El Pirata

Mayfair, London

This neighbourhood stalwart has been serving up small plates with Spanish flair for 25 years

Back in the 1930s, the well-heeled residents of Mayfair were so disgruntled at the prospect of having ‘undesirables’ in their midst that the old Down Street Tube station, between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park, was eventually closed down. (It went on to serve as an underground bunker for William Churchill and the War Cabinet in 1939, but that’s another story.) Fast-forward to the present day and opposite the vacant underground site sits a neighbourhood restaurant that has been met with the approval of the hard-to-please residents, along with the A-listers, hedge funders, diplomats and commuters eager to experiment with a fiesta of Spanish flavours.

For a quarter of a century, El Pirata has been serving the finest tapas dishes this side of the Mediterranean. The first team of staff designed the interiors, which are certainly more Madrid than Mayfair; think black leather tablecloths, dark wooden floors and a back bar that groans under an alcoholic Jenga tower of Spanish gins, aperitifs and digestifs. All of this authenticity translates to the food, too, which has been perfected by head chef Rosendo Simbana – who has been part of the El Pirata extended family since the beginning.

Order frivolously (there are over 60 tapas dishes on the menu) but be sure to try at least one of the restaurant specials. On our visit we fight over the pescados y mariscos fritos de rape – deep-fried morsels of monkfish with a batter so light it dissolves on the tongue. The plump tortilla will transport you to the backstreets of Barcelona, as will the sizzling pot of pil-pil prawns and patata bravas smothered in a punchy garlic sauce. The Jamón de Bellota (ham from Black Iberian pigs) is at its best sat atop chunks of bread dipped in aïoli, and we polish it off alongside an intense and well-structured Carqueixal albariño – one of the 140 Spanish wines on the list. With just enough room for dessert – they are only small plates, after all – we struggle to decide between the ubiquitous flan (crème caramel) or crema catalana (crème brûlée with a delightfully crunchy top), so go for both and share. It is impossible to say which is more delicious.

While the Mayfair residents may not have taken kindly to the undesirable commuters, they have welcomed this Spanish invasion with open arms.

Words by Fleur Rollet-Manus

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