Rustic Spanish tapas served in the hustle and bustle of Spitalfield market. Great location but the food is not extraordinary. And if slow service aggravates you, it’s best to avoid!
2 Sundays ago, my husband and I rendezvoused with some friends at Meson los Barilles, a well established Spanish restaurant just behind Spitalfields market. They don’t take reservations on Sundays, but even though we arrived at 12.30pm we didn’t have to wait longer than 10 minutes for a table of four.
To complement it’s namesake, the restaurant was bedecked with several large wooden wine barrels which also served as tables. The wine barrels and the hanging hams set off some internal Iberian switch and I felt obligated to order sangria. The restaurant was very hectic and woefully understaffed. The sweaty waiters looked like they were doing some form of keep-fit, ducking under the bar counters, then sprinting over to tables while delicately balancing two hands full of tapas dishes. The four of us hadn’t met up in a while so we had lots of catch up on, making the slow service less palpable. After several attempts to flag a waiter down, one eventually braked and took our order.
Unlike the rather chaotic front team, the kitchen staff seemed to run a much tighter ship, and after not too long, the tapas started flowing from the kitchen. The first to arrive were the serano ham, manchego and the garlic mushrooms. The ham and the thinly sliced triangular strips of manchego were rather forgettable, but the chewy mushrooms, deliciously infused in a lusty garlic oil sauce, were a real treat. This restaurant has a reputation for it’s fish dishes so we also ordered the sardines in vinegar and the fried white bait. The sardines in vinegar were one of the highlights of the meal. The small sardine filets had a wonderfully soft texture and a slightly sour flavour which made my tastebuds go a bit loco. The battered white bait which came with aioli was a little disappointing. Judging by the taste, it had not been freshly fried up, but kept warm, as the batter was luke warm and slightly soft, which was a bit of a turn off. The croquetas de jamon on the other hand were magnificent: crispy on the outside and extremely creamy potato with specks of salty ham on the inside. The morcilla (Spanish black sausage) was ordered by the gents, and for reviewing purposes I did take a bite. It was actually quite tasty, full of spices (cloves being the most prominent) and also quite nutty. One bite was however all I could stomach! The fried chorizo and meat balls in tomato sauce were competently executed but nothing spectacular. The only major letdown of the afternoon was the Spanish omelette, which was awfully bland.
Our bill came to £30 per person including tips and 2 beers/sangrias each. Meson los Barrilles is always very crowded so I get the impression that they always prepare dishes to order. Therefore we were a little unlucky with the white bait. It is a very atmospheric place, buzzing with all sorts of people from city workers and market traders, to fashionistas and artists flowing in and out of it’s doors. Overall the food is ok and for the price it is decent value for money, but I would rather pay a little bit extra and go to a Spanish restaurant which has a more superior selection of sausages, ham and cheeses.
Meson Los Barrilles, 8 Lamb Street, Spitalfields, E1 6EA. 0207 7375 3136