El Parador Camden
I had heard rumours about El Parador in Camden for a while-that it is a little hidden gem, a family run tapas restaurant running for 30 years with a lovely garden and a favourite of celebrities and politicians. It’s the sort of place that you don’t tell people about because you want to keep it for yourself…So I was pleased to be asked to review it to find out what the fuss was about…After an initial glass of a deliciously nutty Fino (£4.70) we dug into Pure de Habas (£4.80)-broad bean, confit garlic and rosemary which came with some very serviceable bread. It was a warm coarse purée spiked with the garlic and rosemary flavours-rustic and gutsy flavours.Salteado (sautéed) de Solomillo were tender and richly flavoured goujons of steak marinated with garlic and black pepper and pan-fried with roasted yellow cherry tomatoes, port and butter. For the non-meat eaters Salteado de Calabaza con Espinacas (£6.50) was a luscious Mediterranean plateful of butternut squash roasted with oregano and and garlic oil then pan fried with spinach, feta and toasted sunflower seeds. It had that crunchy/squidgy thing going on and made me forget about the cold, winter weather outside. We were drinking a Guy Allion Sauvignon Blanc Touraine £27.50, a steely, grassy white with a hint of lime that was robust enough to stand up to the food.Goujons of tuna with asparagus, chilli, garlic and Madeira (£8) were seared to the point that the fish fell to pieces in your mouth (in a good way) with a hint of sweetness coming from the Madeira. I love the way the Spanish use fortified wines in their cooking. Salteado de Chipirones (£6.80)- a dish of baby squid marinated with chilli, garlic and coriander and fried in olive oil was as good as a similar dish I tasted in La Boqueria market in Barcelona. It had deep, rich flavours that created great memories of one of the world’s great food destinations.Salteado de Hinojo Asado (£6.20) were Fennel hearts roasted with garlic oil and honey and pan fried with roasted red chillies and cherry tomatoes. The fennel was a sultry, aniseed sensation-slow cooked veg in olive oil makes my life better.For dessert a dense almondy Tarta de Santiago with cream (£5) was an obvious choice but I couldn’t resist the selection of cheeses (£8). A mature Manchego was rich and creamy, there was an earthy Garrotxa the Catalan goats milk cheese, a poky Picon blue from Asturias and a soft, nutty Mahon Cows milk from Minorca-a great way to end the meal.Service is friendly and relaxed in a room that is cosy and warm and perfect for convivial gatherings or earnest chat. This is clearly a restaurant much loved by its Camden clientele and when I’m in that part of town it will become my local too.