Brixton one pot fabada

T’other night I had an impromptu gathering, and needed to pull something yummy and filling out of the bag, on a pre-Christmas budget. Inspired by a dish cooked for me once by my good friend and fellow Brixtonite Liz Marvin, I came up with a sort of sausage casserole-cum-fabada – my take on the lovely unctuous Spanish pork and bean stew. I made it with some delicious sausages that my butcher Dombeys  makes in house, and enriched the stew with some fantastic morcilla: spiced Spanish blood sausage from the Portuguese deli (not Continental, the one further down Atlantic road near to Argos, which I think is better value). I wanted something I could cook in my Le Creuset, in one fell swoop, and this was just the ticket. To liven it up and add a bit of perky crunch, I added an panko breadcrumb topping with thyme and lemon zest for freshness and texture. You can find bags of panko in most good Asian supermarkets – I got mine from the brilliant Thai shop on Electric Avenue.

Brixton market fabada
Takes about an hour including prep and cooking, though you could cook for longer if time is on your side  

Six of Dombey’s homemade pork sausages or some other good quality sausage
1 450g tin of butter beans or cannellini beans,
drained but with about a quarter of the brine left in 
3 banana shallots,
finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 200-250g morcilla blood sausage, sliced into 2cm thick slices
1 large glass of red wine, preferably something like a rioja or Malbec
Extra virgin olive oil
The zest of half a lemon
Two handfuls of panko breacrumbs
A handful of thyme leaves
, removed from the stalks

Heat a good splash of olive oil in you Le Creuset or a deep casserole dish over a medium heat, and add in the chopped shallots and sausages. Turn the sausages over to brown them – for about five minutes – giving them a prick with a knife point. Then add in the garlic and chopped morcilla and coat with the oil. Cook it until the garlic goldens and the morcilla goes a deeper colour – about three minutes, and then add in the beans and red wine and simmer on a low-ish heat for at least 20-25 minutes. If you want to leave it simmering for longer, add in a splash of water every now and then so it doesn’t dry out.

In a small frying pan, heat a tablespooon of the olive oil over a low heat. Add in the panko, lemon zest and thyme and coat the ingredients together, frying until the panko breadcrumbs turn golden, at which point you should remove the pan from the heat immediately to avoid them burning.

Serve the fabada topped with the breadcrumbs and accompanied by a kale or rocket salad.


Restaurant review: El Pirata, Mayfair

When I was a kid, we used to go camping in Spain and France every summer holiday in our Conway Tardis (a sort of weird caravan/trailer tent hybrid). My parents would let me and my sister amuse ourselves for hours in the surroundings of whichever restaurant they’d chosen to settle in while they indulged in its epicurean delights. After sating our childish palates with whatever our mum could salvage from the menu, we’d get down from the table and go and explore, getting terribly excited if there was a beach, any other kids, or a children’s play area nearby.

Our favourite restaurant in northern Spain was fondly renamed ‘Papa Smurf’s’ because it had a wonderful electric Smurf ride outside it where we spent many a happy hour (and a fair few pesetas) piggy-backing the lunging blue creature. But it wasn’t just its superior taste in children’s entertainment that set Papa Smurf’s apart – it did the most amazing omelettes. Custard yellow, perfectly salted, light and fluffy omelettes that actually managed to take my infant mind off the thrusting blue geriatric lurking outside. I was reminded of the simple eggy enjoyment of this dish again recently during dinner at El Pirata in Mayfair, which, like Papa Smurf’s, brings a bit of that infectious Spanish hospitality to London.

Yummy tapas

The restaurant is something of a legend in Mayfair – and I’d guess that this has as much to do with its front of house and bar team as it is its classic tapas, hence the fact that it’s packed when we visit. If you work in the area you’ve probably ended up there on many a night, in search of solace from the glitz, glamour and expense of Nobu et al. Walk into its unassuming entrance and you’re immediately drawn to the long bar’s spirit collection, which glistens with promise.

Paintings crowd the walls, giving the place an intimate, Vicky Christina Barcelona-type feel, and the centre of the restaurant is dominated by the black spiral staircase that leads down into a bigger restaurant space. But I’d try to get a table upstairs if you can, where you’re still within earshot of the bustling kitchen and close to the happenings of the bar. Bread and a deliciously garlicky aioli are the first things to pass our lips – the bread a pleasant vehicle for the creamy, zingy mayo. We order some of the black foot ham, which though not cheap at £18.50, comes in a generous portion of wafer thin slices strewn across a large plate, and is divine – salty yet fruity, with a melt-in-the-mouth texture.

The burned green chillies are fantastic – squishy and bitter, imparting a savoury tingle and incredibly moreish. Prawns come sizzling in olive oil with a devilish amount of chilli and garlic, and calamari is light, succulent and buttery. A generous wedge of Spanish tortilla is eggy-a-la-Papa-Smurf’s, savoury and satisfying, and perfect with the meatballs – they come steaming and topped with freshly cut parsley, swimming in a rich tomato sauce.

Octopus in lemon and paprika is a treat for the palette, soft and moreish and lovingly spiced. A dish of spinach, pine nut, parmesan and rocket salad refreshes, while griddled asparagus is dotted with crunchy salt crystals but glaringly out of season. One dish that really trumps is a medley of fried egg, crispy potato, ham and prawns, which is a perfect balance of textures and flavours. This is fresh, well-cooked Spanish food served honestly and generously, without pretensions. To wash it down is a very well-priced regional wine menu bursting with warm riojas. After all that food we can’t face dessert, which is when the waiter suggests the hazelnut liqueur – short, sweet and with a definite kick to it.

It might not have a body-popping sit-on smurf ride outside, but El Pirata is a rare find in this area – an affordable, buzzy restaurant that offers a genuinely warm welcome and delicious food and drink. It’s the sort of place you can throw your head back and laugh in, while savouring the classic flavours of Spanish tapas made simply, with quality ingredients and authentic flair. What’s not to love?

El Pirata Mayfair
5-6 Down Street

Tel: 020 7491 3810

First published at The London Word