hart brothers my coal drops yard hart brothers my coal drops yard

A Family Affair


The road that eventually led London restauranteurs the Hart Brothers to Coal Drops Yard in 2018 stretches from 1990s Mexico City by way of Barcelona in a long meandering journey that takes in plenty of scenic spots and culinary by-roads along the way.


Their first London restaurant, Fino, which opened in Fitzrovia in 2003, drew on key influences from Spain. But it was the Mexican capital where Sam and Eddie Hart first cut their hospitality teeth – at the suitably named nightclub El Colmillo (the Fang) – and where the pair fell in love with the city’s street food scene. And then came Barrafina.


The Soho tapas bar was an instant hit when it opened on Frith Street in 2007. Diners and professional foodies alike fell for its charms, happily queuing for a stool at its bar-top counter (Barrafina was an early proponent of the no-bookings policy that went on to sweep through the capital’s restaurant scene in the Noughties) in the manner of the legendary Barcelona restaurant that inspired it, Cal Pep.


Like the Hart Brothers themselves, Barrafina has since gone from strength to strength (not least scooping a Michelin star in 2015). There are now four across central London, including its most recent opening at Coal Drops Yard. Along the way, the team’s magic touch restored Quo Vadis (the site of which was home to Karl Marx in the 1850s while writing Das Kapital) to its rightful place as a Soho institution under Jeremy Lee’s superb culinary direction. And that early passion for authentic tacos al pastor founded in their Mexico City years? That eventually found an outlet in the opening of celebrated tacqueria El Pastor in Borough in 2017.


But it’s Coal Drops Yard that has become the team’s latter-day alma mater – home to that super-size Barrafina, a scaled-up El Pastor (Casa/Plaza Pastor) and the small(er) but perfectly formed wine bar, The Drop, as well as more recent opening, Spanish-style grill, Parrillan.

barrafina My coal drops yard
Parillian my coal drops yard
Parillian my coal drops yard

Hard to believe, then, that when a move into King’s Cross was first mooted, a decade earlier, they didn’t even bother going to see it. ‘We just thought, “King’s Cross? Who will ever want to go there?” It seemed ridiculous,’ says Sam Hart. ‘Turns out, we were rather short sighted… and very, very wrong.’


That ‘wrong’ was immediately rectified when, several years later a visit to Thomas Heatherwick’s redesigned site revealed ‘those beautiful old Victorian arches that seemed to be just crying out for drinking rioja and albariño in them.’ Beautiful old Victorian arches that are, of course, sadly shuttered for now.


The hospitality industry has been struck particularly hard by the lockdown, but as you might expect from the team’s consistently innovative and resilient approach, a plan was quickly put into place to help weather the storm.


It’s not the first time Hart Brothers has drawn on the support of its many loyal fans. That ambitious expansion into Coal Drops Yard was, at the time, part-funded by a crowdfunding campaign that offered investors a tiered system of awards. These ranged from free glasses of wine to life-long memberships of the Quo Vadis club and even the opportunity to accompany the team on research and development excursions to Spain and elsewhere.


This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine. Words: Simon Mills.

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