An edited version of this review has appeared in MyVillage.com
It’s the little things that make a restaurant memorable. Food is critical but gifted staff and a superior ambience are equally important as many a satisfactory meal is ruined by inept service and poor attention to detail. El Pirata de Tapas on Westbourne Grove delivers on all fronts marrying quality ingredients to the impecabble talents of Head Chef Omar Allibhoy and his team. The elegant décontracté style alongside efficient yet upretentious professional service create a relaxed setting in which to fully savour your meal. If you’re looking for a complete dining experience read no further; simply book a table and enjoy.
The dark wood decor is warm and, without trying too hard, accessories hint at the kitchen’s modern take on traditional tapas fare. Service from the outset is accomplished and comfortable; we find ourselves ensconced amongst decently spaced tables and are welcomed with water served with mint and lime – again it’s the finer points. Nestled next to the wine rack wall we sampled the house wines, red and white, a test of overall wine standards and, without raving, both are perfectly serviceable and a snip at £15/bottle.
We started with a sample from the Christmas menu: a tender salmon carpaccio dressed in light vinaigrette with sea salt and salad. It was a flavoursome and refreshing starter that spoke well of the Yule offering.
At our server’s suggestion we ordered the gut busting £25 Degustation Chef’s Menu which is a cut-rate culinary delight. Legendary El Bulli protegé Executive Chef Omar Allibhoy has set the bar high and the kitchen, run by Head Chef Esperanza Mateos Jimenez, doesn’t disappoint. Eight dishes and a trio of desserts we fairly rolled away from our table.
The octopus carpaccio, cylinder pressed overnight, is unimaginably smooth, tender even velvety in texture. This delicately flavoured dish is gently pleasing though I prefer the stronger signature of chilli to paprika. Any shyness detected in the octopus was surmounted by the bold Blue Cheese dish. The Valdeón foam topped with grated walnut and served with endive spears is a sensation. I’m not one for blue cheese but intense flavour without aftertaste is a truly memorable dining experience.
Next up were scallops, cod and black risotto. The seared scallops, beautifully presented and skilfully prepared, are wonderfully smooth. The tasty mollusc is perfectly balanced and complimented by the cauliflower puree while rehydrated chorizo provides crispness with lashings of salty goodness. The cod, served on a tiny bed of stewed potatoes, cabbage and pancetta and topped with a beautiful pepper sauce was perfectly cooked, warming, fragrant and homely. Squid Ink risotto with aioli, a Basque country favourite, though filling lacked full-on seasoning and could definitely use more garlic to raise its game.
The three mains were pork cheeks, croquettes and wood pigeon. The glistening glazed pork cheeks are marinated in red wine for 12 hours and unbelievably tender; a pungent dish down to the carrot puree. The croquettes –often a maltreated and poorly prepared tapas– are light, delicately crisp giving way to a rich hammy bechemal core – satisfying and flavourful. The decadent pigeon served on fig puree blended sweet, salt and savoury to perfection. So pleasurable was that pigeon that even full as we were we’d have managed another portion.
The trio of desserts provide a cocoa oasis for chocolate lovers. The luxurious chocolate mousse is heavenly while the dense truffle is intoxicatingly rich. The painted scrape of saffron toffee provides a complementary taste of “burnt” sugar to lighten the dark chocolate.
This is a serious restaurant that ticks all the boxes in terms, of quality, skill, service and price even offering a 9.95 lunch budgeted for any foodies’ pocket.
A trendy local Notting Hill gem El Pirata deTapas provides outstanding food, accomplished service and unbeatable value for money.
Venue: 3.5/5 Service: 4.5/5 Food: 4.5/5 Value for Money: 5/5
115 Westbourne Grove
London, W2 4UP