Nieves Barragan Mohacho, the head chef of Barrafina / Charlie Forgham-Bailey

The London tapas bar was this week named National Restaurant of the Year

Fans of the simple meat and seafood dishes at Barrafina will queue halfway down Adelaide Street for a seat at London’s most lauded tapas bar. But the informal approach to quality dining is not the only thing that makes the award-winning Spanish restaurant stand out.

“In the kitchen today you will see four women in charge – eight years ago there was no chance of that,” says Nieves Barragan Mohacho, the Michelin-starred head chef. “Kitchens were dominated by men. Now things are changing.”

This week, the bar was awarded National Restaurant of the Year, a first for a venue with a female head chef. “The angry, swearing, masculine kitchens you see on TV are a thing of the past,” says Ms Barragan Mohacho. “Women bring empathy. I’m not saying all kitchens should be women only: there should be a mix. But the girls here bring calm and fun to the workplace.”

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Seafood tortilla at Barrafina

Barrafina is the first no-reservations restaurant to take the title. Its staff modestly attribute the award – which is run, like The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, by Restaurant magazine – to the rising popularity of street-style food. In Barrafina’s case this is served inches away from a frenetic open kitchen, to customers seated at a snaking counter; there are no tables.

According to the chef, who is from Spain’s Basque country, Barrafina’s punters come for the range of dishes – as many as 12 specials are on offer every day – as well as the bustle of the open kitchen. “We call it a dance,” says Ms Barragan Mohacho. “The customers want to see the cooking and hear and smell the food being made for their plate, which is something previously unheard of in British restaurants.”

Ms Barragan Mohacho joins an elite group of super-high-flying female chefs in Britain, of whom Hélène Darroze of the Connaught hotel, London, is highest. The French-born chef added the title of World’s Best Female Chef to her two Michelin stars last month.

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Hélène Darroze of the Connaught hotel, London (AFP)

She too has spoken of the difference a woman brings to a professional kitchen. “Women are very instinctive: they listen to their emotions. The guys want to put something [on the plate] to show something,” she told The Observer.

 

You can see the full list of 100 best British restaurants at nationalrestaurantawards.co.uk.

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