One huge perk of my media job in London was the corporate entertainment. In reality, less on the corporate side and more like having great working lunches with colleagues, trying out the latest London hotspots, for free. So back in my favourite city for 1 week only, for a little taste of the old times I went for lunch with 2 of my favourite colleagues, and we picked out a new opening to explore as we chatted all things ‘meeedjaa’.
Having trawled a good few reviews we settled on The Barbary, a slight risk since we couldn’t book a table at this little joint (clearly London hasn’t let go of this annoying no booking policy) but after a very short wait we were slotted nicely into 3 of the 24 counter-top bar stools watching the bustling chefs at work, turning out tasty plates of food from the ‘fire’.
The concept of Barbary is to reflect the countries of the Barbary Coast; from the Atlantic through to the Mediterranean Sea leading to Israel. So as you would expect, think Moroccan meets middle-Eastern. Equally it is about seasonality, and cooking in the most pure way as the Berbers of the past did; with fire, whether grilling on coals or baking in clay ovens.
The menu is small, but we could have eaten everything on it, and as such we had to exert serious self-control not to over order. It is divided simply into ‘baking & grinding’ and then Land, Sea and Earth. So based on the delightful waitress’s recommendation we chose a bread & 2 dips from section one, and 1 Land, 1 Sea, and 1 Earth plate to share between us. Plus the halloumi special.
The bread arrived; the naan e Barbari, essentially like an Indian naan but glistening with olive oil instead of ghee, beautifully soft, yet crisp and charred all at once. Dipped into the most incredible baba ghanoush, or the zhug (tangy green chilli dip) or harissa, it was heavenly.
Our ‘Sea’ was the mackerel from the daily specials menu. Flame grilled to perfection with a tangy tomato & herby dressing
‘Land’ was the Pata Negra neck, a bestseller on the menu, and we could see why. Porky, juicy, tender, drizzled with date syrup, ras-el-hanout and plated with what looked like pungent whole garlic but which were soft, sweet confit garlic cloves.
We chose the Jaffa style cauliflower for our ‘Earth dish’ and this too was delicious. Deep-fried and generously sprinkled with a coriander-laced tomato salsa.
The halloumi was simple but exactly what we hoped for, salty, charred and served with soft sweet peppers.
All the dishes come with lashings of beautiful olive oil, and that plus the various leftover sauces and smeary plates meant that we just HAD to order a second naan bread to dip and soak it all up, do NOT let the waiting staff take away your little dishes until you are well and truly ready!
Given it was a perfect sunny London day, we washed this all down with a Lebanese rose wine from their small but brilliant wine list. Desserts were not the order of the day, but I will definitely head back next time I am in London, to check out the intriguing ‘Hashcake’, not to mention a repeat of this wonderful experience, tucking into more of the tempting savoury dishes, enjoying the atmosphere, open kitchen and cute Neal’s Yard location. In fact I may go back to London JUST to do this…
The Barbary, 16 Neal’s Yard, Seven Dials, London WC2, UK