Barrio Central, Soho
Having spent many of the later hours of my earlier twenties at Barrio Central, this joint has a special place in my heart. Nights out with the gal pals consisting of dancing and too many caipirinhas did not always end well.
A décor and menu revamp have spruced old my old pal – and I’m amazed to say (despite my nostalgia), it’s definitely for the better.
Bold tiling and modern lighting lend an unashamedly fun-meets-classy vibe – industrial, geometric and not unlike the tone of much of the contemporary art seen at the Brazilian galleries showing at Frieze London this year. There must be something in the water.
Start with some cocktails – a bubbly Bossa Beleza or a Cuba Lima (Pisco, Peach, Lemon, Egg White), both wonderful, frothy, fresh additions for the bar’s relaunch.
Move on to some more cocktails – stronger this time – an Ol’ Dirty Bastard (an Old Fashioned to the layman / an ODB to the barmen better accustomed) or a Wonky Donkey (Casco Viejo Tequila, Elderflower, Ginger) to take you back to a time when Ant and Dec were cool. Were they ever cool? Perhaps after a few of these.
The food menu is where Barrio has really upped its game. They’ve kept some of their favourites, namely the awesome chunky guacamole, but crack on with some other winners to soak up those spirits. Cactus Quesadillas are a crowd-pleaser, as are the tacos – just large enough to satisfy but far less offensive when you are on a date than a full-on burrito. Go for the Frito Fish option or the Lamb Chilli – smoky minced and ‘barbecoa’ lamb with sour cream, pickled cucumber, cheddar and cured egg yolk.
For something a little more sophisticated, I’d recommend the Ceviche Mixto, a fresh mixture of seafood in tiger’s milk with avocado, crispy sweet potato and Serrano chilli. I would not have blinked an eyelid if I’d seen or tasted this in a far more austere Mayfair dining establishment.
If you’re feeling friendly, grab a dimly lit table downstairs. If you’re up for some fun, though, take a couple of stools opposite the bar on the ground floor – a perfect situation for flirting and topping up the glasses.
Top tip: do your cocktails the right way, meaning, in the right order. Start on the bubblies and the fruities and move through to the heavier, rum and bourbon-based. This is probably a good lesson for all bar situations, but more so here, where the samba sound has the power to turn any space into a dance floor.
When your feet tire, the aim is to end your night in one of those cosy niches downstairs, with an ODB – and your date.
It’s quite hard (but not impossible) to be sexy with a butter-laden cob of corn.
Sexy, yes, in a very, very fun way.