the UK Restaurant and Hotel Zine

Barra - Lisa Teoh welcomes this new bar-restaurant just off Carnaby Street in London's West End

My friend summarised Barra beautifully: she described this new and already buzzing bar and restaurant as the sort of place that you might enter for a drink at six and then discover that you're still there at midnight having eaten an excellent meal meanwhile! Situated half way down Newburgh Street, which runs parallel to Carnaby Street, Barra is ideally located for lunch whilst breaking from retail therapy, or for an evening of fun with friends. During the day the emphasis is on food and at night the atmosphere is more that of a bar. But the same menu is served all day and there is soon to be brunch at weekends. Andy, the chef-patron, assures me that this will consist of good hangover chow!

The décor is simple, elegant and slightly masculine, with a pleasing use of natural browns, emphasised in the wooden floor and wonderfully shaped window ledges which double as window seats. The windows are large and run along two sides of the room: this adds to the refreshing airy atmosphere of what could otherwise feel a bit too cosy. There are intriguingly placed floor lights that add to the ambience by lighting up some of the opaque glass-topped tables from below. The front, main area is dedicated to the bar and, despite it being a soggy Tuesday the night we tripped into Barra, was busy with a good mix of after work drinkers and out-for-the-evening merry-makers. Behind the bar area is a small but not cramped dining space with a handful of tables. Stairs lead down to an equally well designed room which has 25 covers and can be booked for private parties.

The menu is modern, based on fresh seafood and has some interesting versions of otherwise familiar dishes. A good example is Caesar salad with king prawns and chilli or cottage cheese salad with summer fruits. Being unable to resist any kind of fish soup, I tried the red mullet soup with rouille and croutes (£4.50) and was not disappointed. The flavours were fairly complex and difficult to pin-point, but the result was delicious. My friend opted for the Cornish crab with flat bread, guacamole and tomato cherry salsa (£8.50). This was fabulously fresh and delicately flavoured: it might bes a bit too filling for some as a starter, but would make a wonderful light lunch dish.

Grilled lemon sole with parsley butter (£10.50) is a simple dish that can very easily be spoilt by poor ingredients, but not in this case. I opted for Caesar salad with grilled corn-fed chicken, lemon and thyme, and thoroughly enjoyed the fresh and light flavours. Without wishing to have appeared too healthy, we shared a portion of the aptly named big chips (£3)! However, there are a selection of alternatives, which include the essential rocket and Parmesan salad (£3.50) and the increasingly popular potato, the Jersey Royal, here served minted (£3).

Puddings are limited in choice, but that is just as well: we shared real vanilla ice cream with homemade cookies (£4.50) only after much deliberation. Again, this was a simple dish that owed its success to the very best of ingredients.

Barra already seems deservedly popular, having only opened in June. I know that I shall be adding it to my list of fun places to visit both during the day and at night.

Lisa Teoh, July 1999

12a Newburgh Street
West Soho
Tel: 020 7287 8488

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