Monday, 11 February 2013

Salt Yard: brilliance on tap(as)

The best tapas in London.

Tapas is like Gangnam style. All around the world people are doing it, but no one's doing it well. It's usually the tricky leg movements that lead most people to end up doing a sort of bastardised Cossack dance. My simile kind of falls apart at this point, but I don't have to labour it because Salt Yard would nail a metaphorical Psy tribute. It is a rare restaurant: a perfect concept, pulled off completely, and would by no means embarrass itself at the office Christmas party.

Having been slightly underwhelmed by Fino (despite some fantastic cocktails) I was still yet to be sold on the idea of fine dining tapas. I prefer the Meson Don Felipe approach of terracotta dishes, unvarnished tables and a drunken Spanish man playing guitar on a plinth, even if the food feels a little rushed. But Salt Yard, which marries Spanish tapas and Italian sharing boards, manages to suggest the rustic charm of tapas while giving you wine glass so large you could fit your face in it - which is of course the sign of any serious restaurant. It's a lovely little restaurant with hardly any signage outside. You walk in and are nudged by the gentlest of dins, made by happy couples sharing food over candles and excellent wine. Upstairs it has a tapas bar vibe, but we were headed down to the restaurant where we were seated near the bustling open kitchen, and even nearer to our neighbours. I was, in fact, closer to the stranger to my left than the person I was dining with, which led to an awkward moment when I was caught sniffing her chorizo.

In keeping with the Italian influence, the service was some of the best I've ever experienced. Without even a hint of condescension we were taken through the wine list and menu; our waiter politely explaining anything we didn't understand, complimenting my wine choice and sticking his neck out to recommend the Iberico presa, selling it as "almost like a pork fillet steak".

God lord was he right. It was stunning. Cooked medium rare and served on a board with roasted squash, sultanas and sage. It melted in the mouth as fast as the squash did. On the subject of pork, we had also ordered the pork belly with cannellini bean stew - something other blogs have raved about. While the stew was a little bland, the pork fat was as gooey as Turkish delight. It stuck to your teeth, to the roof of your mouth, and probably to your stomach. Wine was the only thing that shifted it, which is my favourite solution to anything.

Every dish just had that little idiosyncracy that made it memorable, on top of very capable cooking. The truffled macaroni cheese, the deep fried squid with squid ink aoli. They were all brilliant little twists. That said, there was a fifth dish and I can't for the life of me remember what it was. Make of that what you will.

What I will always remember though, is the desserts. I still have nightmares about the puddings I used to serve working as a waiter in a restaurant in my home town. Treacle tarts in plastic tubs from mass caterers, ice cream from the nearby Co-op, chocolate sauce from tacky squeezy tubes. Why some restaurants risk fudging the last thing a customer will eat is beyond me. At Salt Yard there was no such issue. Their churros were deep fried just a little longer than you'd think was wise, making them almost like grissini sticks on the outside, before reaching the soft dough inside – just perfect. But what really made the meal, what made me type like a hack on crack for the last paragraph, was the flourless chocolate cake. Essentially spongeless, it was moist, chocolatey and gooey to the point of fondantness, and with salted caramel ice cream the side (possibly the greatest thing on earth) it was unforgettable. My next job is clearing my store cupboard of flour.

All this perfection doesn't come cheap, but to get a feel for just how good Salt Yard is it's worth spending the money. Perhaps the pudding wines were a step too far, but if they're going to match them with the desserts, idiots like me will always splash out. And I regret nothing.

Go. Go Gangnam style.

Salt Yard on Urbanspoon   Square Meal


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