There is certainly no shortage of dining options in the capital, but finding somewhere that is unique and appealing enough to leave you eager to return sooner rather than later remains a rarity.
Excellent food, impeccable service and a memorable experience all-round are the key ingredients to the dining destinations that successfully make their mark, and the recently opened El Norte, in the affluent London neighbourhood of Mayfair, ticks all the right boxes and more.
The latest project from twin brothers Arian and Alberto Zandi, who have fast made their mark on London’s dining scene, this exciting new offering is a first for London’s Spanish restaurant scene, taking inspiration from the country’s rich culinary regions and offering a sharing style menu of traditional Spanish dishes with a modern and luxurious twist.
Born in Madrid, the Zandi brothers are no strangers to the London dining scene, having opened the doors of their first endeavour – Latin American small plates restaurant Zuaya – back in 2018. Inspired by the flavours found in Mexico, Columbia, and Argentina, the destination has since won itself a legion of loyal fans who appreciate quality international cuisine. And just last year, they inaugurated the lavish northern-Italian-inspired Como Garden, right next door.
Forming part of the Emerald Hospitality Group, El Norte is already beginning to make its mark, bringing Londoners a taste of Spain with dishes exemplifying the brothers’ bold approach to flavours and textures. So, when I was invited to experience the hottest new Mayfair dining hot spot myself, I couldn’t resist popping along to see what all the fuss was about.
Featuring chic and sophisticated interiors with a nod to traditional Spanish style, tasselled light fittings and stools, green and chestnut-coloured carpets and walls, and banquettes embossed with swirling fabrics, the stylish and unique setting inside El Norte is instantly appealing. Beautifully displayed wine bottles and Spanish guitar music add an atmospheric touch that injects the whole set-up with a little extra je ne sais quoi – or should I say, no sé qué.
A sharing style menu of traditional Spanish dishes with a modern and luxurious twist takes inspiration from the small tapas plates often served up at the nation’s bars alongside a beer or a glass of wine. There’s something to suit all tastes, and diners can choose from sections including 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).
El Norte sources much of its produce directly from Spain, including steak from Galicia, olives and olive oil from Córdoba, and tomatoes from Andalucía, which means authentic flavours and quality ingredients are guaranteed. And with a wine menu featuring a selection of Spanish awarded labels and a selection of Spanish crafted cocktails to choose from, there’s plenty to wash all that decadent food down with, too.
Sipping on a glass of champagne, I started with the ensalada tomate and the tortilla de trufa. The fresh salad is a simple yet impactful dish, featuring plump and juicy tomatoes alongside a sweet and tangy vinaigrette and making the perfect accompaniment for a show-stopping Spanish omelette with added flair. Rich, tasty and packed with mushrooms, onion and egg, it was expertly finished with a dusting of truffle shavings and served with a mouth-watering side of Spanish Manchego cheese – a taste sensation if ever there was one, and quite possibly the most decadent tortilla you’ll find in all of London.
Thoroughly impressed by my introduction into El Norte’s luxurious take on Spanish cuisine, I couldn’t wait to dive into my mains, and as a seafood lover, I was eager to try the Pulpo a la brasa – grilled octopus with pepper sauce and mashed potato. Octopus is always a bit of a hit or miss for me owing to its unusual texture, but this was succulent and tasty and worked well alongside the creaminess of the smooth mash for a well-balanced dish overall.
Spoilt for a choice, I was brought out another main course to try and this was the pluma de cerdo Iberico glaseada – glazed Iberian pork with potatoes – as an additional treat. A fantastic dish comprising high-quality meat and cooked to perfection, the potatoes added a nice crunch, while a side of seared asparagus on a thick bed of almond Romesco sauce ensured an interesting mix of textures as well as flavours.
Other hero dishes on the menu include alcachofas rehogadas con jamón (baby artichokes with 5J Iberico ham); albondigas de rabo de toro (Rioja red wine oxtail meatballs); vaca rubia Gallega (grilled Galician steak with vegetables), lubina salvage a la riojana (wild sea bass with sweet tomato and piquillo pepper sauce), cangrejo real a la parrilla (imperial king crab with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic), and of course, the best 5J Iberico jamon (5J Iberico hand-cut ham) in the capital. Had I had the space, I would have happily tried them all, but alas, I’ll have to save them for another time. It’s certainly the type of food that’s worth coming back for, and hopefully, it won’t be long.
I was, however, persuaded to find room for a dessert, and after perusing the enticing range of options and settled on the chestnut mousse with toffee – which was quite simply delightful. Sweet yet light, this unique dish was somewhere between a tiramisu and a crema Catalana with a coffee crumble and just a smear of toffee on the side. I couldn’t think of a better way to end an all-round delightful meal.
If you’re keen to continue the night after dinner, then El Norte features a stylish focal-point bar with a 1.30am licence. Its cocktail lists feature some adventurous takes on classic serves alongside several house-made specials, including the El Norte (Tio Pepe liquor, raspberry vodka, wild berry jam, basil, prosecco) and agua de Valencia (gin, vodka, orange juice, Prosecco). For those looking for a truly authentic Spanish tipple, a dedicated sangria menu offers up this popular national beverage both in its traditional form, and in some unique variations and interpretations – the lavender sangria is a must.
In a nutshell
What really stood out to me about my El Norte experience was the excellent and attentive level of service I received throughout. Staff are knowledgeable about the dishes they are serving and are quick to suggest and recommend combinations, able to explain each of the restaurant’s offerings right down to the details.
It’s clear that there is a certain level of pride over the food that is served here, and rightly so – it’s quite simply delicious. Add to that an appealing setting and an all-round upgraded take on the much-loved Spanish dining experience to suit a luxury-seeking customer base, and El Norte is certain to win the hearts – and stomachs – of foodies from across the capital and beyond.
Address: 19-20 Dover St, London W1S 4LU
Phone: 020 3154 8182