Paprika, paella and a reason to visit Parnell. Canvas restaurant critic Kim Knight recommends dinner at Barulho.
We smeared smoked tomato butter on charred bread and glugged tempranillo. Chocolate mousse or churros or both? If there was a sense of impending doom, we couldn't hear it against the greedy exuberance of a room full of people unaware that, soon, they would be queuing to buy groceries.
My first attempt to review Barulho was thwarted by a pandemic. Shortly before the world changed, we'd squished cheek-to-jowl around a big, noisy table. The patatas bravas in this Spanish restaurant with the Portuguese name were better than any I ate on a four-week trip to the actual Mediterranean and there were not enough superlatives in English, Espanol or otherwise, to do justice to the meatballs.
I spent much of lockdown dreaming about the Return of the Restaurant but, more specifically, a return to Barulho. Could I relive the repast? Or was I just wearing paprika-tinted glasses?
"Welcome back," said the man currently vying for the title of best waitperson I've encountered outside a fine dining setting. I thought, perhaps, he said that to everybody until he recalled exactly where we had sat back in March and, later, exactly what we'd had for pudding. When he said the momentarily-new-to-the-menu potato coca was excellent, I trusted him implicitly and didn't even notice I was paying $26 for bread.
Truly, you must order the coca. Crunchy, oil-soaked flatbread supports thin-sliced spud, mushrooms and two types of cheese. There's a decent slug of truffle oil in the mix and just when it feels relentlessly earthy, you hit fresh watercress and chilli flakes. Note to Italy: you can keep your pizza.
Barulho used to be a tiny place with a big table. That space is now a bar called Fonda and the main food action has moved next door to a restaurant that takes bookings, boasts a semi-private room for groups and is absolutely worth repeated hikes to Parnell.
First time round, I (cue flashing, capital letters) LOVED the paella ($38). More recently, it was a sloppy, squid-inked risotto - perfectly just-cooked clams and kingfish, spicy nduja paste and pops of broad bean for interest - but where were the coveted crusty bits of rice? Meanwhile, charred octopus with orange, chorizo and black olives ($34) ticked all the citrus-salt-chew boxes, but the fennel puree needed more heft (or, possibly, just cream and/or butter).
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The big new Barulho still does tapas. I shamelessly recommend them all. The empanadas are a delight - short, crumbly pastry with proper chunks of beef ($12 for four). Manchego and jalapeno croquettes are chubby, crumbed thumbs of goo that could have had more chilli but all is forgiven, because there are sauces. An aioli that is pure garlic silk. A romesco that requires a spoon because you will want to scoop every last tangy, nubbly bit.
Barulho's hallmark is these gut-punches of flavour; the culinary equivalent of switching from black-and-white to technicolour. Brazen and unabashed. Over lockdown, I read a theory that the wild excesses of the 1920s were not just a response to World War I. They were also a reaction to the austere terror of the last great pandemic. I know we've got a way to go but if you're ready to lick your fingers, share your plate and suggestively dip your churros, go straight to Barulho where even the srussels sprout salad is sexy (looking at you, sherry-soaked currants).
And, in that spirit, we of course we had two desserts. An olive oil chocolate mousse was not dark enough for me but a custard tart was rich and creamy (and it comes with a grilled banana). Both were mind-bogglingly enormous. Call your friends. Share the joy.
Barulho, 2-16 Watt St, Parnell, 09 379 0277
We spent: $248 for two.