit. But visit I have, and visit I
most certainly will again.

ham croquetas – outstanding

A wooden board layered with kimono silk thin chorizo iberico started off the proceedings, marbled fat disintegrating from the warmth of the tongue. A plate of pimientos (small green peppers) from Padrón crispy fried and sprinkled with coarse salt busied our fingers. Both the ham and cod croquetas were ordered. The latter delicious and sitting on a bed of sable squid ink, but the former were exceptional – light and crisp exteriors encasing velvet béchamel middles and savoury cubes of porky lardons. Unadulterated pleasures to consume. 

The octopus meat was soft and yielding, glistening burnt orange from the marriage between the pimentón and olive oil, and scattered with little piquant capers. Scallop ceviches were presented in their shells in individual portions and while small were soft and delicate, sour from lime, and topped with a sprinkling of chopped chives and a dusting of rust coloured pimentón.

pimientos de padrón 

squid croquetas 

scallop ceviche

scallop ceviche

A tortilla was ordered, almost to my lament. I’ve always viewed
them as the fodder of the tapas world to help ensure the diner doesn’t leave
hungry. I’m also not the world’s biggest spud fan, so uninspiring looking
rounds of amalgamated potato and egg leave me at best taking no more than a
mouthful and at worse, completely ignoring them on the menu. 

But praise be,
this was not only the best I had ever eaten (not that much of an acclaim as I
don’t eat them that often), but it was one of my favourite dishes from this
already extraordinary spread. Perfectly formed, moist and soft, and packed to
the rafters with flavour. It had a gooey middle and was topped with pungent alioli and diced chorizo.
A real joy to eat and a lesson about culinary pre-conceptions learnt. I recall
having a similar reaction to what turned out to be the best couscous I have
ever eaten in Marrakesh, elevated to levels I didn’t know couscous could reach.
You can read that here – scroll down to ‘The Last and Best Supper’.

chorizo & alioli tortilla – gold star 

Fingers of soft potato were wrapped in thin chorizo slices, christened ‘potato and chorizo chips’ and fried to a sensational crisp with the delicious burnished paprika oil staining the fingers and the plate. 

The nutty familiarity of the Manchego (hands down one of my favourite cheeses) was welcomed, slices glistening with a film of sweat from the heat of the spotlights. The arroz negro (black risotto) was served perfectly al dente, glossy and black from squid ink, and in a small copper pot topped with squid meat. It had come recommended from a chef on Twitter and they were spot on with the commendation.

potato and chorizo chips

I have found in previous engagements the fat in crispy pork belly to be too
sickly to consume – not the case at Fino. The meat was soft, the fat
delicate, and the crackling crisp without rendering it impenetrable. 

A single
crème catalana
was ordered for all three party members to share in addition to
insides full to bursting. The subtle hints of citrus and pallid light orange
flesh speckled with the black seeds of vanilla pods were exposed once the hard
caramel top had been fractured with the collective tapping of our spoons.

crisp pork belly

creme catalana

The interiors leave quite a bit to be desired, with the high
percentage of suited post-work clientele reflecting the generic corporate
décor, akin to the breakfast room of a business hotel chain. 

And I really don’t
like the lighting – the artificial glare from intense and hot spotlights over
tables does nothing to frame the beautiful food delivered, or my ability to
photograph it (the reflective pork belly picture is particularly poor – apologies). 

But front of house was faultless and consisted of a small army
of petite and pretty Spaniards. And the food was dreamy – certainly the best
tapas I’ve encountered. My next table here has already been reserved – I think
that speaks for itself.

Liked lots – tortilla, squid ink
risotto, ham croquetas, wine, service, value, changing menu, Spanish staff,
location, being able to reserve
Liked less – décor, lighting
Good for – catching
up with friends, romantic dinners, eating the best tapas in town, regular
visits


My rating: 5/5

Afiyet olsun.

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2 Comments

  1. June 27, 2013 / 11:58

    My mouth is watering at those croquetas! I tried to make some recently for our toddler, and they were fine, but those look like a whole other level of delicious 🙂 xoxo

    • June 27, 2013 / 12:05

      Lordy lords, the ham ones were almost other worldly! You must visit!

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