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I arrived at Barrafina in Soho less than thrilled. I was going to be in Spain in little over a fortnight, so what was I doing in a Spanish restaurant in London, of all places, when soon I’d be eating the same things in their country of origin, where surely they would taste three times as good and cost a third of the price? We elbowed our way into the crammed space. My date, a Spaniard, fired staccato bursts of his mother tongue at the waiter who returned a volley of gibberish. I hoped we’d be kicked out — it was too busy, surely. But no, following those earnest deliberations, we were ushered through the throngs to the corner. The end of the line. A counter below a mirror. The Spaniard (my date, not the waiter) explained that there was a smaller menu we could order from while we stood in the queue, waiting for stools at the bar overlooking the bustling kitchen. There was a chance — no guarantees — that we’d actually get to perch on one of these and, with that, gain the privilege of b...

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