Solo Dining Series: Barrafina

Overview

  • Restaurant Name: Barrafina
  • Total Spending: £36
  • Dining Duration: 55 min (5:45 – 6:40)
  • Awkward Level: 2/5
  • Seating: Center bar area
  • Interaction with waiters/waitress: more than 10 times

Pre-dining Expectations

I love the food at Barrafina. They serve a wide variety of Spanish tapa dishes that are great for groups to share. I've been there a couple times and was a bit worried how eating there by myself would be, as I definitely wouldn't be able to get the varieties that I usually could get. Knowing that it's always busy during meal time, I tried to avoid the peak hour and arrived a bit earlier than normal dinner time. When I arrived, it was still quite empty, with only 2 couples and one man by the corner. 

At Barrafina

There are 3 different Barrafina branches, and I went to the Drury one, since I have been to the other two. All Barrafina have an open kitchen with gorgeous marble-topped bar where guests can sit and watch the chefs in action; except the Drury branch has a few tables outdoor by the alley. Right when I stepped in, the waiters all greeted me with friendly smile. With one particularly engaging, I asked him where I could sit. "Anywhere you like, ma'am," he answerd. 

I would usually take the corner seat however since it was already taken, I decided to sit in the middle of the bar so I could have a better view of the food prepping and also made sure that I won't be left alone in the corner and difficult to get waiters' attention. I sat one seat away from the couples, leaving some personal space in between. Since the table mat menus were already set in front of each seats, I began to figure out what I wanted for the day. Not long after, the waiter came with special menus and introducing them to me one by one and occasionally pointing to the fresh ingredients in the back of him. I thought the gesture was particularly thoughtful, not only does it provide an opportunity for conversation, but also allowing me to understand better, since some of the names of dishes I wasn't particularly familiar with. After having that brief conversation, I didn't feel so much intimidated if I had to ask him further questions, or just some simple chit chat.

I wasn't particularly hungry today, but I still wanted to have a bit of variety. So I told the waiter to stop me if I ordered too much. I got a portobello croquette, grilled cabbage and cod tempera, paired with a glass of white cava. While I was waiting for the food, I sipped on my cava and emersed myself in the environment, watching the active interactions happening in the kitchen. I couldn't quite understand what they were talking about, since it was a mix of Spanish and English, but they definitely seem like they were in a good mood while working non-stop.

Time to eat

People who know me well know that I'm a fan of mushrooms, so of course I wouldn't skip the portobello croquette. However, two of those is quite a lot considering they were deep friend and creamy. That's when I wish that if someone had come with me. Reminded me of the past experiences eating here with several other friends, we would all have a taste of something but then wouldn't get tired of the taste and can try more than 3 dishes. 

I thought the portion I ordered was just right. Once again, Barrfina did not disappointed me. My favorite was probably the crispy cabbage – it was grilled with creamy garlic sauce and topped with sliced almonds. Never thought the almonds would go so well with cabbages, this is definitely something I'd like to try to make at home someday. 

After I finished the 3 dishes, I felt that I still had some room for dessert. The lemon sorbet stood out to me, as I wanted end with something refreshing after dinner. 

"What's in the lemon sorbet?" I asked, considering its quite expensive for a sorbet (£6) compared to a scoop of ice cream which was only £2. 
"Just lemon sorbet, but served in a real lemon. It's really good" the waiter replied.
"Ok I'll have a try."

I was curious what makes it so special. When it came up, it was a lemon cut in half with sorbet contained inside. It was cute and the taste was also refreshing, just the way I wanted. But if I had known it was like that, would I have ordered it? Probably not...it was good but not *oh-my-gosh-kind-of-amazing* that I'd pay for the price. Oh wells, lesson learned. As my dad always tells me, it's the experience that you're having while eating, the eating is just a part of the whole experience. 

Post-food Reflection

Tapas is good for solo dining as the portions are small, but if you are a person like me who enjoys variety in their meals, I would strongly suggest to bring a friend or two. I was glad that I stayed in control and get tempted by a wide selection. The portion I had was just the right amount and had a bit extra room for dessert. Besides food, the overall experience was stressfree and satisfying. The human interaction was the part that made my meal most pleasant. From the beginning when they greeted me from the bar, instead of standing at a reception table, made it as if an old friend was welcoming me to their house. Then with a detailed explanation of today's special, it opened up the conversation and broke the ice. Every interaction was between inside the bar (chefs/waiters) vs outside (customers) – simple and straightforward. I never had to look behind me and search for waiters/waitresses; they were always in front of me.

That being said, with all the staffs working in the crowded open kitchen space, the level of collaboration and mutual understandings are crucial. Despite the space was limited, they didn't seem chaotic or rushing around; they handled every customer with great passion and kindness. Perhaps, that's the secreat to their success – of course, the food also add on top of that!


Barrafina
43 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5AJ
www.barrafina.co.uk

Solo Dining Series: Blixen

Overview

  • Restaurant Name: Blixen
  • Total Spending: £15
  • Dining Duration: 50 min (6:25 – 7:15)
  • Awkward Level: 1/5
  • Seating: Single table near the entrance
  • Interaction with waiters/waitress: 7 times

How I got here?

After a day of work, I've decided to come to somewhere close by work. Based on the restaurant list I've created, I manage to find Blixen within walking distance. It was one of the most mentioned restaurants good for solo dining, so I was keen on finding out what's 'so good' about it. Now that I'm working at OpenTable, I managed to book the restaurant through the system, and specifically asked to be seated in the garden area, after seeing the lovely picture. I knew it was going to be a nice weather, so I thought I'd treat myself with the last bit of sunshine before the day goes dark. 

Right when I stepped in side the restaurant, the host greeted me with a warm friendly smile. I told her I've made a reservation for one. 'Emily?' 'Yes." I replied. Unfortunately, when I arrived, the host told me that the garden was under construction, as they are going to move the main entrance there, to welcome their guest with better setting/atmosphere. 'Would you like to sit here?' she pointed to the seat close by the entrance. Probably because it was still early (6:30) so the entire restaurant only had two groups of people (5 businessmen, one couple), with one other man by himself. I looked around and said I'd prefer to sit further inside. I picked a corner seating with benches, where I can comfortably put my things next to me. Right after I was seated, another waitress came to greet me, and asked what I'd like to drink. Since it's a weekday, I decided just stick to water. 

First Impression

Upon the friendly faces at the restaurant, and the sunlight shinning through the window, the overall atmosphere of Blixen is very welcoming and comfortable. I guess also because there weren't that many people then, I felt very at ease, just relaxing after work. I looked around, there is one couple sitting in front of me, and a group of businessmen in suits sitting on the other side of the room (an elevated booth area), and further down towards the opposite corner, there's a man drinking red wine and reading a book by himself. 

I looked around, and since I didn't bring a book but also can't play on the phone, I was kind of bored. Just when I was about to try my best to resist to pick up my phone, the host came and asked if I would like to read some newspaper. **BING** She was right on time and saw the needs of mine. I was really grateful for her offer. I usually don't like to read newspaper when eating, because the ink gets my fingers all dirty. Good thing I came prepared, I got hand sanitiser in my purse. So I just read, read, and waited for my food. 

The eating part

The food came really quickly, I got a kale salad with beetroot, avocado, and walnuts, in addition with chips on the side. I put away the papers and eat away. The salad was really well seasoned – I've never had this combination before, I was thinking to myself, perhaps I'm gonna try to remake it again at home. So I focused on every single bite, trying to figure out what they put in there to make it taste so nicely. 

I am a big salad eater, at home, most of my dinner is salad. It's easy to make, healthy, and easy to clean up. You can call me lazy, but I love my salads. However, I defintely noticed that at home, I don't mind so much when some part of the leaf is sticking out of my mouth (not very lady-like, I know), but when I'm eating out, I would cut up the leaves and try to take smaller bites, and wipe my mouth every other bites to make sure that no dressing is around my lips. 

The eating was done pretty quickly, despite I took small bites. Maybe I was really focused on eating. While I was eating, there were more and more people coming in. Two more couples came in, a group of friends (look like visitors, with lots of shopping bags) and then 2 ladies sitting at the bar. I noticed that the staff numbers also increased accordingly, two more male waiters showed up, and the place finally begin to bustling more like a restaurant that I'm used to. 

Before I go

For some reason, I felt that I was more connected to the host rather the waitress who ordered for me. When I asked for the bill, I told her about my research and asked if I could ask her some questions. She was really opened about it and shared with me what she knew from her first-hand experience. 

Q: I've read about your restaurant being a place suitable for solo dining. Why do you think is that?
A: I think it's the seating arrangement. The seat that I offered you in the beginning is the favorite spot for people coming here by themselves. You can be on the side of the room while still feeling like you're a part of the bigger group. 
Q: Do you see many diners coming here by themselves?
A: Yes, quite a few. Some people come here to eat, some just have a drink; maybe read a book or something. 
Q: What do you do to accomdate those solo diners?
A: We try to be friendly and see what they need help with. Offer newspaper or something to read, like what I did to you as well :)
Q: Are there many solo diners who make reservations in advance?
A: Mmm, I'd say 1 out of 50.

I was really thankful for her cooperation, I know it's their busy hour, but she was really patient with me. I wish I could ask more, but I don't want to be rude so I thanked her and walked out. 

The favorite seat of solo diners at Blixen.

The favorite seat of solo diners at Blixen.

Post-food Reflection

Blixen is a place that I'd go back. Food is great, price is reasonable, and staffs are attentive. Next time, I might try going with a book, or with some friends :)


A little twist

So...the next day, which was my last day interning at OpenTable, my colleagues took me to a 'surprise lunch'...and guess where it was? Blixen (again!) I was quite happy, since then I could compare the experiences between solo dining vs group dining. The overall experience was still good, and the food was again, amazing. However, this time, we were able to sit in the garden area, which I requested to sit last evening but was told it was under construction!! Words can't describe how disappointed I was – it completely ruined my good impression of them. I understood if they didn't want to open up that area during dinner time, since I would be the only one there, but having lied to me about how that area is not accessible due to construction is just a total NO-NO. 

They probably didn't know that I'd be back the next day to find out...I mean, normally people don't go to the same restaurant two days in a roll, but that's just very dishonest. Makes me wonder could that be some sort of discrimination for solo diners? I wonder if today I had a group of people going with me, would they still have told me the same 'story'? 

As final thought, honesty is still the best policy. Please respect your customers, no matter group or solo – you never know how many more people they will bring back next time...


Blixen
65A Brushfield Street
London E1 6AA
020 7101 0093
www.blixen.co.uk