Monday, 8 March 2010

El Pirata Detapas

Downstairs at El Pirata

I'd never been to Notting Hill before. It exists in my mind as a weird amalgam of Hugh Grant and spangly breasted dancers. But the other day I found myself at Notting Hill Gate tube station, attempting to find the Westbourne Grove sibling of Mayfair's El Pirata known as El Pirata Detapas, which seeks to present a more modern take on Spanish food than its older sister.

I'd been invited to a tapas dinner to celebrate the launch of Viewcard (from Viewlondon - you know, that website you go to to find out what's on at the cinema now that Teletext is dead). Viewcard entitles you to special offers at lots of London restaurants and El Pirata Detapas is one of the latest to join the scheme. I'm going to call it EPD now because El Pirata Detapas is too long to keep typing out.

The road to EPD is paved with strange pretensions - I lost count of the number of shops along Pembridge Road advertising themselves as retro chic or vintage glamour when all they seemed to be touting was overpriced tat (although one enterprising merchant had a table of wares outside with an "Anything for a pound" sign on it). Westbourne Grove itself though is rather more upmarket and EPD seems to fit right in.

jamon

I met up with some other bloggers at a pub so achingly hip I've blanked it from my memory before proceeding to EPD where we were led downstairs to a beautifully lit room with a fantastic if slightly morbid display cabinet of jamon legs at one end.

As we sat down, little bowls of mixed, marinated olives were produced for us to pick at, as well as some fluffy, rustic bread and allioli so creamy I could feel it congealing in my arteries. In a good way.

Olives

It wasn't really allioli as you'd know it, lacking any kind of garlicky punch (in fact I had to go "Pssst - what the heck is this we're dipping the bread in?" to the others) but it was addictive nonetheless.

We were treated to a wide selection of tapas from almost every section of the menu - Ensaladas, Pescados, Croquetas, and Carnes (so much more mellifluous than Salad, Fish, Croquettes and Meat).

El Pirata Detapas menu

The 25 year old chef Omar Allibhoy trained under El Bulli's Ferran Adria and it shows. His take on Pulpo a la Gallega is Octopus carpaccio, clementine caviar, capers & paprika. This Galician dish is traditionally made with thick chunks of octopus which can be chewy, but here the octopus was sliced almost sashimi-style and then topped with capers, herbs and peppers and "caviar" of clementine juice.

Ah, spherification. I've always wanted to try "spherificated" food, and I imagined that the jewel-like globules would pop in my mouth releasing a pocket of zingy juice - a bit like ikura which they strongly resembled. Well, I was wrong. Or maybe they were wrong - but basically they were more like tiny, rubbery blobs with no discernable flavour. Pretty though.

octopus carpaccio, clementine caviar, capers & paprika

The octopus itself was beautiful and tender, and the other garnishes imbued it with wonderful flavour. I stole everyone's leftovers.

We also had Endives with Valdeón cheese foam & walnuts. V
aldeón is a blue-veined Spanish cheese; here it had been foamed up (more shades of El Bulli) with lashings of cream to form a miraculous cheesy air - somehow rich yet light at the same time. The chicory worked well with the cheese, its bitterness balancing the salt, yet unsurprisingly we were left with spare leaves as we fought to scoop up the foamy remnants.

endives with valdeón cheese foam & walnuts

Seared scallops, artichoke hearts & Iberian bacon were next. I lo-o-o-o-ve scallops although my husband says he still doesn't see the point.

These were perfect specimens - fat and meaty and seared till caramelised, they went beautifully with the crisp, salty bacon shards.

seared scallops, artichokes hearts & iberian bacon

The croquetas with Serrano ham were less successful. An addition to my list of foods that look like Scotch Eggs, though the coating was good and crunchy, these were too blandly creamy inside with scant sign of the advertised ham.

But hey, we were enjoying ourselves and when I gave one of my share to a compadre, he was more than happy to relieve me of it.

serrano ham croquetasjolly dans

I adored the next dish however. Pan fried red mullet, confit tomato & piquillo peppers - the fish was sweet and succulent, and the bed of tomato and peppers provided a spicy, tangy contrast.

The mullet was so very good, it was well worth the slight effort of picking out the little bones.

pan fried red mullet , confit tomato & piquillo peppers

The lentil stew with foie gras was similarly glorious.

Unctuous and earthy with fat chunks of goose liver, comfort food at its very best.

lentil stew with foie gras

Next we had pork cheeks, braised shallots & carrots.

The pork was incredibly tender, but this dish didn't quite gel for me and I thought I could detect an undercurrent of licorice or aniseed which I wasn't very keen on.

pork cheeks, braised shallots & carrots

The Broken eggs, potatoes, chorizo & garlic prawns was a tortilla-like tower. Each component was juicily delicious, but
the flavours fought with each other (there is such a thing as too much umami) and ultimately proved overwhelming - I was unable to eat more than a few mouthfuls.

Fried new potatoes with mojo picón sauce, EPD's take on patatas bravas, also failed to set my soul on fire (I have an aversion to cooked red peppers) and looked a little too much like rhino scrota for my liking.

broken eggs, potatoes, chorizo & garlic prawnsfried new potatoes with mojo picón sauce

We were back on a winning streak with the desserts however.

Chocolate trufa, chocolate mousse and saffron toffee was perhaps the most heavenly pud I have ever stuck in my mouth. Intensely chocolatey with a butter-like texture (but not at all cloying), I could have eaten six of these. Six.

chocolate trufa, chocolate mouse and saffron toffee

The Two textures Crema Catalana was a close second - again Chef Allibhoy employed El Bulli techniques to whip the crema and us into a frothy frenzy.

On any other day, the final dessert Rice pudding with caramazel crispes (ie chocolate Rice Krispies) would have thrilled me, but pitted against the other two, its milky goodness paled in comparison.

2 textures crema catalanarice pudding, caramazel crispes

And at the end of our orgy of eating, Chef Allibhoy himself came out to see us to talk about his influences. Obviously his training under Ferran Adria played a big part, but Allibhoy was first taught to cook Spanish cuisine by his mother at home in Madrid, and when he was 14 he even took evening classes at a local cookery school as well as undertaking his normal daytime studies.

Chef Omar Allibhoy

Affable as well as charismatic with a surprisingly eloquent turn of phrase, he would be TV gold and for this reason I very much hope to see Allibhoy with his own cookery series.

He has already gone far with El Pirata Detapas, but I expect to see Allibhoy go further. You mark my words.

El Pirata Detapas Frontage

El Pirata Detapas
115 Westbourne Grove
London
W2 4UP
020 7727 5000

http://www.elpiratadetapas.co.uk/


El Pirata Detapas on Urbanspoon


The Viewcard costs £29.95 for a year's membership and offers 50% off at over 600 restaurants, pubs and bars - well worth a look in my book.

viewcard

Thanks to the girls at Sauce Comms

21 comments:

  1. Sounds cracking, Mimi. The only b*gger is that it means I'm going to have to put it on my already overly-long 'must visit' list.

    *sighs wistfully*

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  2. great right up Mimi you captured it all brilliantly. (I definitely caught a tang of clementine juice in my spherifications though!)

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  3. sounds amazing... I can never view your photo's at work so I'll revisit this later :D

    Paul

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  4. Looks excellent. Can't believe it was your first time in Notting Hill, though! :D

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  5. @aforkfulofspaghetti - My list of placed I haven't been is probably much longer than yours :)

    @gastrogeek - Thank Rej! Maybe I got some dud caviar on my portion ...

    @Paul - Thank you! As for the photos - they're drawing from Flickr rather than embedded into the posts, so maybe your office doesn't like Flickr?

    @Ibzo - It is a bit embarrassing :)

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  6. It sounds like a cracking evening - I've been recommended the place before but have long been put off by it's Westerly location...

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  7. Great review - interesting that for the most part, the best dishes seem to be the least El Bulli-fied. I'm always a bit ambivalent about 'caviars' and 'foams' because, with a few notable exceptions, they seem to be done for the sake of it rather than because they add to a dish.

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  8. @Lizzie - It is a bit of a trek especially for us Southerners but at least we can get a tube from Embankment :)

    @The Grubworm - Sir, the foaminess was definitely justified - the cheesey whip and the creme catalana were bloody brilliant.

    But, yeah the caviar was disappointing ...

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  9. Sounds lovely, not yet made it to El Pirata either but this is now added to the places to visit list!! Gracias chica!

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  10. Yet another on to my list! Thanks for a great review!

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  11. @Louise @ScottCanCook

    Thank you - it's definitely worth a trip :)

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  12. Sounds like an interesting place, Mimi. Those scallops look fantastic.

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  13. Hi Mimi, this is a detailed and well thought out review - I had never heard of El Pirata Detapas (odd name!), but will certainly be trying on the strength of your review.

    I am surprised that their spherication balls did not pop in your mouth, they should have done, and it is a lovely sensation. Love the look of those pig cheeks and octopus dishes.

    I will look into the ViewCard, I have TasteLondon, and I wonder how it compares...

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

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  14. Brilliant review and great photos again - the hams are certainly atmospheric; 'this is what happens to punters who complain' - a sort of Sweeney Todd take on being a restaurateur! Another great read, which brings me onto your Burmese cookbook - you could sort of do it blog style as a separate blog, which would then build it up bit by bit? [I SOOO want to read it :)]

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  15. Lovely review and pictures.

    My wife and I went to this place a month or so after it opened as it is not far from where we live and we kept walking by it. I had heard very good things about it (well, it's sister place), and was eager to try.

    The evening, however, was a series of disasters. Briefly, we were not allowed to sit in the the upstairs dining room, which was light and airy and COMPLETELY empty because they were 'fully booked'. They then took us downstairs to a room which completely lacked in atmosphere and smelled very strongly of damp basement. We tried to inform them of this, but the rude, and I believe head, waiter would not admit it...finally he brought down some scented candles and tried to make amends, but it was a completely empty gesture. So it stunk. And then, to boot, the food was average at best and pretty bad at worst. I have thus never understood the glowing reviews this place tends to get, unless of course they were still 'finding their feet' at this stage and/or this was somehow a one-off failure. I have sort of wanted to give it another shot, but my wife is adamant of never returning, so if I do, it will have to be without her! By the way, when we left, the dining room upstairs was maybe half-full...they hand't even had the courtesy to sit us upstairs after we (and then subsequent diners) complained about the subterranean stench!

    Glad you enjoyed a lot of the food though, it certainly does look good :)

    Best,

    LF

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  16. @Greedy Diva - Some of the best scallops I've had (although the ones at Launceston Place have the edge).

    @The London Foodie - Thanks Luiz! I thought the caviar should pop so I'm glad to hear that this wasn't a silly idea!

    I'm not sure what EDP means - I want it to be The Pirate of Tapas but I expect that's not right :)

    @chumbles - Re Burmese cookbook - but then I'd just be giving it away, chumbles :)

    Anyway, I've posted some recipes here already to give you an idea and I will post more, I promise.

    @Laissez Fare - Ooh, that's pretty shocking. I think they must have redone the downstairs because I thought the basement room was really welcoming and atmospheric (pic at top of my post).

    As for the food, Omar Allibhoy didn't join EDP till later, so I guess that's why the food's stepped up a gear.

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  17. Ah, that must explain the food then! Maybe worth another go :)

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  18. Great review of the evening MiMi - I have to ask, that photo of those two handsome chaps you have illustrating the post.....were they as intelligent, thought provoking and excellent company as they undoubtedly appear in the image?

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  19. @Dan - They were some delusional tramps who gatecrashed the event. One of them claimed he was called EssexEating. What kind of daft name is that?

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  20. I thought that 'spherification' was a BrassEye reference until I clicked the Wiki-link

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  21. @Oliver - It is a daft term, isn't it? ;)

    Hey, Four Lions is out soon!

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Thanks for taking the time to comment!