Wednesday 12 August 2009

La Barca - Ideal for Dinner before the Old Vic

Image from Celebdu on Flickr

Choosing restaurants to take your parents to is tricky. Especially when you’ve got the added parameters of having to be finished by 7pm and be near Waterloo so we could make it to the Old Vic in time to see The Cherry Orchard. A spot of research on Twitter led me to La Barca. Luckily, I didn’t look at the reviews on London Eating, otherwise we would never have gone…

“The service was slow, rude and pompous.”

“It's one of the most overpriced restaurants I've been too.”

“La Barca used to be great; there's clearly something seriously awry with it now.”

“My advice - only visit here if you're prepared to put up with badly cooked food and poor customer service, we certainly won't be going again.”

On the night the air was stickier than a fly catcher and more saturated than a toner cartridge. Sweat clung to my back and made me feel like a filthy urchin. Just typing it makes me feel clammy. So the beautifully air-conditioned interior of La Barca was gloriously welcome.

With 5 of us eating (and Dad paying) we were able to sample a wide range of their impressive, but robustly priced menu. My Mother and Sister guzzled their enormous prawns, still enveloped by their terracotta shells, in garlic and lemon butter before any of us got a look in. They looked sensational. When quizzed Mum said it was the best thing she’d eaten in ages. Dad’s smoked salmon parcel contained a cushion of crab meat that had him purring like our geriatric Siamese cat. Meanwhile Cowie’s bresaola with truffle oil and parmesan was a treat. My grilled sardines were, grilled sardines.

Whilst the starters were good, the mains stole the show. Cowie devoured her pink centred tuna. Dad demolished his mixed platter of fried white fish with a grin on his face that apparently I’ve inherited. Whilst Mum enjoyed her rosy best end of lamb with a slightly dodgy gravy. But, it was my dish that stole the show.
Because we’d arrived late I’d ordered very quickly and without much thought. Why I ordered sardines, I’m not quite sure. But where I’d missed out on the first course I won on the main course. It was like accidentally filling in a lottery ticket and winning the jackpot.

My “Spaghetti a La Barca” arrived in a paper bag and was lovingly spooned, tableside, into my bowl. Squirmy spaghetti jostled with plump mussels, clams, squid rings, tentacles, scallops and a vast tiger prawn. And mingled with a spiced tomato sauce that I managed to splatter all over my white shirt. It’s one of the best bowls of pasta I’ve ever had.

I loved it so much I asked them how it’s made. Apparently they boil the pasta and make a rich tomato sauce with some mild chilli to give it background heat. They then pour the pasta and sauce into a paper bag and add the seafood before baking it in the oven for 10-15 minutes with the lid on.

The technique is elaborated upon by John Thorne, in “Simple Cooking”:

“With the paper bag method, the pasta is cooked in the ordinary way until it is almost done, then mixed with the sauce and put in the oven to bake. Since the bag is collapsed around its contents and sealed, the flavour of the sauce completely penetrates the pasta.

There is also a second advantage. Because no moisture escapes, the cook has the opportunity to get a maximum amount of flavour from a minimum of undiluted sauce...”

As we walked across the road to the Old Vic, Mum and Dad said it was one of the best meals they’ve had in London for many years. It’s not cheap, but if you just order the pasta in a bag and have a bottle of house wine you can’t go too far wrong. The negative comments on London Eating seemed very wide of the mark. If you are planning a trip to the Old Vic with your family, then a trip to La Barca before hand is just the ticket.

La Barca on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

We've had your spaghetti dish on our list of things to cook for a while but haven't quite got round to cooking it. I remember MsMarmiteLover mentioning that modern greaseproof paper makes it quite tricky as it tends to disintegrate so it might be worth chatting to her if you do intend to make it. I'd be interested to see how it turns out if you do.

Unknown said...

I have tried the paper bag method before and the pasta turned out a little on the dry side so be careful not to overdo!

Helen said...

So funny isn't it how so often those reviews can be wrong? I've wanted to try the spaghetti in a bag too but more for the novelty, I had no idea that the method improved the flavour so much by allowing the sauce to penetrate the pasta more. Straight to the top of the list. Oh hang on, I'm on a diet. Oh, sod it.

Browners said...

@Ginger - When we give it a go, I'll let you know what happens. I think it sounds a lot of fun.

@Gourmet Chick - I'll have to do some research before giving this a go properly. I reckon if the sauce is wet enough it should be ok...

@Helen - I'm sure the London Eating reviews have got a lot of truth at their core. No doubt these people have had sub-standard experiences. But our meal was pretty much faultless.

Spaghetti in a bag is great fun. And as you say, if it makes it taste better... then it's very exciting.

Ollie said...

What an absolutely brilliant way of cooking pasta. I can't believe I've never heard that before. I'm going to give that a go in very short order.

Browners said...

@Ollie - Me too. It has completely captured my imagination. I want to come up with something that fits being cooked in a bag... struggling to find one though.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

'kay, I'm really going to have to stick my head round the door next time I'm in the area.

Browners said...

@aforkfulofspaghetti - It's not the kind of place to go to unless you are in the area and don't want to go to the Anchor and Hope. It was perfect for our pre-theatre needs. But if you do go, make sure you tuck into the spaghetti in a bag!

Caitlin - Roaming Tales said...

I usually go to the Hope & Anchor but it's nice to have another option.

Browners said...

@Caitlin - Absolutely. Always nice to have another option.


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