Tel: +44 (0)20 7813 8010
Address: 33 Charlotte Street, W1T 1RR
Cuisine Type: Spanish
nearest tube station Goodge Street

It’s surprising anyone gets to Fino at all. The address is Charlotte Street, but the entrance is tucked round the corner on the ill-lit Rathbone Place, and even then, is pretty inconspicuous. But this just accentuates the contrast with the bright subterranean dining room, with its contemporary design that, while hardly likely to offend anyone’s sensibilities, is hardly a contender for an originality or “wow-factor” award.

We hadn’t booked but were offered a couple of stools at the Eating Bar, which faces onto the kitchen and “La Plancha”, the grill where many of the dishes are prepared. I actually recommend these seats; both reminiscent of the authentic Spanish experience of eating tapas standing at the bar itself and a real eye-opener to watch a kitchen in full swing. Despite the occasional outburst (“I said three, not one, three!”), this is a well-oiled operation, taking a matter of minutes to process an order.

The menu is Spanish, both in terms of the food offered and the language in which it is written. Our super-friendly waitress was helpful in explaining the dishes and knowledgeable about the ingredients and preparation methods. However, she did push us (very cunningly, so that we didn’t suspect it at the time) into over-ordering a couple of tapas that we hadn’t originally selected. She also translated our order of Manzanilla sherry from a cheaper glass to a more expensive one (£8.80), which we only realised once the bill came.

But all was forgiven when the food came. Dish after dish of superbly prepared food, simply presented but boasting top-notch ingredients, finely tuned seasoning and consistency of standards. We started with Pa amb tomaquet (£3), toasted bread with tomato, garlic and fruity olive oil and bunuelos de bacalao (£7.50), incredibly fluffy salt cod and potato balls that miraculously managed to reconcile being deep-fried with lack of greasiness. Arroz negro(£7.20) was probably my favourite, pieces of tender and smoky grilled squid on a bed of risotto rice cooked in its ink, even if it did temporarily stain my mouth to a bruise-coloured black.

Next, lamb’s kidneys (£6.50), served very rare with red onion marmalade, were gobbled up and raved about by the Bloke, but hadn’t travelled far enough down the cooking process for me. Admittedly, overcooking gives this particular organ a dry, grainy coarseness but somewhere in between, they attain a creamy texture that is unparalleled by any other food substance. Chickpeas with spinach and bacon was a bit underwhelming after that, and expensive at £6.50. However, pinchos morunos (£6.80), skewers of marinated pork browned on La Plancha, were more tender and tasty than I though possible for what is usually my least favourite of meats. Finally, tortilla with chorizo (£5.20) fell a little flat, being the last to arrive in a series of punchy dishes, so not quite living up to the others.

Despite being full, we couldn’t resist dessert. From a selection including red berry salad, chocolate fondant and donuts with ice cream, we opted for the crème catalan foam (£6.50), a feather-light mousse with a burnt sugar topping in a buttery tuile biscuit. The sort of dessert that gives the impression of being insubstantial, but probably contains a quarter of the recommended calorific intake for the day.

The wine list has an excellent range of internationally sourced bottles, with a impressive range of Spanish wines (£15 – £58), and is particularly strong on sherries (many by the glass), if that is your tipple of choice.

This now ranks as one of my favourite eateries in London. However, beware of rampant price inflation; our food bill was 10% higher than the cost of equivalent dishes taken from the sample menu on their website, presumably posted when Fino opened earlier this year. Certainly leaves the RPI trailing in its wake…

– Tracy Yam, 10/2003

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