Well, we’re not laughing now, are we? OK, we are a bit. But that isn’t to say that Parrillan, by the Hart brothers, creators of Barrafina and El Pastor, is a terrible idea. For what is nicer than barbecuing exemplary produce on a charcoal grill in the great outdoors? No. It’s merely a peculiar idea.
Parrillan relies on proper summers, balmy nights and a lack of sideways sleet. Powerful heaters are perched beside every table, to err on the safe side. It is apparently modelled on the Ibizan restaurant Ca’n Pilot, and serves impeccable meats and shellfish – 50-day-aged rump steak, diver-caught scallops, milk-fed lamb’s kidney – all raw, and all at premium prices, then asks you to grill them yourself on your own personal mini grill in the centre of each table. They come with four house sauces: mojo verdo, mojo rojo, salsa ibizenca and, my favourite, a rich, red, almond-based romesco.
The whole process is a little fondue-ish, a little Korean barbecue-esque. I’m not sure I wholly approve, but here we are. The hospitality landscape weaves ever more away from the essence of actually being hospitable: app-based ordering, collecting your own food while brandishing a buzzer, queueing for your own drinks, clearing your own plates. Parrillan smashes this out of the park with “Be your own chef”.
Literally. Take the middlewhite pork collar (at £11 for just a few slices), arrange it on the grill with pretty tongs, sear it yourself, judge when it’s cooked, then plate up.
By 2025, I’ll be showing up at restaurants with a stash of Finish Quantum tablets in my bag and loading the dishwasher. “Darling, let’s not take the Magimix out on the town with us again,” Charles will sigh. “It’s heavy.”
“But, sweetheart,” I’ll huff, “I want a pudding. How about I just bring the dough hook?”
Still, on the Sunday lunchtime we visit, the place is heaving. As the aroma of top-grade red carabiniero prawns and Iberican pork sweetbreads sizzling on numerous open grills drifts across Coal Drops Yard, the effect is marked. Faces pop up at the side of the cordoned-off area of the outside restaurant terrace like curious meerkats, wowing as plates of Cantabrian anchovies – those very good ones, like unforgettable, caramel-coloured wonders – and pan con tomate (thankfully already prepared) are shipped to our table, alongside plates of presa Iberica de Bellota and escalivada (roast aubergines, tomatoes and peppers drenched in excellent olive oil).
We eat, ploughing through money like Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas anchored off the shore of Antibes: £12 for those anchovies, £14 for shu-toro marinaded tuna, a single scallop at nine quid.
We drink a jug of sangria blanca (albariño, brandy, apple juice, grapefruit juice, lemon) while trays of enormo Spanish Xoriguer gin and tonics seem in constant transportation to the other diners.
Within 10 minutes, I grow weary of the responsibility of grilling my own lunch, but the men at my table are delighted by the task.
Personally, I find the grill a positive boon for obscuring dishes one hopes not to share, such as the patatas panadera (one large spud, chopped, roasted with oil, in a bowl. Very delicious. Five pounds, thank you).
Still, there’s no doubt that whatever is occurring “inside” Parrillan seems alluring to everyone outside.
Parrillan is a wholly convivial experience. It is sexy and European in a way we’ve decided we’ll have no more of over here soon. Perhaps Parrillan will keep the grills after October, when those Cantabrian anchovies may dry up and we can make Heinz baked bean toasties on them instead.
The puddings are very slim on the ground, but the tarta de la casa the day we are there is a mel i mato tart, which is a sort of bottomless cheesecake made with artisanal cheese from Girona strewn with honey and nuts.
As we leave, the chef appears and shakes our hands, though I’m still trying to work out whether it was to thank us for coming or to thank us for doing his shift for him.
I could have flown to Ibiza for less than we spent at Parrillan. The future feels increasingly silly. I’m merely the conduit. Don’t get all up in my grill.
• Parrillan, Stable Street, Coal Drops Yard, London N1, 020-7018 3339. Open all week, noon-10pm. From about £40 a head, plus drinks and service.
Food 6/10 (1/10 if you overcook it)