Since it landed in London towards the end of last year, I've had my eye on El Norte, the youngest sister restaurant to the ever-popular Zuaya and Como Garden. I'd been quietly drooling at their Instagram feed, dreaming about getting my chops around their range of Spanish small plates and sumptuous mains. So, when the opportunity came to do just that? No one could've stopped me from snapping it up.
Divided into a glamorous bar and lounge to the right, with a swanky dining area opposite, El Norte (much like other restaurants from Spanish twins Alberto and Arian Zandi) is nothing short of lavish. The walls and ceilings were dotted with framed tapestries that match the ornate upholstery, alongside featuring polished dark wood throughout for an expensive finish. Hanging lighting and lamps for each individual table provided an ambience that made our evening feel incredibly intimate, despite the restaurant being fully booked. While on the back wall, lit up in all their glory, bottle upon bottle of wine from their carefully curated list was on display.
And the grand feel didn't stop there. With a menu focusing on the traditional dishes of Spain's northern regions, including modern twists from smatterings of luxurious ingredients and fun signature cocktails, El Norte already had all the signs of success. To begin, I ordered la siesta (£17), a heady mix of cachaça, condensed milk, pineapple juice, toasted coconut and simple syrup, which had a strong alcoholic kick to offset the tropical fruit and creaminess. My other half's flamenco (£16.50), whipped up from chilli-infused tequila, Tio Pepe, cherry, egg white and simple syrup, was divinely juicy with a slight spiciness and some floral hints from the garnish.
As we slurped up every last drop of our drinks, our array of sharing starters arrived. A truffle and manchego (£27) omelette, salt and lime padron peppers (£9) and a fleshy tomato salad (£14.50) with sweet vinaigrette were recommended by El Norte's manager to balance flavours, which they definitely delivered. The indulgent Spanish tortilla was perfectly pillowy, with layers of potato that revealed a rich gravy-like sauce, while the salad and peppers added a hint of freshness and zest respectively. To finish this part of the meal: ham croquettes (£9.75). A firm favourite of mine across many restaurants, these were some of the best I've ever had; creamy bechamel, a crumbly coating, topped with salty meat and on a bed of buttery avo. Swoon.
Kicking off our mains, the grilled octopus and potatoes (£32) paired with a side of almond sauce-coated grilled green asparagus (£9) continued to impress. The leg was beautifully crisp on the outside with a bouncy, but soft, inside, while also being smothered in a sweet and spicy piquillo pepper sauce. However, the tender glazed Iberian pork and panadera potatoes (£36), fronting a BBQ-style flavour from its cumin, paprika and tomato marinade, was certainly the highlight of the evening. To complement our delicious mains? A classic red Rioja with vanilla and berry notes in the form of Ramón Bilbao crianza (£13 a glass).
In my humble opinion, a meal is never quite complete until you've sampled some pud (but maybe that's just my greediness talking). Our choices here were the hot coulant of white chocolate and pistachio (£13) and an intriguing truffle and honey manchego cheesecake (£13). The former, which totally stole the show for me, boasted a light sponge filled with nutty molten sauce and was accompanied by fruity jam. I grinned liked the Cheshire Cat between mouthfuls, relishing in each bite and trying to scrape up every last morsel. The latter, while usually being my favourite kind of dessert, lacked enough sugar and was a little too intense on the truffle for my taste, but it would certainly suit someone who isn't as sweet-toothed.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Having had it on my radar for a fair few months, I perched myself at a table in El Norte with high expectations - and they didn't let me down. From the exceptional recommendations to the luxe ingredients and balanced, flavourful dishes, this swish restaurant delivered exactly the quality of dining experience that their Insta eye candy suggested. Consider me impressed.
💰 The damage: £222.75, plus service charge.
📍 The location: 19-20 Dover Street, W1S 4LU.
👌 Perfect for: Tasting the best of Spain.
⭐ Need to know: These guys are great at helping you choose, which is ideal for the indecisive diner.