Posted on Thursday, 30th March 2017
If your means are not too constrained, El Pirata in Mayfair can be a good choice for those times in your life when you develop a craving for some excellent home-made food but don’t feel like cooking yourself. This rustic comfortable Spanish restaurant churns out reliably tasty and homely tapas and other classical Spanish dishes, all served with the sincerest of smiles from their knowledgeable staff. The interior leaves no doubt that this is a Spanish eatery – the walls are literally smothered with various reproductions of works by famous Spanish painters. Queen’s Brian May is reported to be a very satisfied customer of El Pirata.
First arrived bread – a thoroughly enjoyable plate of crispy crust and fluffy centre – topped with a smartly undersalted, moist and fresh tomato topping (£2.65). Because the latter was rather lightly seasoned, it enhanced, rather than upstaged any other dishes we might have had alongside it.
It was accompanied by a platter of super-fancy ham with a name as long as Picasso’s: jamón ibérico pata negra, gran reserva “don agustin, iberico summon guiguelo. We were counting on a fountain of flavour and lush unctuous texture, perhaps close to that of the French Noir de Bigorre or of one of those eye-wateringly overpriced Spanish jamons in Borough Market. However, this hope did not quite materialise into reality. It was good, solid, but rather very run-off-the-mill stuff, the kind you could buy pre-sliced at El Corte Ingles in Spain. In all honesty it was not quite worth the £19.95 price tag.
The other tapas did a much better job in the satisfaction stakes. The Iberian ham croquettes (£4.95) came out with a crunchy golden brown crust and revealed the powerful flavour of jamon reigning over the rich béchamel ooziness inside. Definitely a sky-high comfort factor in anyone’s book.
The squid with black rice (£8.55) was a very generous offering, generous from both rice and squid. It was a sheeny pitch-black from the squid ink and abundant with a gentle warming flavour of the squid ink. This was truly delicious and well made, with the rice cooked al dente and having a little bite to it.
The highlight dish was however the gambas al pil-pil (£6.55). The prawns were good, but it was the base of aromatic olive oil flavoured with toasted garlic and dried chillies that we couldn’t get enough of. The richness of flavour and depth this offered up did much to elevate the prawns. We even ordered another platter of pan con tomate to mop up all the oil.
Another seafood dish – the Galician style octopus (£8.75) was cooked just right and very tender, although it was slightly overpowered by a little too much chilli and paprika.
Our friendly waiter insisted that we order pinchos morunos con chorizo, marinated chicken skewers with chorizo (£7.95). They were very good when the chicken breast pieces were eaten with a bit of grilled red pepper and a spicy wedge of chorizo, two other elements which completed the skewer. But otherwise the chicken was just a tad boring.
To main plates and we thoroughly enjoyed the cochinillo a la traditional, roasted suckling pig with potatoes in a traditional style (£19.95). It was rustically tasty, with crunchy skin and juicy flesh that did not require much more spicing or sauce for one to be able to enjoy the pig. Not a drop of its natural goodness was wasted as it sat on bed of potatoes which absorbed all the juices of the meat.
Amazingly, even after such a sumptuous meal we still found room for dessert. The crema catalana (£4.55) was simply delicious. The contrast between the caramelised top, well reminiscent of the thin ice on top of a pond on a cold November morning, and the silky, unctuous crema instead was perfectly. It was so well made, creamy, smooth and decadent with a well-judged level of sweetness.
Spanish white wine can be hit or miss, but the one our jolly waiter recommended, Carqueixal Rias Baixas (£8.95 for 125ml), was a good choice. Made from Albariño grapes it benefited from Galicia’s less sunny clime and exposure to the Atlantic Ocean. The notes of apricots and peaches reminded one of a very light-bodied Gewurztraminer.
EL Pirata’s fare lacks the self-serving culinary acrobatics of many establishments in the Mayfair area. It wasn’t fine dining per se, but it proved to be a restaurant that offered a fine dining experience indeed. On offer was unpretentious, honestly, delicious and homely cooking.
In a nutshell: Great place for some culinary comfort.
Note: This blog post written by Arturo from Nifty Noshing and myself.
1) Excellent homemade cooking
2) Pleasant interior
3) Welcoming, relaxed yet professional service
4) Reasonable prices for Mayfair
1) Didn’t really have any bad dishes, but the jamon we tried, the chicken skewers, and the octopus were probably the weakness of the bunch.
Food rating: 4/5
Service rating: 4/5
Price: About £35 to £45 a head, excludes drinks and service.