El Cantara

Posted on Tuesday, 23rd November 2010

El Cantara is a newly opened Spanish and Moroccan restaurant on Frith Street. Much care was taken in decorating the restaurant. Moroccan interior designer Nadine Rovass spent months trawling through the markets of Southern Spain and Morocco searching for unique pieces that would bring the Spanish and Moroccan theme together. To this effect, you will see the nicest of finishings in the restaurant including hand-painted floor and wall tiles, beautifully hand-stitched cushions and pillows, Moroccan lanterns and hand-engraved brass tables. The bathroom in the basement is special too, and houses the finest organic Moroccan hand soap. There’s also a terrace on the first floor with lounge seats where you can sit comfortably, smoke shisha and simply chill. On Fridays and Saturdays, there are also belly and Flamenco dancers available for your entertainment pleasure.

I went to a bloggers dinner at El Cantara a couple of weeks ago as a guest of the restaurant. The menu is divided roughly into tapas to share, tangines, seafood dishes, cous cous, paellas and grills. We started with a number of tapas dishes, including gambas al ajillo (£5.45) which was crunchy and firm, although they could have done with a touch more garlic.

Gambas al ajillo

Gambas al ajillo

Another tapas dish of calamares fritos (£4.75) was nicely seasoned. The squid was tender and the batter was crispy. Pastilla of chicken (£4.95), a dish of savoury chicken baked in puff pastry with cinnamon and almonds was a good rendition of the Moroccan classic which is typically served with pigeon. The pastry was light and flaky, the chicken was tasty and overall the dish was pleasant and not too sweet. Albondigas (£5.25), beef meatballs in a rich tomato and cumin sauce with garden peas, was meaty and rustic.

Calamari, pastilla & meatballs

Calamari, pastilla & meatballs

Courgette fritos (£4.45), shredded courgette and goats cheese fritters served with rosemary yoghurt, were morish. The combination of the courgettes and the cheese worked well together, as did the added zinginess of the yoghurt. Spinach and feta cheese pasties (£4.75) were tasty. The tapas proved a promising start to the meal.

Spinach & feta cheese pasties

Spinach & feta cheese pasties

Onto the mains, and we went for the Valenciana paella (£14.95) with prawns, mussels, squid and chicken. This dish may be named after a Spanish classic, but it was truly terrible. The seafood wasn’t bad, but the rice was soggy and mushy. Furthermore, it did not have any of the flavour that you would have expected had it been cooked with a good stock. I couldn’t detect any saffron either. The portion size was generous but this was the only positive I could draw from the dish.

Valenciana paella

Valenciana paella

I didn’t enjoy the mixed grill either (£14.45). The chicken was very dry and the lamb was too peppery. The rice also tasted odd as if there was some soap suds in it. There’s no doubt Edgware Road is the better bet if you are in search of a mixed grill.

Mixed grill

Mixed grill

The only saving grace among the mains was the lamb tagine (£13.45) which was lovely. The lamb was incredibly tender and succulent, and the combination of honey, cinnamon, prunes, rosewater and almonds produced a well balanced and flavoursome dish.

Lamb tagine

Lamb tagine

From the desserts (all priced at £4.95), I enjoyed the Crema Catalana, a traditional Spanish-style vanilla custard topped with caramelised custard which tasted like a good crème brulee. But the presentation was rather silly.

Crema Catalana

Crema Catalana

A date and chocolate pudding, a dessert of crushed dates with melted chocolate served with pistachio ice cream, was very dense but without any of the chocolate-y richness. It was therefore not particularly appetising. This was also another silly looking plate. The two pieces I tried from the selection of baklavas were not crispy and tasted stale. Ice creams were passable.

Date & chocolate pudding

Date & chocolate pudding

Baklava

Baklava

The starters were very good but I wasn’t much impressed with the rest. I get the sense the restaurant stretches itself too far by trying to serve both Spanish and Moroccan food and in doing so, does neither particularly well. I can’t recommend El Cantara for a meal even if it is nicely decorated and the service is decent. However the terrace area looked great, so the best bet may be to nibble on some tapas whilst enjoying a shisha or two.



Summary information

Food rating:

Prices: About £30 per head, excluding drinks and service.

Rating:★★½☆☆ 

Website: http://www.elcantara.co.uk/

El Cantara on Urbanspoon

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6 Responses to “El Cantara”

  1. Gourmet Chick Says...

    Oh dear those mains do not sound good – particularly the soggy paella!

  2. Priscilla Says...

    Hmmm those meatballs looks soo good!

    Remember the pigeon pie we had in Morroco? Interesting…
    Paella should be cruncy at the bottom! Not soggy

  3. S Lloyd Says...

    Spanish and Moroccan sound like an interesting concept. Sounds like they could do better in Moroccan cuisine though, since the Tajine was not a miss whilst the paella had flaws.

  4. Lizzie Says...

    Hmm… if they arsed it up with the paella for a bloggers’ dinner, I don’t hold much hope for it with normal punters…!

  5. A Girl Has to Eat Says...

    Hi Lizzie,
    I totally agree….

  6. Greedy Diva Says...

    Oh dear…