¡Felicidades! to a favourite London Tapas Bar.
Some years ago, London dining revolved around traditional English and French classic restaurants, Indian takeaways focussed on Chicken Tikka Masala while you might head to Chinatown for Peking Duck. Those Brits who headed to Spain enjoyed the Costa del Sol because the restaurants had menus designed especially for their conservative visitors. There wasn’t much in the way of Spanish food to try in London- and the concept of Tapas was relatively unknown.
El Pirata opened in June 1994 in a backstreet of Shepherd Market Mayfair and was quickly one of those places you just knew would be fun. I remember trying my first Patatas Bravas there, my first Padron Peppers and my first Boquerones. It was the kind of place you’d arrange to meet your friends and then just end up staying. I still go there with friends and love that El Pirata still offers traditional Spanish food in a friendly and informal setting.
25 years on, it’s birthday time for El Pirata and they are celebrating in style with a special Back to ’94 Menu that runs from Friday 14th June till Saturday 29th June. With 12 tapas dishes and two wines at their 1994 prices, it’s a great chance to enjoy a blast from the past without breaking the bank.
We went along for a little preview…although we did indulge in a bottle of house cava. And on that traditional trio of things to nibble on while you choose your tapas – serrano ham, Padron peppers and pan con tomate. In a sense a good reminder of why I still end up spending evenings there – you start that way and just somehow end up carrying on till it’s too late to go anywhere else.
Picking from the 1994 menu, we chose the ensalada de tres colores – avocado, tomato and mozzarella salad (£3.95 from the Back to 1994 menu) which was pleasant and refreshing.
Pescaito Frito was a little disappointing, perhaps because of the breadcrumb coating on the fish which seemed just a little too close to the cooking of the 90s. But at £3.75 for a portion it didn’t seem to matter.
My personal favourite from the dishes we tasted was calamares con arroz negro – black rice with squid, a delicious, salty and fishy bowl of comfort food with rice that had just the right amount of bite. It’s a dramatic plateful too – I don’t remember being brave enough to try it 25 years ago.
Chorizo al vino is an old favourite that doesn’t ever disappoint at El Pirata, with excellent quality chorizo braised gently in red wine till it is meltingly tender.
In some kind of tribute to the concept of five a day, we ordered berenjena jardinera – an aubergine stuffed with vegetables and topped with cheese. Perhaps not the prettiest dish on the menu, it was tender and full of flavour and definitely a good complement to the rest of our order.
That old favourite of patatas bravas never fails to please, especially at the 1994 price of £2.75 The El Pirata version is traditional, with chunks of crispy potatoes topped with paprika-laced mayonnaise. And Vuelta de carne was a succulent plate of steak in a garlic, red pepper and white wine sauce.
We WERE quite full by this stage so opted for lighter desserts from the main menu.
A fresh fruit salad and crema Catalana with a crunchy caramelised top made the perfect end to the meal.
El Pirata is a restaurant with quite a celebrity following with fans including Johnny Dep, Jose Mourinho and even First Dates Maître d’ Fred Sirieix who named the restaurant as one of his favourite restaurants in London. We were quite amused to find that queen of the duvet cover, Anthea Turner, celebrating her birthday at El Pirata on the night we were there. It’s the kind of place where ever-smiling Patron, Jose Rodrigues, ensures that every guest who walks through the doors is made to feel at home.
And it’s thanks to that hospitality – combined with excellent traditional Spanish food that has makes El Pirata such a success for the last 25 year.
5-6 Down Street,
London, W1J 7AQ
If you are looking for more contemporary Spanish cuisine in the area we recommend Street XO but, for traditional Spanish Tapas in a friendly environment, El Pirata is hard to beat.