Review: El Pirata – authentic, fresh tapas in the heart of Mayfair



Set in the heart of London’s Mayfair, frequented by both luminaries of stage and screen (Brian May and Johnny Depp are fans) and locals alike and consistently packed to the rafters, Spanish tapas bar El Pirata has become something of an institution since opening its doors almost a quarter of a century ago.

We’d heard the rumours about the superbly fresh, authentically flavoured food, informal atmosphere and decent prices so were delighted to be invited down to a sherry, wine and tapas pairing to see first-hand what all the fuss is about.

Guided by chief wine supplier to the restaurant, the effervescently animated Vincente Herrando who was on hand to steer us through the process while regaling us with tales from the motherland, we began with a small selection of old favourites: pan fried Galician padron peppers served simply with olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt, mixed marinated olives; and large plates of Iberico ham, from the acorn-fed black Iberican pig. This course was paired with La Goya, a light, extra-dry, delicate sherry with a distinctive salty tang.

A crisp, fresh verdejo, PradoRey, had been chosen to accompany the next course: grilled wild asparagus spears drizzled in balsamic, meaty monkfish medallions and incredibly light-tasting deep-fried fresh squid.

Enormous, juicy, briny, pink Atlantic prawns came with arroz negroz, rich tasting squid ink rice; and was served with Muga, a light, white Rioja.

This was only the beginning. A move to red wine, the rich, intense Hito Ribero del Duero signaled the impending arrival of hearty meat dishes: pork cheeks, Iberian pork shoulder and morcilla (Spanish ‘blood sausage’), came with a chickpea stew. Tarima, a full-bodied monastrell, accompanied fillet steak and chicken and chorizo skewers.

Unsurprisingly, I was by this time slightly panicked about the prospect of exactly where I was going to put my pudding; and silently praying for the hollow legs my mother used to accuse me of having when I was a small but gluttonous child. Thankfully the merciful staff brought just a few small dishes to share between us. I had a mouthful of Spanish bread pudding with icecream and spun sugar, perfectly fine if that is your bag – my esurience tends to be limited strictly to the savoury.

The journey home is a bit of blur after the excesses of the evening but I remember arriving back pledging allegiance to El Pirata and determined to return there as soon as possible – the combination of a thoroughly unstuffy, buzzing atmosphere and solidly good, fresh food in an area filled with overpriced, formal restaurants makes it a real little gem.

El Pirata Mayfair
5-6 Down Sreet

Written by Saga Lynd