London’s finest classic Spanish tapas bar and restaurant. According to one leading restaurant critic: ‘El Pirata offers me everything I look for in a restaurant. Fine food, excellent choice, comfortable surroundings, marvellous service and a bill at the end that doesn’t give me indigestion!’ Add to this its award-winning wine list, and you will appreciate what makes this one of the capital’s finest tapas bars and restaurants, as evidenced by the accolades it has received from 3 renowned guides: Zagat, Harden’s and Square Meal. Mon-Fri noon-11.30pm, Sat 6pm-11.30pm, closed Sun.
5-6 Down St, W1J 7AQ T: 020-7491 3810/7409 1315 www.elpirata.co.uk Station: Hyde Park Corner/Green Park
This place is blessed with space,’ smiles general manager Emily Sparling (pictured) inside Sophie’s Steakhouse & Bar in Covent Garden, one of the West End’s most famous restaurants and a popular venue for watching this month’s Rugby World Cup (18 Sep-31 Oct). ‘We’ve got a big screen at one end of the restaurant where people can book to watch key games. The restaurant is big so people never wait long for a table. That’s our speciality.’ In fact, it’s just one of many specialities that Sophie’s has perfected over the years.
Surrounded by some of London’s greatest museums, shops and theatres, Sophie’s is the ideal spot for a leisurely lunch, pre-show dinner, late-night bite or well-crafted cocktail. Opened in 2008 by lifelong friends Sophie Bathgate and Rupert Power, the restaurant has become one of London’s finest steakhouses, offering succulent beef cuts alongside fresh fish, BBQ ribs, big salads, homemade desserts and a scrumptious kids’ menu. For Bathgate and Power, who set up their first steakhouse on Chelsea’s Fulham Road in 2002, the aim was simple: to create a female-friendly steakhouse with a focus on quality ingredients, value for money and fun.
‘I think a lot of people mistake us for a New York-style steakhouse,’ says Sparling, perhaps realising the similarities it has with US steakhouses such as Peter Luger in Brooklyn. ‘We like New York-style steakhouses but we’re all about British, locally sourced food here, from our Cornish lobsters to the meat we get from Sophie’s family farm.’ The secret to Sophie’s enormous success is a farm-to-plate concept. It all starts with meat sourced in Devon, Cornwall and Bathgate’s own farm. ‘Sophie grew up on a farm in Oxfordshire where we still get quite a lot of our meat from,’ explains Sparling. ‘All the cows are Aberdeen Angus, which is quite something. We take our staff there regularly to meet them and see how it all works.’ When the primal cuts of native breeds arrive at the Covent Garden restaurant, they are dry-aged in the restaurant’s own meat-hanging room, which is viewable from several of the curved dining booths that punctuate the capacious wooden floor. These cuts are butchered daily by Sophie’s
multi-skilled chefs, creating the menu’s popular ‘Chef Cuts’ of chateaubriand, porterhouse, double entrecote and T-bone.
‘A lot of love goes into our steaks, from the minute the meat arrives to the moment we serve it to our customers,’ says Sparling of the process, which includes resting the meat before it’s ready to serve. ‘Chateaubriand is delicious. It comes in a variety of sizes, from 20-50oz, and it’s not your average cut. It’s a very lean, melt-in-your-mouth kind of fillet. It’s perfect for sharing too.’ Not content with just mastering steaks, Sophie’s boasts one of the city’s most delicious Sunday roasts, which features slow-roasted beef and all the trimmings you would expect from this most traditional of British lunches. There are even smaller sized roasts available each Sunday for kids, which are free in the Covent Garden venue!
Then there’s the 10oz Black Angus burger, made with cross rib and minced carpacciostyle. Served inside a fluffy brioche bun beside a heap of hand-cut beef-dripping fries, this burger is so exquisitely prepared that it can be cooked from blue to well done, just like a steak, a process that Sparling is proud to offer: ‘Mincing in-house allows us to prepare the beef in our own way. Carpacciostyle burgers are quite unique – a lot of other places can’t do it – but it means we can cook them just the way people like it.’
The man behind the beef is head chef Sam Hafri who leads a 20-strong team in a kitchen that never stops. Hafri’s hands-on approach to cuisine is well-suited to Sophie’s, which is known for preparing virtually everything in-house, from the mayonnaise to the ice cream and the house wine which Bathgate and Powers crafted themselves in France. The bar staff have even taken to infusing their own spirits.
‘The Chilli Martini is incredible,’ says Sparling of Sophie’s 10oz Martini menu. ‘It’s made with chilli-infused vanilla vodka and it’s got a real kick to it. We’ve also just started infusing our tequila with chilli too.’ 10oz Martinis are not a usual sight in London, but then there’s nothing about Sophie’s that screams ‘usual.’ ‘It’s not your standard dining experience,’ agrees Sparling. ‘It’s more like, “We’re having a big party, come and join in.” That’s our vibe.’ And on a visit to London, that’s just the kind of invitation you want. To book a Rugby World Cup viewing table, email email@example.com or call T: 020-7836 8836. 29-31 Wellington St, WC2E 7DB. www.sophiessteakhouse.co.uk
FOR WINE AND MEAT
Vinoteca is inspired by the wine bars of Spain and Italy, and has branches across London, including Soho and Marylebone. More than 250 wines are offered (around 25 by the glass), alongside cured meats imported directly from Spain and Italy. www.vinoteca.co.uk
FOR NEW REGIONS
The Remedy celebrates lesser-known regions, grapes and style of wines, including ‘orange wines’ (whites emulating reds). 124 Cleveland St, W1T 6PG. www.theremedylondon.com