I uncovered two fun facts about El Pirata when I did my customary restaurant google: it’s been serving tapas in Mayfair for over twenty years and is Fred Sirieix’s favourite restaurant. Any restaurant which can last more than two decades in this city is all very impressive but who the heck is this Fred fella and what does he know about good food? More googling reveals that Mr Sirieix is the country’s most famous maître d’ but obviously, those of you who watch First Dates already knew that.
While you’re judging my sheltered TV-watching habits, I was judging Fred’s taste in restaurants. In a recent Guardian article about the best things certain people in the know had eaten in 2016, he mentioned the black rice, the langoustines in tomato sauce, and the ham. We hadn’t intended on copying his order, but rice, prawns and pork are some of our favourite things, and according to our waiter, they are some of El Pirata’s signature dishes.
We started with the ham which is actually jamón ibérico, widely agreed to be one of the best varieties of jamón available. The proof was in the thin slices showcasing the intense marbling of fat through the meat, but we looked for proof in the tasting too, just in case. Looks were not deceiving though, each slice was more sumptuous than the one before it and before we knew it, we had cleaned the plate. In between slices, we nibbled on padron peppers which I usually find incredibly dull, but in this instance they were quite good for balancing out the saltiness of the jamón.
A sizzling plate of gulas con patatas asadas, baby eels in olive oil with roast potatoes, were delicious piled on top of thick slices of bread we coated with a smattering of aioli. But as dramatic as that dish sounded coming to the table, it was no match for the striking calamares con arroz negro. The black rice completely disguised the squid but I think that adds to the pleasure of eating it – there’s something quite satisfying about detecting a piece of tender squid in amongst your mouthful of rice. Full of sweetness and a distinctive squid flavour, I can completely understand why this is one of Fred’s favourites.
I have no idea what his view would be but in our opinion, no tapas meal is complete without boquerones. These little fillets of anchovies in vinegar aren’t to everyone’s tastes but their intense sharpness on the palate is the reason why we’ve consumed so many of these little beauties on various trips to Spain! You’ll usually catch us ordering them as a little afternoon snack alongside a glass of wine, but on this occasion, they were the perfect palate cleanser before our next round of much richer, heartier tapas.
It’s no secret that we both have a fondness for offal, but a certain someone’s enthusiasm for kidney definitely rivals mine. I liked the riñones, kidneys in sherry wine, but he liked them enough to calim they were his dish of the night! I didn’t want to come between a man and his kidneys so I took a couple and left him to hungrily devour the rest while I finished off the langoustinos al chef. These king prawns were so submerged in the garlicky tomato sauce that I initially didn’t realise how gigantic these succulent beasts were. After the kidneys and langoustines were long gone, the only thing left to do was dowse our remaining wedge of tortilla with the leftover sauces, and sit back in contentment.
But our waiter had other ideas and our digestion was momentarily interrupted by the arrival of dessert. A sensible couple might have shared, but the lure of the torta de chocolate and the helado de vanilla al Pedro Ximenez was too great. Our greed was rewarded with a light, fluffy slice of homemade chocolate cake – one of the best a certain someone has ever had apparently. He was quick to add that was not including the ones made by yours truly, but even I am gracious enough to admit that El Pirata’s was better than anything I’ve ever made. I might not be able to replicate the cake but I can definitely recreate the other dessert… a few scoops of ice cream and a shot (or two) of Pedro Ximenez then voila, pure decadence. After I licked the bowl cleaned, I made a mental note to add the Pedro to the shopping list!
After this intensive research, it’s safe to say, that Fred fella was onto a good thing – El Pirata is a fantastic gem of a restaurant in the most unexpected of locations. Stepping into El Pirata was like stepping straight into any bustling, no-nonsense tapas bar or taverna in Spain, not a pretentious restaurant in Mayfair. We loved how unapologetically untrendy it is; there’s a certain confidence about knowing what you do well and sticking to it, no matter what your flashier counterparts might be doing. If you’re in the mood for a quick trip to Spain, this is the place to come… if you don’t trust Fred Sirieix, you can at least trust me!
Do you like Spanish tapas? What’s your favourite tapas restaurant in London?
Thanks to El Pirata for transporting us to Spain for the evening, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.