As I pushed open the door to Barrio Soho at 18.30 on a cold Monday evening in February the place was already buzzing. Mind you, it was London Fashion Week, and from the general air of youth and hipness, the other customers all worked in the rag trade, or perhaps the creative and media industries?
Situated in a quiet Soho street a few yards to the south of Oxford Street, Barrio is handily placed as a neighbourhood bar for both groups.
As my friend Jane noted our presence pushed the average customer age up more than a notch, but all the same we received a warm welcome. Barrio's theme is Latin American, and we loved its casual yet colourful decor in shades of turquoise and orange.
Reclaimed materials and objets trouvés have been combined with a quirky patchwork of appropriate wallpapers, where monkeys clambering amongst tropical leaves hang beside grids of Day of the Dead sugar skulls.
The ground floor bar has tables, stools and comfortable banquette seating; lively Latin American music plays in the background, not so loudly as to drown conversation. Downstairs there's another bar and club area for live DJ sessions and partying.
Cocktails are a speciality
Cocktails are Barrio's speciality so naturally we tried a couple. The list was long and tempting: after mulling it over Jane went for an Ol' Dirty Bastard (bourbon, rum and orange: reminiscent of an Old Fashioned she said, but with that extra edge from the rum) while I succumbed to the fruitier charms of a Hula Colada (rum, blue curacao, coconut and pineapple).
Both proved excellent. The range of non-alcoholic cocktails also looked promising, and the wine and beer we chose to accompany our food (a glass of Alto Bajo Sauvignon Blanc for Jane, and a bottle of Sol beer for me) were both well kept, and nicely chilled.
Don't come here planning a three course dinner: you won't find desserts, coffees or any other hot drinks on the menu. Barrio's is about bar food: the Latin American equivalent of tapas, plus a selection of more filling nachos, enchilladas and filled tacos.
We tried the Calamari di Cuba, which proved especially good: the squid came in a light batter, freshly deep-fried, and accompanied by a spicy chipotle chilli mayonnaise. After that we tackled a Taco Plato - a selection of tacos with different tasty fillings (beef skirt, pork shoulder, lamb chilli, Mexican fried chicken, aubergine), served with tortilla chips, sweet potato fries (heavenly!), guacamole and a couple of other dips.
More than enough for two, this would comfortably have served three or four people wanting something to mop up their round of drinks. All in all both an interesting, and a very enjoyable visit. www.barriobars.com