I often get invited to restaurants I’ve never heard of, they’re so new off the block they’ve had no press coverage at all, but most recently and rather unusually I was asked if I’d like to try out El Pirata Detapas (EPD) on Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill, West London. EPD has enjoyed huge success since it opened in 2008; it’s won an AA Rosette and been recommended by the Michelin Guide. However, it gained very public notoriety when Gordon Ramsay named it one of the best Spanish restaurants in the UK in his 2010 televised search for the UK’s best independent restaurants.
EPD is a restaurant well and truly cherished by its locals. You’ll struggle to get a table if you don’t book in advance, particularly between Thursday and Sunday. When I arrived on Friday night just before 7.30pm it was packed and my dining companion and I squeezed into what appeared to be the very last available table on the ground floor.
There’s a variety of options when it comes to the menu. If you want total and utter freedom, they recommend you order two or three tapas dishes per person from the main menu. Alternatively, there’s two tasting menus, one priced at £21 per person and a special chef’s tasting menu for £25 per head. This winter the restaurant has also introduced a Tea & Tapas Pairing Menu co-created by head chef, Miguel Angel, and boutique tea trading company, Lalani & Co. While the latter was intriguing, I wanted to get a better feel for the restaurant’s standard offering, and being in no mood to curate my own menu we requested the basic tasting menu.
Service was incredibly speedy. Menus were whipped away, water and wine – a bottle of house red, Centelleo Tempranillo with exceptionally plummy notes and priced at just £15, a veritable bargain – appeared within seconds, followed by freshly sliced baguette and alioli. I’ve got a slight alioli obsession. I love the peppery punch of raw garlic and the creaminess of the mayonnaise. This was excellent when it came to flavour, although it was a little bit thinner than I’d have liked but I’d still describe it as divine.
Minutes later a selection of Iberian cured meats including chorizo, salchichon, catalonian fuet and Serrano appeared. The meats were good, cut expertly offering different textures and variation of flavours but then it’s tough to get cured meats wrong as long as you buy decent produce.
The next round was where things got a little bit more exciting. First came paprika crispy fried squid with mojo verde. I loved these and throughout the weekend I raved about them to anyone who would listen. If I could never have chips again these would be a great substitute. They were incredibly thin, exceptionally crispy, deliciously flavoured and brightly coloured. The electric green sauce was thick, slightly sour yet had a great freshness.
Then there was broken eggs with Serrano ham and potatoes. This pretty little stack of perfectly cubed potatoes was a delight and came topped with a fabulously salty, crispy piece of Serrano. This was my kind of dish. We had a dish of seasonal vegetables too - broccoli, mange tout – which was fine, crunchy, but nothing to shout about.
The final round of savoury dishes included an excellent piece of roasted pork belly with red wine, pear and parsnip purée. The fat on the pork was something to salivate over. The parsnip purée was creamy and light. The pear was soft and sweet. This was probably the most striking dish of the night.
This round also included croquettes with Serrano and fried new potatoes with mojo picón sauce. I’m almost as obsessed about croquettes as I am alioli. First impressions were great. For one thing, the croquettes were large. I hate ordering croquettes only to be faced with some small, round ball, or rather, a miserable excuse for a croquette. A second positive was the fact the clearly very sensible chef opted to serve four of them. So many restaurants think it’s acceptable to serve sharing plates featuring just three bites. That drives me mad. When I bit through the crispy shell, the soft, piping hot, creamy centre and salty ham flowed out. It was at this point in the meal I lost the ability to speak, I was thoroughly content, like the cat that got the cream. I was practically purring with pleasure.
The fried potatoes were superb too. Again the number of them was evenly divisible by two. However, when they arrived they looked nothing like what I’d expected. They were perfectly round peaks, fried, served in a line and topped with the smoky and slightly spicy sauce. I had anticipated something a little more messy but these were perfect, beautiful and satisfying.
I was content but not entirely full, a great deal of thought has clearly gone into creating the menu, so by the time the diner gets to the dessert course, they’re still able to eat. Rice pudding was the dish of the day. It’s hard to serve me rice pudding. It’s a childhood favourite that I maintain only my Mother can get right as she serves it to my exact specifications. Nevertheless, while EPD’s version was a little more runny than I’d have liked, it was excellent and I wolfed it down. Then I indulged and ordered a café solo (espresso) to finish, something I only do when in Spain. Naturally, I wasn’t disappointed.
There’s a lot of great Spanish restaurants in London but without a doubt EPD is one of the best. The service was exceptional, the food was divine and the wine a superb bargain. The only disappointment? Once we walked through the door and onto Westbourne Grove, the realisation that I wasn’t on holiday hit. Thank God I didn’t have to go to work the next day or I’d have been beside myself!
The Tea & Tapas Pairing Menu is available for dinner at the restaurant from 20th November to 21st December, 2012.
El Pirata Detapas 115 Westbourne Grove, London W2 4UP
Tel: 020 7727 5000