High-end Spanish restaurant El Norte in Mayfair understands its audience and location. The traditional dining room is illuminated by little more than a tasseled lamp on each table to create a mysterious, and dare we say exclusive, feel – the type that makes you forget there’s a whole wide world outside. And once you come to terms with the fact that the Spanish tortilla will set you back over 20 quid, the kitchen actually serves some exciting dishes. To be fair to them, the Tortilla de Trufa is imbued with truffle and dusted in a melted layer of Manchego cheese, hence the elevated price tag, and it was one of the best things we ate from the menu: almost meaty in texture and flavour on the outside, yet oozy with barely-cooked egg yolk in the centre. It sets the precedent for the rest of the meal, which leans towards the rich and luxurious (there’s more truffle to come).
You could quite happily dine on its offering of nibbles and sides, which is where you’ll find plenty of familiar Spanish favourites. From our choices, a generous portion of fried aubergine with feta and honey delivered the crispy satisfaction that deep-fried food generally does, while a fruity-tasting dish of tuna tartare in a sweet tomato sauce provided light relief to an array of mostly rich dishes. The main part of our meal did fall at the final hurdle via a rather crude bowl of patatas bravas, lightly dressed with a non-descript-tasting tomato sauce and garlic mayonnaise.
To finish, after some slight confusion and a few attempts to deliver us the correct ice cream flavours, our friendly waiter plonked what we were told was cheesecake on the table, totally concealed by giant shavings of black truffle. Does truffle in a dessert work? Not in the context of a manchego and honey cheesecake, although its soft texture was spot-on. To pair, a fantastic glass of white rioja Chardonnay stood out as delicate and slightly creamy on the palate. El Norte balances the familiar with invention really well – you just have to be willing to cough up for it.