El Norte Restaurant Review

If you’re looking for a grand night out amongst the moneyed and influential, along with finely cooked and presented food that has a price tag that keeps out the riffraff, then El Norte will make your year complete.

The passionate sound of Flamenco can be heard as you pass into the warmly low lit space that is El Norte, (you won’t take any bright shiny ‘Grams here). This could be a warning klaxon though, is someone going to start singing Y Viva Espana any moment? My dad used to do that at the drop of a castanet, I still blame Freddy Laker.

Well no, as is this not cheesy muzak Flamenco but the live sound of Monica Guech, a Spanish vocalist and composer who creates a fusion of Pop Soul, Jazz and Spanish Flamenco, and she’s here every Tuesday evening. 

It’s done very tastefully, non-intrusively, and at just the right volume so that you can still talk to others at your table. Doing things tastefully and, it has to be said, somewhat expensively, is what Arian and Alberto Zandi, co-founders of the Emerald Hospitality Group and creators of El Norte do very well.

It’s lush inside, as you’d expect in affluent Mayfair, and is said to be taking its inspiration from the great villas of Northern Spain with its vintage upholstery mixed with low slung lighting which, as I say, may be bad for Instagrammers but is very nice for couples. Too many restaurants today are lighting for mobile phones, not atmosphere. Photos here are therefore provided by the restaurant.

Service is also as slick as would be expected; impeccable staff formally dressed and gliding around on invisible wheels, delivering properly weighty fabric bound menus for cocktails, wine, and of course food, and then melting away with a smile. 

The cocktails are certainly creative, even if not always exactly Spanish, P’s Passion Foam Mule – Vodka , Ginger Syrup , Lime juice, Foam, looked like a pint of real ale in pewter mug and she loved the sharp astringency. I had Smocked (sic)  Bacon Old Fashion – Rye Whiskey , Choc Bitter’s (sic) , Bacon, Wood Smoke which was uncapped at the table to allow the aroma of camp fire to drift across our table, and to slightly alarm the folks next door until they realised it wasn’t actually a kitchen fire. There is by the way a bar attached to the restaurant where you can sample their cocktail creations until 1:30 a.m.

The menu at El Norte is pleasingly compact but even so has enough interesting dishes to keep you happily undecided. Many take their cue from traditional Spanish plates, but inject some striking modern touches. Broken into sections  para picar (nibbles), ensaladas y crudos (salads and raw dishes), vegetales de temporada (seasonal vegetables), carnes (meat and poultry), pescados y mariscos (fish and seafood), and para acompañar (sides) it has something, as they say, for everyone. 

After a stylishly simple amuse of almond and garlic soup, and a few moments being tempted by Calamares Fritos Con Ali Oli – Fried calamari rings with lime mayo, which we know will be light years ahead of standard squid rings, we go for the tortilla de trufa to share because I love the honesty of tortillas.

These are so hard to get right at home, often being too oily, but no such problem here, the plump tortilla is packed with mushrooms, onion and, of course, potato, with generous slices of truffle on top and, masterstroke alert, lots of Manchego cheese on the side.

It’s a bit more decadent than your usual tortilla, but what a great dish it is, we busily clash forks for the last bits. After that, we probably don’t need the two croquettes we ordered, and to be fair the waiter did warn us we might be overdoing it, but they are worth it. Large, crispy coated, beautifully creamy inside flecked through with jamon, with extra jamon on top, because you can’t have too much Jamon, plus a lubricating blob of guacamole.

Much as I like the croquetas I felt that I could have pushed out the boat and gone for Tartar De Gamba Roja Y Lima – Red prawn tartare with lime olive oil, Red prawns are a bit of a gourmet rarity, but El Norte gets much of its food direct from Spain, so they would have been good to try. 

Once upon a time for my main I’d have been on the Galician grilled octopus like a starving shark. Everything from Galicia is gorgeous, but their seafood is especially sought after.  Spanish people go there just for their foodie holidays, as the weather, being on the Atlantic coast, is not a big draw.

I’ve seen too many nature documentaries now though, and I find octopuses both mysterious and fascinating.  Quite possibly they are emissaries from a higher alien civilisation, whose bosses won’t be too pleased when they find out we’ve been grilling their ambassador.

So its Pluma De Cerdo Iberico Glaseada,  Glazed Iberian pork with potatoes for me, a cut of  pork that is the Holy Grail of pork in Spain. Pluma, or Pen, is a triangular shaped cut with only one available from each pig and often weighing no more than 100g. It comes from the acorn-fed black pigs that give us Iberian Jamon and so, when you add all this up, it’s no wonder it’s a lot more expensive than fillet steak as well as a lot more tasty.

Here they’ve marinaded it overnight, before roasting it and glazing it for extra flavour and sweetness. It is delicious, and the potatoes, sliced and fried are all it needs. That said I also have some asparagus with almonds coated in Romesco sauce ( a classic sauce of tomato, almonds and paprika) which adds another level of taste and texture.

If steak is more your thing however, then Chuletón De Vasco Buey serves up a kilo of premium basque rib eye, and you can’t get much better than that. I see one go past and am a bit envious.

P is more delicate in her choices, having Lubina Salvaje A La Riojana – Wild seabass with sweet tomato and red pepper sauce rather than meat. Again this is first class sourcing, the large seabass fillet full of its own flavour and well able to balance with the sauce with tightrope walking accuracy. P shares the asparagus and some of my potatoes, even though I try and stop her.

So having eaten many of my potatoes, P is unable to do dessert so I order chestnut mousse and toffee, a seriously sweet dish with that unique chestnut taste I recall from my days at Scout camp, something I now try to repress. It’s gorgeous.

And so is El Norte. Spanish food has many guises, from the small and dusty tapas bar in  remote villages and the now Disney-fied food of San Sebastián, to the luxury take of El Norte and it’s all good (except for some of those San Sebastián places).

If you’re looking for a grand night out amongst the moneyed and influential, along with finely cooked and presented food that has a price tag that keeps out the riffraff, then El Norte will make your year complete.

Live music is every Tuesday and at weekends a new resident DJ, Santiago Perez is there every Friday and Saturday for a mix of Latin influenced house music.

19-20 Dover St, London, W1S 4LU

Website

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.