Eating is all about context. A hot tin of Baxter’s beef consomme spiked with vodka and slurped on a cold hillside is quite something. For dinner on a Saturday night it’s on a par with Domino’s. In France you can head to a winery with a petrol can and fill it with pink wine, sprayed directly from what is, quite literally, a petrol pump. Quaffed in the sun with a baguette and a wedge of cheese it tastes like God’s own sweat. Bring it back to England, though, and the petrol motif starts to become all too accurate.
Lunch in the sun is just about the perfect context for any meal. Well, I say in the sun. For me it’s in the shade while the sun is out, but you get the gist. Everything tastes better when it’s sunny; the idea of eating a Twister is quite repulsive on a cold, rainy day, but when the sun has got his hat on it becomes the most delectable treat the corner, nay any, shop has to offer. Corona is one of the blandest beers about, but with a wedge of lime and supped under a parasol it’s nectar.
So on Tuesday El Parador didn’t have to do much to please. The garden out back is an idyllic spot to pass a lunchtime, even edging out the Drapers Arms, if only because it feels so unmanicured and homely. We nattered over a glass of chilled Fino and a bowl of olives, before getting down to the proper business of actually eating lunch. And what a lunch.
It’s the sort of place where it’s much more fun to ask them to pick for you. Actually this is probably a good point to clarify that it’s tapas. El Parador serves tapas. So we asked front of house Julie, who’s like your friend’s sexy Mum, to bring us what’s good. First up came some marinated anchovies with little nuggets of sweet, roasted garlic. I’m a slut for anchovies at the best of times, but wrapped around roasted garlic? Hola. Broad bean puree had the barefaced cheek to be even better than the anchovies; vivid green and woody with rosemary – I never want to dunk my bread in anything else. Slivers of Serrano with caper berries were no less to be sniffed at, charred and well-salted padron peppers ditto. By this point I was howling like that bit in ‘The Mask’ when Jim Carrey is watching Cameron Diaz dance at the Coco Bongo. That’s right, I still remember the club’s name.
Beefy chunks of grilled tuna and chicory appeared moments later, the chicory blackened and bittersweet, and the tuna just damn ruddy meaty. Blindfolded I’d almost have believed it was beef. Paella (I assume) rice with samphire, saffron and baby onions provided that confusing paradox of lightness and depth that saffron always does, the samphire providing crunch and salt. You always expect it to come with fish but it was no worse off in this case for not doing so.
For pudding we shared an orange creme caramel, not really my cup of tea but Mary and Nic loved it. Julie very kindly brought us a glass of orange liqueur each, too, a sweet conclusion to a heavenly meal.
So next time the sun is shining, your step springeth, and your tummy rumbleth, mosey on down to Mornington Crescent, find a quiet corner in the garden at El Parador, and wallow in two hours of contented bliss. And even if it’s raining, you’ll still get damn fine food.
245 Eversholt Street
London NW1 1BA
020 7387 2789
Nic picked up the tab – cheers boss – but tapas are in the £6-7 neck of the woods.