From the people behind Dabbous, unusual and well-executed cooking in Fitzrovia: casual, family-friendly vibe and affordable prices, but no bookings, alas.
There’s a vast bar-restaurant in Helsinki called Zetor (‘Tractor’), where Finns go to sit on hay bales, admire each other’s checked shirts, then indulge in wildly drunken barn dancing. It’s also a place to witness the infamous Finnish capacity for booze. Heavy drinking is something that Londoners do well too. Getting in touch with our inner bumpkin, however, is still a niche interest in London, and it’s one that Barnyard is now here to satisfy – particularly those with a more sober desire for rus in urbe than the Finns.
Barnyard’s walls are corrugated iron, the tables stripped planks; plates are enamelled, some seats are oil drums. But wait a minute, isn’t this the latest venture from Ollie Dabbous, a chef so cutting edge he could probably chop down a wild elderberry shrub with his bare hands while out foraging. Of the modernist restaurant Dabbous, the one that’s fully booked until the northern hemisphere runs out of chilled pine infusions and fig leaf broth?
Ollie Dabbous doesn’t just do hifalutin’ cookin’, that’s clear; he can also do casual, family-friendly, and affordable. Barnyard’s menu at first glance can read like motorway service station caff – cauliflower cheese, sausage roll, chicken in a bun – until you delve a bit deeper.
‘Lard on toast’ and ‘mince and dumpling’ are just that, in small-plates portions – but both dishes were full-flavoured and beautiful in their simplicity. More complex was the crispy chicken wings, rubbed with smoked paprika, garlic and lemon, succulent and fragrant, the envy of many dedicated chicken-fryers.
Unusual flavours, as at Barnyard’s high-end sibling, are a signature. Corn on the cob was rubbed with flowery-scented meadowsweet, which permeated the butter. Hispi cabbage had an unusual taste that turned out to be clover. Harvester this is not.
Despite the affordable pricing and no-bookings policy, there is haute cuisine precision in many of the dishes. We were impressed by the acorn-flour waffle, firmly textured and perfectly formed. Popcorn ice-cream was served with a fudge sauce so smoky we looked around for the diesel exhaust, but in small amounts it added a welcome extra dimension to the dish.
Service is charming, the low bill is even more agreeable. Be prepared to queue; it’s tiny. But there’s an equally bucolic bar at the front. Barn dancing is not expected – if the spirit suddenly moves you, you might have had one Hedgerow Shandy too many.
By Guy Dimond