Food: El Pirata, Mayfair London

London’s newest hippest restaurant openings get the column inches, the celebrities wafting through the doors of the latest hot spots and all the buzz but it’s the consistent steady hitters that have packed floors every night that really deserve a mention for their staying power in this ever changing dining scene.

I got to thinking this when I first found out that El Pirata had been on the scene for 20 years. Over two decades in this town with the fickle memories is an immense feat and there’s no way a restaurant displaying any kind of mediocrity could possibly last that long so it’s with very high expectations that we descend into Mayfair to try it out.

The restaurant is buzzing even though it’s midweek and a huge mirrored bar against one side of the space lends an additional element of style to an already charming atmosphere. It doesn’t feel like Mayfair, it feels like a genuine down to earth but stylish tapas bar that has landed in London.

When I think Spanish cuisine, my mind automatically jumps to Padron peppers and Iberico Jamon and while this may make my ordering choices boring and unimaginative, I can’t say I’m at all sorry. The padron peppers are perfectly cooked and not over done or too doused in olive oil as they can be sometimes and that ham, that ham is just sublime. It has a slight spicy touch to it and the marbled fat is melt in the mouth. You don’t even need the soft bread baguette with aioli but it does make for the creation of some excellent mini sandwiches.

King Prawns in a tomato garlicky sauce came next and that sauce is another contender to be mopped up by hunks of bread and the richness of this dish is offset beautifully by the light mixed leaves salad with shavings of manchego and toasted pine kernels. The famous squid ink rice is sticky and as dark as the night and it turns my tongue black but I’m not complaining. The odd piece of tender squid you find while forking it up only adds to the magic and I never want it to end.

I’m not normally one to consider ordering chickpeas in any way, shape or form, but I was intrigued by the Spanish take on Chickpeas cooked with aubergines and courgettes and this was melt in the mouth and I’d consider eating more vegetables if these were the norm. Less successful were the pan fried medallions of steak cooked with garlic, red peppers and white wine and I felt like these could have used more punchy flavours, but perhaps we were just getting full and these were the unnecessary ordering choice.

I washed down our meal with an ice cold Albarino which seemed to suit all the flavours of the food so well and not wanting it to end, I opt to linger on with a fruit salad while the husband ignores his full stomach and can’t resist the thought of that Spanish take on a bread and butter pudding.

My fruit salad is light and perfectly acceptable but that bread and butter pudding steals the show with its crispy exterior and custardly gooey centre and before I could proffer my fork for one or two more bites, it was gone, such was the power of that pudding.

It’s clear to see how exactly El Pirata has survived the London decades, it serves up good quality, well cooked Spanish food without any crazy embellishments to the good people of this town and it does so without trying to be anything other than what it should be – somewhere to eat well, drink well and make merry.

El Pirata
5-6 Down St, Mayfair, London W1J 7AQ
020 7491 3810