Restaurant bullies are the best. Now I’m not talking about the ones that look you up and down as if to say ‘What are you wearing to my hallowed establishment’ and ‘How dare you summon me because you’d like food/ drinks/ service/ insert as appropriate here’, but the ones who sit you down, make sure you’re comfortable, whisk away your menus and tell you what you should order. All done with a twinkle in their eye of course.
Paulo is that sort of restaurant whiz. In the time it’s taken to take off our coats and sit down, he’s registered that we’re a bit tired, in need of Tapas TLC and has swung into action, a Tapas Superhero if you will. If you did decide to look at the menu, it is long and it would probably take you a while to go through it so my advice is to take advantage of their Tapas Superhero offering and just outline what you do and don’t like. My exact instructions were: I eat everything and I’m very hungry please. Done.
First out is the Jamon Iberico platter, it is of course sublime. The meat has a special flavour to it and the fat melts into your mouth as you chew and when paired with the warm hunks of bread and homemade aioli dip is a self-constructed sandwich made in heaven. Since first trying Padron peppers in Barcelona, I am a fan and these are just as gorgeous as I remember.
The bar is several people deep, all holding jewel toned glasses of wine and far from overpowering the restaurant space, it’s a lively dinner seating with the added advantage of still being able to hear myself think. There’s a whole downstairs area as well for larger groups and the more businessy end of the audience are seated downstairs, no doubt guests from nearby hotels. We count at least five different accents, suggesting that concierges of all the best hotels nearby know exactly where to send their guests for a great meal in the neighbourhood.
So why had I not heard of it? El Pirata has been around for over 20 years in this corner of Mayfair, hiding away in plain sight and yet it’s the flashier announcements and gimmicky offerings that have people rushing in their droves to try them out. Clearly I’m also entirely guilty of this sort of herd behaviour.
Tiger prawns come to the table bubbling away in a hot dish with tomato, garlic and chilli sauce and Paulo efficiently shells them for us so we can avoid the messiness and just take big hearty bites while snaffling even more bread to dunk in the sauce. Asparagus are perfectly well cooked but the real rapture must be saved for the black squid ink rice, which Paulo recommends eating with a little side dollop of the aioli, just like he eats at home in his native Spain.
You know a dish is a particular favourite when conversation ceases, so intent are you on transferring each heavenly grain of rice into your mouth. It’s dense, sticky and black as the night. On at least three separate occasions, I put down my fork and say ‘Oh I can’t possibly have any more’ before sneaking in another mouthful.
All this rice gluttony means that we don’t really have room for the lamb so this comes home in a little doggy bag for the Husband, all in the aid of giving us the last taster of our meal – dessert! Realising that we’re stuffed to the rafters, this is light, a delicate crepe oozing with chocolate, served with a bit of vanilla ice cream on the side, it is the perfect end to the meal.
Despite its snazzy Mayfair location, prices are reasonable, with most items on the menu on the £4 – £8 mark, it’s the ideal place to bring family, visitors, guests, friends, anyone really! There are groups of businessmen having intense conversations, couples enjoying a romantic people and even a family having a full-blown argument at the next table, which I spend rather a lot of time trying to eavesdrop on!
Ring up and make a booking, you won’t want to miss out.
Disclosure: I was a guest of El Pirata and I loved every minute of my meal. If all restaurants had their own Paulo’s, the world would be a happy dining place.