Finding a good spot to eat alfresco in this town can be a bit of a bitch. Often, the food is average or the space has niggles: too small, too much traffic, too reliant on perfect weather (what? In England?) So it’s safe to say that Parrillan, the smart outdoor spin-off from the peeps behind neighbouring Barrafina, is something special. It’s a large spot, offering arguably the best outdoor seating in the swish King’s Cross development Coal Drops Yard.
The vibe is upmarket but relaxed, not unlike the beach clubs of the French or Italian Rivieras. Grey terrazzo tiles and white marble tables form a backdrop to olive trees in oversized pots. There’s shade down one side, courtesy of a wooden pergola, which cleverly hides a discreet pane of glass over it, providing shelter from the elements (there are heaters, too). On another side, there’s the swirl of smoke, a hot-hot party of charcoal getting ready to do its thing.
Because DIY cooking on a parilla (grill) is what you’re here to do. Those coals are heated until glowing, then popped under a portable grill with a stainless steel griddle – the kind that means you won’t unintentionally sacrifice any food to the flames (sob) – and put on your table, so you can get to work.
But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. There was a cold, no-cook section too, with dishes that shouldn’t be overlooked. Like the tomato salad: huge chunks of fragrant tommies with good olive oil, red onion slivers and micro herbs. Or what was simply billed as ‘green salad’, but was actually a take on Barrafina’s celebrated baby gem dish. Once again, its trademark shallot and chive vinaigrette made it one of the menu’s absolute must-haves. Also good: the soft, delicately vinegary veg (peppers, onions et al) of a classic escabeche, the aubergine gently smoked, an accompanying aioli thick and creamy.
As for the grill ingredients, these were flawless. The seafood, from shimmering scallops to fabulously fresh red prawns, was stunning. But – and it’s a big but – it cost as much as sashimi in a good sushi restaurant would. Like, £9 per scallop. Ouch. Instead, go for the middlewhite pork collar: bands of tender meat which, at £11 for a decent platter, had to be the best value dish on the menu. Or the mild, melt-in-the-mouth milk-fed lambs’ kidneys. Add a pan con tomate (£4), the toast with aioli (£4) and one of those green salads (£5) and your bill may even be bearable.
But the price isn’t the only concern. You do also have to cook your own main course. For me, this is fun, and a reason to go. But if it’s not your bag, there’s always Barrafina next door. Also, the service on our visit, though charming and professional, was painfully slow. Parrillan is best if you’re on holiday. Or if, just for one lunchtime, you want to pretend that you are.