101 Upper Street, London N1 1QN
La Farola Cafe, one of the many strollable restaurants on Upper street, styles itself as a local hidden gem, serving authentic quality tapas. Tapas gives the opportunity to be exploratory and revisit old favourites at the same time, and we dutifully split half and half with extremely mixed results. I can only think that there is some dysfunction back of house as I can’t believe the same chefs offered a rich and flavourful samfaina alongside the blandest “aïoli” I’ve ever tasted. The baffling kitchen, rife spelling mistakes on the menus, loose masonry (there was an actual loose brick in the wall next to our table), and inattentive staff all gave the impression of an apathy towards the details that really make or break a meal. In short, in spite of La Farola’s glowing reviews elsewhere, it would take more than a bull-fighting flamenco dancer to get me back there.
Food: 4 / 10
Pan con tomate
Basically deconstructed bruschetta. The bread was good, however the tomato relish was watery and bland.
Vierias a la plancha
Fried scallops, wilted spinach, pine nuts, crispy bacon and beetroot purée
This was easily the highlight of the meal; great flavours, colourful, well-balanced and well-executed. The beetroot was a brilliant complement, lending earthy tones to the spinach, and sweetness to the bacon. The pine nuts worked as a garnish, but the dish would have been just as good without them.
Iberico pork shoulder, pistachio cream sauce and purple potato crisps
A good idea, ruined by poor execution. The pistachio cream was somehow bland and watery, making the crisps soggy. Loading a fork with one of the rare whole pistachios gave an idea of what the dish should have tasted like, with all the potential to be delicious. Potentially.
Mandonguilles anb[sic] samfaina (Meatballs with ratatouille)
Why the sudden break into Catalan, I don’t know… The meatballs were good, though unbalanced with an abundance of herbs. The samfaina, with its deep and rich flavours, really stole the show and was used as the primary sauce for the bread, croquetas and patatas fritas.
Croquetas de jamon
A staple of tapas and a good bellwether for the kitchen. Unfortunately these specimens were mediocre. Flavour-wise they were bland, texture-wise a touch stodgy and greasy.
Perhaps there was something wrong with the deep fryer, as these came out a bit greasy and soggy. They also came with the blandest “aïoli” I’ve ever tasted, more akin to an industrial sour cream sauce than anything that has had garlic near it, and an insipid bravas sauce.
Service: 4 / 10
The lowly depths of service conjured a tale of a group of Spaniards that were suddenly plucked against their will from an accustomed “mañana” lifestyle by the sea and in year-round sunshine, brought to a grey city to wait on Londoners day in and day out as punishment for their sins.
Inattentive, inefficient and unfriendly – the epitome of bad service.
Price point: Painful
At around £25 to £35 a head (3 to 4 plates of tapas each) without drinks, one would expect a far higher quality. We left feeling acutely ripped off.
In conclusion: Go to Skyscanner, book a flight to Spain, eat real tapas, practise a bit of español, catch some rays, and head home before work on Monday. After the school hols, one can literally fly out there for less.