Food and Wine Matching at El Pirata, Mayfair:
It has not always been so easy to find good quality informal places to share food with friends in London. I remember El Pirata around twenty years ago, a unique and instantly popular concept in upmarket Mayfair; authentic Spanish tapas that you could enjoy from lunchtime through to late at night. We went a lot in the first five years or so, then work took me away from London and when I came back there had been something of a restaurant revolution in Soho and the WestEnd so we spent some time exploring that part of town.
A true old friend though, is one you can return to again and again and feel as if nothing has changed between you. So, I was delighted to be invited along to a wine and tapas matching evening at El Pirata, especially as I am no expert on Spanish wine and really do enjoy being guided through the best wines to pair with food.
A small group of journalists and bloggers were joined by Vincente, who is the wine supplier to El Pirata. His job, to guide us through the wines that we were drinking. He started by pointing out that Spain is, in some respects, the largest vineyard in the world – in terms of acreage. And, that the range of climate and of grapes results in a wealth of wines to discover.
We started with a delicious Manzanilla sherry, La Goya, which is the flagship sherry from Delgado Zuleta. It is a solera aged sherry with intense elegant notes of almond. And, tapas of course – large plates of Iberian ham, Aceitunas (olives and pickles), traditional pan come tomate and padron peppers. These are tapas staples for me and it appears, for many others. Traditionally padron peppers, introduced to Spain in the 14th century, were only grown from June to September in Estramadura and Valencia. Demand has become so high that they are now also cultivated in the south of Spain, so we can all enjoy padron peppers throughout the year.
Moving on to a glass of white wine, PradoRey Verdejo, we learnt that this 100% verdejo grape wine is mechanically harvested at night to minimise the length of time from harvest to winery.
A young, fresh wine the verdejo worked very well with the grilled asparagus, monkfish and deep fried squid we were enjoying by this stage. Of course, the food was delicious, I could easily have eaten the plateful of asparagus and I am a complete sucker for squid (!).
Next Muga Rioja. This wine comes from a part of Spain very close to the Basque region where I spent a few days last year. Rioja can be made with grapes from La Rioja , Navarre, or from the Basque province of Álava. This one comes from La Rioja, directly south of Alava and the white rioja is 90% viura or macabeo, blended with 10 malvasia and white garnacha. A young, light and fresh wine it’s the opposite of popular perception of Rioja and worked beautifully with both the plain grilled Atlantic prawns and what I believe were red prawns that we enjoyed.
It was lovely too with the black rice and squid – one of those dishes that I personally find incredibly moreish. We also enjoyed a mouthful or two of stuffed aubergine.
By this stage, I was beginning to flag and was glad to move onto a more robust red wine, a soft, warm Hito Ribera del Duero tinto, to accompany the Morcilla, the chickpea stew, the Pork Cheeks and the Iberian pork shoulder.
My favourite of this set of dishes was the Iberian pork shoulder which was meltingly tender, though I have to admit to a penchant for Morcilla and for its British cousin Black Pudding.
Our second red wine was Tarima Hill monastrell or mouvedre that we learnt was made from old vines, planted between 1932 and 1945. It worked both with the chicken and chorizo skewers and with the elegant plate of fillet steak with rocket and cheese that we enjoyed.
I’d probably have stopped eating by now had a delicious looking dessert not appeared on the table. Torrija is Spanish style bread pudding, served here with ice-cream and with a glass of Enrique Mendonza moscatel, a delicate orange and vanilla scented sweet wine.
Coffee to end the meal was needed. Once again I left the restaurant just in time to get the tube home. Happy to have been reunited with an old friend and resolved to not wait so long until we meet again.
5-6 Down Street, Mayfair
London, W1J 7AQ