Review: El Parador, Camden


This is an operation resting comfortably on its 25 year old reputation rather than continuing to impress, reports Stephen Emms



We have a London Tapas Top 5 special coming up next week but one restaurant which should – but sadly won’t – figure is El Parador, the long-established joint on Eversholt Street (near the wonderful Asakusa).

It’s highly-regarded, and mobbed nearly every night of the week, but we confess we hadn’t visited for many years, and each time we tried to go over the summer, the queues were too long. Yes, it really is that popular (no mean feat tucked away behind Mornington Crescent). Still, that only adds to its appeal.

The other evening we finally bagged the only free table in the small (‘cosy’, said the friendly waitress) downstairs room, charmingly shaken, every few minutes, by the rumble of the tube. Regular readers will moan if I say it could have been darker, so instead I’ll add that the atmosphere throughout was buzzy, more like a Soho eatery than Camden, with regulars seeming to know exactly what to order.

A good start was the house red. Under £16 and a very quaffable Tempranillo. From the huge list of sharing plates, romenesco (left) was crunchily almondy, although without as much flavour as you’d expect for its blend of roasted seeds, tomatoes, garlic and chillies. Boquerones were light, more-ish, and marinated in a sweet roasted garlic that was wonderful.

Other dishes impressed less, with chargrilled sardines and salad packing less punch than expected from one of our favourite oily fish. Rolled belly of pork marinated in garlic and dill (braised with cider) was drier still, leathery even, and a shadow of its description. The best dish was squid ‘a la plancha’ (main pic, above) – tender, soft, served with lemon. Exactly what we had hoped for.

But a bit worrying for a restaurant of this reputation was that they sent out a plate of old samphire which hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned. As we said in a recent Saturday Kitchen column, samphire is a fiddly bugger whose preparation requires removal of tough stalks, discoloured bits, and a thorough rinse for grit or sand. The plate we were served was woody, tough, inedible. If it’s out of season, should it be there at all?

We pointed out this out politely and to their credit the staff were very apologetic; it was duly deducted from the bill.

But even so, it seemed an indication of an operation resting comfortably on its 25 year old reputation rather than continuing to impress, or infusing each plate with the passion you detect in the new breed of Soho and Bermondsey tapas bars such as Copita or Jose.

We’ll pop by again at some point. But for now the search is still on for a good NW1/5 tapas bar to match those elsewhere in London.

This is box title
Kentishtowner Rating: 6/10
5 or 6 plates to share plus a bottle of house red is around £50 with service.

What experiences have you had at El Parador? Is it over- or under-rated? Or did we just visit on a bad night?


Tags:

  • Show Comments

  • April

    Agreed! This place use to be fab but last time I went it had gone down hill immensely! I think the owners has been in the kitchen until recently getting other cooks in – unfortunately they seem to have not adequately trained them up to the same standard. Ah well the queues are too big anyway – looking forward to the top 5 🙂

  • theboywonders

    The best tapas I’ve eaten in the area has to be at Del Parc in Tufnell Park. They have a ‘no menu’ policy, so you just turn up and get served a selection of their current dishes – all delicious. Their wine list is also excellent value. Well worth a look.

    • Kentishtowner

      Del Parc, like nearby Nuraghe, will be reviewed very soon…watch this space!

  • WaffleSouffle

    If you’re willing to go as far as Holloway Road, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on a place I’ve been meaning to try. El Molino http://www.elmolinolondon.co.uk/

  • Jon Simmons

    Went to Pix and Fernandez & Wells on a recent tapas trail thing in Soho and both were fantastic. Really reminded us of bars you get in places like Cadiz and Madrid.

  • Mark Blackburn

    Just had a three hour lunch at El Parador and was as good as ever – succulent trout fillets, impressive jamon and chorizo, tasty duck and wonderful home-made desserts. Maybe you shook the tree!

  • Nisha

    I am pretty shocked by this review- How can the KentishTowner be so out of step with all the locals who regularly frequent this place? It’s completely full most week nights and positively bursting at the brims on the weekends. I love the simple and delicious food, reasonable prices and friendly staff, which is why I have been coming here for more than 10 years, as have many other familiar faces in the restaurant. Agreed, it’s not perfect, and every now and then you can get the dud plate- but if you tell the staff they apologise and refund you. And at £25 a head it’s far cheaper than the vast majority of restaurants (if not all) in the local area that are of similar standard. I couldn’t agree less with this review. Visit again and try the baby squid, octopus, lamb, steak, tortilla, artichoke hearts…. I could go on!

  • Anastacia Park

    How much was the Kentish Towner paid by proprietors of other local and not so local tapas bars who have never been able to compete with El Parador since it opened? It’s not fancy, it’s not flash, it’s warm and friendly, it’s incredible value for money and it’s AUTHENTIC. Those are just some of the things that those who have tried to compete with it and failed over the past 27 years, as well as those who think they can fool customers into paying for overpriced mediocrity by going on shows like Saturday Kitchen and self-appointing themselves as celebrity chefs, could learn from it. Why shouldn’t a restaurant or anything trade on its reputation if that reputation is as good as El Parador’s? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.