EL PIRATA DE TAPAS: ANOTHER ONE WALKS THE PLANK
I had to do Richard Bacon the other night. It was rather fun and I can only hope I left him satisfied. He may have arranged for a cab home for me, what a gent, but he didn’t offer to buy me dinner before he probed me, so be warned everyone if he ever asks you for a night time meeting.
I was left to my own devices until 10.45pm when I turned up to be on his show on Radio 5 (well, what did you think I meant?) so I decided to treat myself to supper at one of the restaurants in the nearby Westfield Shopping Centre.
But, I just couldn’t do it. The menu at the one half decent looking option, Meat & Wine didn’t appeal, so I hopped back on the tube and took myself back to Queensway. A quick phone call to HP, ever the oracle of short notice dining venues, had me furnished with three options. Goldmine, noted for its roast meats, was packed and Café Anglais was soon to be a venue for a business lunch, so I headed down Westbourne Grove to the third on my list, Spanish restaurant, El Pirata De Tapas.
Now, the tapas scene in London is burgeoning at an alarming rate. However, for every half decent one that opens, three more come along that shame the name. El Pirata De Tapas has been open a short while and has received reasonable reviews and the welcome was certainly friendly enough as they squeezed me into a small table near the window and handed me the menu.
There are certain tests of all Spanish restaurants and serving a glass of sherry at the right temperature is one of the most important. Here, a glass of La Goya Manzanilla was served tepid and, when I asked if they had any chilled, I was told it already was. So far, not so good.
The menu is short, but reads well and not wanting to fill up before the show, I stuck to ordering three dishes which again are a good test of the Spanish cook’s chops, including er chops. To begin, “Paprika Crispy Fried Squid” which was deposited on my table shortly after ordering, with the squid cut into thin strips in the style of Cantabrian “rabas” the “tails” of squid that are traditionally served on a Sunday. Unfortunately, that is where the similarity ends. They were chewy, oily and undercooked with no hint of paprika.
All you “you should complain it is the only way the restaurant knows when it makes a mistake” fans out there will be pleased to now that I pointed out the reason for my half eaten bowl of squid to the charming young waitress. Strangely, the world did not seem to shift from its axis, the chef did not come out and apologise and there was no offer to replace. Instead, the waitress just smiled and shrugged and took my plate away. Strange that.
They kindly let me split my prerequisite croquette order between the vegetarian and the traditional jamon ones. The latter were well prepared with crisp frying, creamy centre and studded with ham. However, at £1 a croquette, each slightly smaller than a sprout, they represent appalling value. The vegetarian ones were frankly a bit ghastly, the insides cold and solid.
The waitress returned to clear my table asking if I wanted the dessert or the bill. Nope, what I really wanted was the lamb chops I had ordered along with everything else. She made a slightly surprised “O” shape with her mouth and rushed off, returning a few minutes later with a hastily prepared plate containing two small lamb chops, some inconsequential baby vegetables and a thick brown sauce. The taste of the lamb was excellent, but it had obviously been prepared in a rush so, although it has a pleasing char, the fat had not been allowed to crisp leaving the delightful taste of cold lamb fat in my mouth for the rest of the evening. Not even a big glug of my over priced glass of Jumilla could take it away.
The waitress returned again asking if I wanted the bill. By now I did, oh lord I really did. When it came, it was a nosebleed inducing £31 including tip. Which, considering I was in and out in little over thirty-five minutes and was still hungry is some going.
There are aspects if El Pirata that show potential. The ingredients, on the whole, are good, the wine list strong, even if by law all wines offered by the glass have to suck and the service is friendly if forgetful. But for this to be a real player the execution needs to improve drastically or it will be cast adrift in the ever more ferocious London tapas wars