IN 2010, rambunctious celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay named El Pirata Detapas the best Spanish restaurant in the country.
That such an accolade was bestowed upon them by a man whose nefarious outbursts have reduced even the toughest chefs to tears is high praise indeed.
If that wasn’t enough, they also happen to be the recipients of an AA Rosette and come recommended by the Michelin guide.
To say expectations were high when I visited during the biting cold of December is an understatement.
Located in Westbourne Grove, the restaurant is surrounded by vintage shops and boutiques, and even though it’s only a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Bayswater it feels like it’s slightly off the beaten track.
As soon as my girlfriend and I stepped inside, we were impressed by the restaurant’s style – low lighting providing an atmospheric warmth, walls of black and white Spanish photos, and wooden furnishings that combine comfort with elegance.
As you would expect, the wine list is a sight to behold, ranging from the very affordable (£15.50 for a bottle of house white) to the eye-wateringly expensive (£240 for a bottle of Muga Rioja).
Despite the extensive tapas menu, we opted for the Menu Degustación (tasting menu) at £21 each. This offered us nine small plates to give us a better feel for the cuisine so adored by a certain angry chef.
The initial starters of bread, aioli and selection of cured Iberian meats – chorizo, salchichón, Catalan fuet and serrano ham – were all excellent, but the strong, rich flavours of the salchion sausage and the serrano ham went to show why they are the gastronomic delights of the Iberian Peninsula.
Next up was the paprika crispy fried squid, which came out with a chunky diced avocado sauce that was not only sumptuous but incredibly moreish – a true revelation. Accompanying dishes contained seasonal carrots, broken egg, gorgeously smoked potatoes and even more of the serrano ham.
It seemed like my tastebuds were rewarded more with each plate, as previous dishes were nothing but a distant memory when compared to the latest culinary delight put before me. And no sooner had I begun mourning the loss of the paprika squid that I was faced with the pork belly.
Roasted for six hours and served with a red wine pear and parsnip puree it was a marvel, the pork meat juicy and tender and the crackling absolutely sizzling with a magnificent smokey, flavour – an utter joy to look at and devour.
Fried new potatoes came with a mojo picon sauce and the serrano ham croquettes melted in the mouth, as the gorgeous béchamel oozed out of its crisp coating not only complementing the pork but attacking my mouth with such vigour that my tastebuds could do nothing but raise a white flag and let the exquisite flavours dominate.
As the final savoury plate was taken away I thought that no matter what our waiter – helpful and polite throughout – brought next it wasn’t going to top the best of the evening.
If humble pie was on the menu I probably would have gorged on that. Instead we were brought a unique-looking dessert – white chocolate mixed with mint jelly and topped with a cookie crumble die.
Unique, not only in appearance but in taste. Flavours that you wouldn’t think would meet merged beautifully to create something truly wonderful.
I left the restaurant with my expectations truly surpassed.