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