Andy Mossack tries out Spanish sharing plates at El Norte, Mayfair’s latest restaurant and bar.
Dover Street is quite the Mayfair address, but to find a vacant space next door to Brown’s Hotel, perhaps one of London’s most iconic luxury hotels is an excellent piece of property spotting. All good then for Arian and Alberto Zandi, the Spanish siblings who are creating something of a restaurant empire with Como Garden and Zuaya in Kensington, and most recently, their new fancy flagship El Norte.
Having enjoyed myself immensely at Como Garden with some excellent authentic Italian fare, I was looking forward to the opportunity of sampling some tasty treats from their home country in a big step up from their other two restaurants. El Norte, as the name suggests, is championing northern Spain’s culinary treats. No surprise really when you consider the region’s rich reputation for gastronomy with 17 Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastián, Bilbao’s famous old town pintxos and a clutch of historic parador hotels where great local food is front and centre
El Norte may well be a big step up for the brothers, but frankly, if you’re going to go toe to toe with some of Mayfair’s A-list big hitters, you might as well give it both barrels. And to my mind, they’ve done just that.
The restaurant’s menu is built around the concept of sharing plates (as are Como Garden and Zuaya), which always promotes a party vibe to proceedings, helped in no small part by some authentic homemade sangrias and an inhouse DJ by the bar on weeknights. But don’t get the wrong impression, this is not a party restaurant by any stretch of the imagination. The focus here is firmly on excellent traditional regional food with a modern twist and award-winning Spanish wines but with a little bit of fun on the side.
The interior is modern classic Spanish high-end; warm and inviting but not stuffy and pretentious. It’s classic enough to make mature customers feel comfortable while at the same time appealing to Mayfair’s youthful toffs and, of course, London’s fast-returning tourists who might well be staying next door at Brown’s or just up the road at The Ritz.
You get your first taste of Mayfair glamour as soon as you walk through the door with a hostess check-in, smoothly guiding you to your table or to a seat at the bar if it’s not yet ready. I always enjoy this little stroll in restaurants as it’s fun to grab a sneak peek at other diners’ plates and a note to self as I pass by. From my little piece of research, the plates of hand-cut jamon Iberico and tortillas seemed to be doing some very good business.
Having landed a table facing a very impressive wall display of wine bottles it seemed we were destined to kick off with a lovely glass of 2014 Crianza Rioja (£17) while we waited for our starters or para picar as they say in Spain. A signature tortilla de truffa (£22) croquetas de Jamon (£9.50 a pair) and a plate of one of my favourite Spanish nibbles, pimientos de padrón (£9).
The domed golden tortilla arrived sitting proudly on a generous bed of shaved truffles and crowned with a few more for good measure. An impressive display of truffles was made even more delicious by uncovering some hidden Manchego cheese once we got into it. The croquettes came perfectly crunchy and topped with some guacamole and crispy ham. And who on planet Earth can possibly resist the lure of perfectly cooked and salted Padron peppers?
This sharing plate concept is becoming a popular trend particularly, as with El Norte, we are promised: “each dish is cooked to order and brought out as soon as it’s ready”. It’s a model used extensively in Europe, but one that might take a bit of getting used to for a British palate that’s used to classic three-course dining.
After a short lull in proceedings, our Ensalada de Tomate (£13) materialised. Baby halved tomatoes bathed in a herb and olive oil vinaigrette. A refreshing palate cleanser that brought back fond memories of hot summer nights in Galicia.
The main acts followed shortly after, triumphantly arriving together by a trio of waiters. Pluma de cerdo Iberico glaseada ( £34) honey-glazed seared Iberian pork sitting on a bed of potatoes and topped with coriander. Another signature dish that didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Beautifully cooked with the honey providing a glorious extra tang.
Gamba Roja de Denia al ajillo (£33), Delicious Denja red king prawns in glorious olive oil and garlic sauce. And, in a rare moment of weakness, I also had to taste some classic patatas bravas (£8) chunks of fried Spanish potatoes topped with a spicy red pepper sauce.
This was a feast more than fit enough for the citizens of Cantabria let alone the well-heeled denizens of Mayfair. After my second glass of Rioja, I might have even been forgiven for thinking I was actually back over there.
El Norte is a welcome addition to Mayfair’s collection of impressive restaurants and the Zandi portfolio, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the brothers have a few more prime Mayfair locations in their sights.
Interior shots (C) Jack Hardy, Food Images (C) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about El Norte, Mayfair
El Norte Restaurant and Bar, 19-20 Dover St, London, W1S 4LU
T: 020 3154 8182 E: firstname.lastname@example.org