Nestled along a quiet Mayfair street sits El Pirata, a neighbourhood tapas restaurant. Originally opened in 1994, the spot has since become something of a local gem and gained a name for serving the best Spanish small plates around - which begs the question: does it? As a lover of all things smörgåsbord and in need of a break from my East London hermitage, I jumped at the chance of checking it out for myself.
It's a rainy Friday evening and the charming oasis is abuzz with various groups of friends, couples and co-workers. A quirky decorative street lamp and a mini pergola-style ceiling feature add a cosy touch whilst low lights give a warm glow to the place. Walls are covered with a Tetris-style amalgamation of abstract paintings, watercolour pieces and black and white photos. It's romantic and laidback without feeling too try-hard.
We take our friendly waiter's suggestion and opt for a Cerro Anon Reserva Rioja, £39, whilst looking at the tapas menu. Dishes vary in price, with light bites starting from £3.75 whilst the highest item on the menu - a sharing seafood paella for two - costs £32. We can't resist starting with a few crowd-pleasing favourites, opting for a winning combo of croquetas de Jamon Iberico, £6.50 and patatas bravas, £4.50, as well as toasted bread with aioli, £3.75. And yes, they will give you extra aioli.
Next, a generously sized platter of cured meats and pate, £9.50, has us sampling three different hams whilst the Spanish meatballs, £7.40, and chorizo in red wine sauce, £8, are rich, hearty and flavoursome; the perfect antidote to a wintry night. Having sufficiently eaten our way through Old Macdonald’s farm, we next turn to the sea, picking a juicy gambas al pil-pil, £7.20. However, it's the grilled fresh squid, £9.50, which really knocks my socks off. But be warned: if you’re not a fan of tentacles then this one’s not for you.
With its welcoming atmosphere, friendly Spanish waiters and delicious food, El Pirata has well and truly won a place into my heart. A perfect choice for those of you looking for a romantic date night spot in London or somewhere for a special occasion with the family, the restaurant has all the feel of a fine-dining experience without the hefty price tag attached. I’ve already got my eye on their weekend bottomless brunch; trading in prosecco and avo on toast for sangria and tortillas.