It’s nice to be sociable, and never more so that when food’s concerned – there’s something about ordering together and sharing everything that brings a table to life. And it isn’t a pleasure that’s confined to one food culture; there are versions of social eating from the Mediterranean, from Spanish, from the Middle East, from China… you get the picture. Here in the West End, we’ve got many of those styles covered just a short walk away. These are some of our favourites.
Barrafina for tapas
Don’t arrive at Barrafina hungry – or if you do, make sure it’s bang on midday, when the place opens. The fabulously authentic tapas bar – modelled on Cal Pep in Barcelona – has only 20 or so stools and takes no reservations. In other words, you can expect a queue, though there are drinks and nibbles available to tide you over. Once you reach the front, it’s a marvel of simple cooking and kitchen choreography, with chefs turning out vibrant pan con tomates, crispy-gooey tortillas and meat and fish specials (including plenty of offal, if your tastes go that way) from behind a small L-shaped bar. It isn’t relaxing, but it’s a real experience – and every bit worth the wait.
Sofra for meze
There’s a great sharing tradition in Middle Eastern food, and Sofra, just around the corner off Aldwych, serves a wide range, with a particular focus on Turkey. We love the lamb with aubergine puree – tender chunks of grilled meat on a soft, smoky puree, with natural yogurt and garlic to give it a tangy edge – but you’ll want to try 90% of the menu, so bring as many friends as you can, order generously and get stuck in. There’s also a good-value set menu that offers eight small meze plates plus a main for £14.95 (£11.95 before 6pm).
Yauatcha for dim sum
It may not be cheap, but this Michelin-starred Soho spot puts a modern, brilliantly presented twist on the Cantonese tradition of bite-size delicacies. You’ll find crowd-pleasers like soft-shell crab and prawn toast alongside more niche – but very authentic – offerings like chicken feet in black bean sauce. The two dining rooms are chic, low-lit, and packed with young, chatty diners, so although this is top-end dining, it still has the energy and exuberance of the best social eating. And if you haven’t filled up on dim sum, there’s also an amazing patisserie counter whose exquisite creations could pass for sculpture (though then you wouldn’t get to eat them).
Terroirs for French-inspired plates
This isn’t the first time we’ve mentioned Terroirs, so we’ll keep it brief – its menu of small plates, cheese and charcuterie borrows from France, Italy and Britain, and is perfect for sharing, particularly over a bottle from the unmatched wine list.
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