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Bar Kroketa: Deep-fried balls of everything and lots of chemistry

The main event: This place is all about its light, freshly-fried croquetas (Bar Kroketa)
The main event: This place is all about its light, freshly-fried croquetas (Bar Kroketa)

It’s a chilly Friday night when we slink into Bar Kroketa, squeezing winter coats and shopping bags past a packed-out crowd sitting up at the bar and along window-side ledges.

We’re in the cosier, more dining-friendly back of the joint, a small and whitewashed, high-ceilinged nook which backs out onto Carnaby Street and Kingly Court. The tapas bar vibe is bang on from the start: couples nestled at the bar, loud chatter, dishes bashing about in the kitchen (visible through a long hatch) waiting staff joking with patrons, and the distinct waft of cheese and honey in the air.

I’ll start by saying – and in the nicest possible way – don’t be put off by the name and branding at Bar Kroketa. Yes, someone in management has made the decision to start every possible word with a K, Kardashian-style. Huge blackboards above the open kitchen read “Kounter” and “Kroketas” as well as “Kitchen”, representing different categories of dish. It does leave you wondering what was so offputting about the original spelling, but perhaps a K is simply more eyecatching. Or perhaps they’re hoping for a Kourtney and Khloe-style goldmine. Either way, the spelling may be gimmicky but the food is not.

The vibes might be gimmicky but the food certainly isn’t (Jamie Lau)
The vibes might be gimmicky but the food certainly isn’t (Jamie Lau)

Tapas joints may be dime-a-dozen in most of the world’s major cities at this point, but few of them have a niche like this. Bar Kroketa’s team knows this, and they’ve chosen to focus on the humble croqueta (aka croquette, aka Fried Ball of Oozing Bliss). Several daily croqueta specials are on offer here, served in pairs, fresh from the fryer. There are sweet options as well as savoury, meaning you could opt to simply have a sequence of fried bliss balls, one after the other, paired with your favourite Spanish beverages. If you’re anything like me, you’ll already be salivating at the thought.

My friend and I settle in and peruse the dishes scrawled on the blackboards – not just croquetas, but simple bar snacks (“Kounter” bites such as Marcona almonds, olives and crisps), sharing boards of pintxos skewers, simple pan con tomate, and a very intriguing “Guinness and chorizo popcorn”.

We order the former, but agree to let our twinkly smiled waiter pick a set amount of dishes from the all-round tempting selection. Our one caveat is this: there must be croquetas in the mix. While we wait, my friend sips a zingy glass of cava, while I opt for the house aperitif – vermouth (vermut) on ice, served with an orange wedge, pickled chilli and an olive. It all feels very unpretentious, very “we’re in Spain”, with prices to match (think £5-7 for a sizeable pair of croquetas, £4.50 for bar snacks and £3-6 for mini desserts).

Reminding us of the joy of tapas culture, our small but perfectly formed dishes appear in a seamless stream as we clink glasses, sip house wines and compare work weeks. We each have a different favourite savoury croqueta (mine the oozy Mahon cheese number with sobrassada sausage and a hint of honey, Emma’s the Manchego with calcots, a spring-onion-like allium). Two is perhaps on the small serving side for the price, but you can’t deny the freshness of crunch, lightness of batter and sucker-punch of flavour.

The daily menu is a blackboard affair (Jamie Lau)
The daily menu is a blackboard affair (Jamie Lau)

Next up is a wooden board of seafood skewers: juicy, chilli-seasoned prawns, caramelised octopus chunks and seared squid, each with its own pot of individual dipping sauce. Not overcooked, light, well-textured and easy eating with our drinks. The Guinness popcorn turns out to be skewered chunks of chorizo in a light batter, with a dipping sauce – fun, though not hugely Guinnessy in flavour. Best are the rustic, chunky, saucy numbers: we forgo possible choices of cheese boards, charcuterie selections and even oysters in favour of rustic old patatas bravas, new potatoes-style, with generous sauces and pan con tomate topped with a perfectly vinegary boquerone (marinated anchovy).

Most novel and delicious of all are the dessert croquetas. From the handful of sweet options, we go for the dark, cocoa-rich chocolate cream ones, crisply sealed in a light batter and drenched in salted caramel sauce. Just divine – and that’s coming from a pudding dodger with no discernable sweet tooth. In fact, one croqueta may be my ideal size of dessert. But we mourn a timeline in which we’d ordered the peach, raspberry and payoyo cheese number. Another time, another empty stomach, another Friday night, we hope.

This place has it all: mix’n’match small plates, genuinely flirty, chatty atmosphere, freshly sizzled foods, swift drinks service and friendly, helpful staff. It’s such a potentially chemistry-crackling date place that it did the impossible: it made me nostalgic for years of terrible app dating. So go forth, London daters, and share those first glances and drinks over a croqueta or 12 at this place. I predict it has staying power.

Bar Kroketa | 21 Beak St, Carnaby, London, W1F 9RR | 020 3954 8888 | kroketa.co.uk