Madrid meets Mayfair
Bustling, intimate and excellent tapas – it really doesn’t feel like you’re in Mayfair at El Pirata
Review by Rupert Watkins
Say Mayfair restaurants to most people and their first thought will be somewhat pricey establishments, maybe Michelin starred with an element of pomp and the requisite global mega rich enjoying themselves. It could not be more different walking down a quiet Down Street and into El Pirata. Slightly dark with a beamed ceiling and an inviting and well stocked bar; the walls are enlivened with 20th Century modernist and surrealist prints giving the room a slightly artistic and quirky vibe.
Quite frankly, if you’re in a tapas restaurant, I’m not too sure what else you start with but the Jamón ibérico and cheese. El Pirata does not disappoint with limited production acorn-fed pig (black foot) jamón and a four cheese (manchego, guardamur, mahon and cabrales) platter. Both delicious the ham almost melted in the mouth whilst I’d be hard pressed to pick a standout cheese. Sharp and nicely salty Padron peppers accompanied these plates.
To accompany our meal, my guest and I opted for glasses of a Ribera Del Duero Hito. Tricky to find in the UK, it was a bold, fruity but very balanced red able to sit against the heavier meats and the fish we had over the course of the evening.
Moving onto our next round of platters, we opted for the sardinas fritas – fried sardines in lemon, parsley and white wine and the mar y tierra, prawns in olive oil with pimentos and wild mushrooms. The four succulent, fresh and beautifully nutty sardines was the standout dish of the evening. Precisely cooked and swimming in just enough of the light sauce to give piquancy without undermining the flavour of the fish itself. The prawns were also excellent, the pimentos giving a little bite and the mushrooms a nice earthy balance to the succulence of the prawn.
Whilst we were devouring these dishes, chorizo al vino – Spanish sausage in red wine – was bought to our table. A nice counterpoint to the lighter platters we had had so far, it was rich and meaty. There are some excellent heavier tapas dishes on the menu such as bean strew with chorizo and fried broad beans with cured ham – this is a bolt hole as useful for mid-winter Christmas shopping as a light mid-summer pit stop.
The food at El Pirata is excellent – my dining companion on the evening had lived and worked in Madrid for over three years so knowns good and authentic tapas when she comes across them. The service is attentive but relaxed and friendly; fitting the atmosphere. Almost the greatest compliment I can give El Pirata is you don’t feel you’re in Mayfair when you eat there. The friendly bustle, chatter, intimate air and reasonable prices (most dishes are between £4 and £9 and the house reds by the bottle weigh in at £25 – 35 so good for this neck of the woods) not just give an Iberian air to proceedings but make you feel relaxed in a postcode that can be eye watering expensive and rarefied.