Mayfair is one of the swankier neighbourhoods in London. It has everything the well-heeled might need: classy boutiques, jewellery, galleries and some great restaurants …expensive great restaurants. And then there is the gem that is known as El Pirata.
There isn’t much in Mayfair that could possibly be described as cheap – not even good value for money. There is plenty of competition, but there are also plenty of people looking for a delicious lunch, dinner or snack. That, and the location, keep prices high. But there are wonderful places to enjoy a meal, although you need to know where to look.
El Pirata is found on a pleasant residential street, where one might notice a maroon-tiled façade at the Piccadilly end, and that was once Down Street Underground station. Down Street is a now-disused station which was opened in 1907 by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway. It was later served by the Piccadilly Line and was between Dover Street (now named Green Park) and Hyde Park Corner stations. It wasn’t a great distance from either of the other two and so didn’t see a great number of passengers. It closed in 1932. During the Second World War it was used as a bunker by Winston Churchill and his War Cabinet.
The kind of restaurant I love but so seldom find
Visitors to Down Street will take notice of the former station on their first trip here, but it’s El Pirata that will assure many more walks along this thoroughfare. This is the kind of restaurant I love but so seldom find. It’s intimate and timeless with the ambiance of a classic eatery where one can linger. A tapas bar where everyone knows your name – after a time or two. This isn’t a glitzy spot with too much etched mirror and polished brass; El Pirata is a place that some lucky folks can call their ‘local’, with plenty of dark wood, small tables, and a remarkably large bar.
There is so much choice here but we ordered the Introduction to Tapas at a very reasonable £25 per person. That would buy a sandwich in some places in Mayfair; yes, a well-garnished sarnie, but just a snack, nevertheless. This Introduction was actually quite a copious spread, and would be ideal for a group when accompanied by a couple of bottles of wine.
We started with a selection of salad, cured meats and seafood, along with a generous basket of bread and garlic dip. This was a colourful platter of light and fresh foods; but there was much more to come. This is the kind of meal that flows in casual and delicious waves.
Next came the hot dishes, the first of which was a mound of deep-fried medallions of monkfish and squid. That aforementioned mayo dip worked perfectly with the fish. More seafood followed in the guise of the unmissable prawns in olive oil with pimentos and wild mushrooms. This must surely be a signature item at El Pirata. It was a sizzling dish of vibrant flavours. Note to self: order more bread for dipping in the oil.
Will take diners back to that little bar in San Sebastian
Meat lovers are not forgotten. Croquetas de pollo (chicken croquettes) are traditional crunchy golden bites with a mild and creamy filling. Then Spanish Omelette made in classic fashion with potatoes and onions will take diners back to that little bar in San Sebastian. No tapas extravaganza would be complete without this tortilla.
Beef is on the menu, with fried medallions of steak in garlic, red peppers, white wine and parsley. Granted this isn’t the most photogenic of dishes but it is tasty, with a sauce for which to die. It’s rich and unctuous and perfect for chilly English summer evenings. Grilled lamb cutlets were French-trimmed, simply presented and juicy. Another great plate for carnivores.
But there is bound to be a favourite dish at any restaurant and for me it was Chicken Wings in spicy sauce. This doesn’t sound very Spanish but the spice here was a hot paprika that offered all the flavour of Spain but with a hit of heat. This is a must-try at El Pirata, and quite a surprise.
El Pirata is friendly, cosy and just the sort of restaurant one would want in one’s neighbourhood. The food is first class, there are wines by the glass, along with several Spanish gins. A return is on my near horizon, when I’ll be back for bread, wings and cocktails!
Phone: 020 7491 3810
5-6 Down Street
Monday to Friday: 12noon – 11.30pm
Saturday: 6.00pm – 11.30pm
Sunday and Bank Holidays: Closed