The restaurant: El Pirata, 5-6 Down St, Mayfair, London W1J 7AQ
El Pirata once served up tapas to Captain Jack Sparrow, as rumour has it Johnny Depp once dined at the Mayfair eatery. The Spanish restaurant isn’t decked out like a pirate ship or carries any sort of piratey theme beyond the name – we’re thankful for this – aside from the typeface, but never judge a place on its font choices, right? The place has a cool, dark interior with spiral staircase, a bar filled with spirits, plenty of rum, and the walls are covered with artist prints, Picassos that my artist pal and I argued over whether we liked them. It’s 7pm when we arrive and the place is buzzing with suits, clients and and locals – you can tell most have the crowd have visited before. Located on Down Street, a street you’d unlikely walk down to get anywhere, unless you knew there was a spectacular tapas joint down there. We were seated upstairs, a good place to watch the after work crowd nibbling tapas plates at the bar and the bartenders tinkering about. Despite the busyness of the place, the staff treated it like business as usual, quickly and efficiently.
“Cured meat and bread with tomatoes?” our server asked as we skimmed through the 60 tapas plates on the menu. It was as though El Pirata read our minds! Something about the oil or the tomatoes made things right with the world. This was Mayfair, not Madrid but those tomatoes were definitely straight from the Spanish sunshine. We took our time with these and slowly decided which of the 60 dishes we’d have to leave until next time and those we couldn’t leave without trying. For £25 per person, I’d recommend the ‘introduction to tapas’ set menu. It contained almost everything we ended up pick ’n’ mixing from the menu and is a brilliant deal.
First arrived our king prawns, grilled in tomato, garlic and white wine sauce. These were fantastic. The sauce was thinned by the wine, but enriched by the natural sweet flavour of the tomatoes — ideal for bread dipping. Beside this was our plate of Manchego, spinach and rocket salad, a brilliantly simple and light dish, a great way for us to transition to the Iberian ham croquettes. Melty, meaty and potatoey balls of goodness. My only regret was that there were only three to share between us. I’d return if only to order several plates for myself.
Next we got onto the traditional meat plates: chorizo in red wine, and pan-fried chicken in white wine. The red wine sauce was thick and a little sticky, as though the sausage had been cooked in it for hours — perhaps it had. The melty quality of chorizo was reminiscent of ‘nduja but meatier and definitely chorizo at its best. We couldn’t leave without a slice of old-school Spanish omelette, the potato plate oniony enough to be enjoyed alone, but much better dipped in red wine sauce I’m still salivating about.
Everything arrived seamlessly. We were checked upon when needed, not rushed or pushed to order anything. The whole experience – I’m calling it an ‘experience’ because it was just that – came together to amount to a really enjoyable evening. We wound up the whole thing with a Catalonian creme brûlée and a digestif Cuarenta y Tres. We can’t wait to book in again.
To book call 020 7491 3810
Click here to visit the La Pirata website
Nicoles stretch-silk satin midi dress, By Malene Birger teamed with a checked wool-crepe blazer, Monse, a fringed chain-trimmed shoulder bag, Calvin Klein and Theo frayed ankle boots, Saint Laurent. Complete the look with crystal clip earrings, Oscar De La Renta and Charles 0E lipstick, Tom Ford.