Salt Yard – quality tapas in central London

Sometimes a restaurant will give hints that it is going to be good. That Salt Yard was heaving with punters was a pretty good sign, but what did it for me was the sherries they had on offer. Anywhere that has Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana and [link2post id=”790″]Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana[/link2post] is going to be a quality establishment. Our food was washed down with plenty of the latter and it was bloody marvellous.

So after I’d scoped out the booze offerings, and there are other good wines to be had, it was time to look at the menu. My mood lifted with each dish I read about. We were both surprised that even some of the vegetarian offerings sounded nice (but please don’t tell anyone we know).

As we waited for our table to be prepared we had a couple of bar snacks with our glass of Manzanilla. Six quail eggs with paprika infused salt were a good introduction, the salt having a pleasing smoky character. Better than this was a plate of pork rillette with crostini. The pork was properly flavoursome and good enough to make us eager to sit down and order more food.

When we got a table we decided to hit the menu hard. First up was a plate of Jamon Iberico from Castro y Gonzales, cut straight from a leg. Whilst we’ve had better Jamon, all over the Basque country, this was perfectly fine. The texture was meaty and it had a good sweet richness to it. There was a reasonable amount of it, too.

Accompanying this was a selection of three aged Italian hard cheeses with truffled honey. The cheeses were in good nick, although we wondered why they served Grana Padano alongside decent Parmesan as the latter will always outshine the former. The truffled honey was one of those occasions where you finally see the point of a particular food. Honey rarely does it for us, but we lapped up the truffled version with its complex, delicious, forest floor flavours. It worked terribly well with the cheeses.

Next up was crispy squid served with arroz negro, chilli and fresh basil. The squid was a total delight, crispy with great flavour and a wonderful texture. The squid ink risotto blew our socks off, and when I hit one of the (few) pieces of chilli I was totally charmed by the combination of flavours.

The next dish caused much debate about which part of it we liked best. I loved the roasted tiger prawns, totally tasty, I tell you. I got one more of these than Daniel on the condition that I allowed him to finish up the lentils and speck they came served with. The stock in which they were cooked was fortified with prawn heads and brandy, so had a super taste, but the lentils and speck themselves… ah… what can I say? Little pleasures, I suppose, they make us realise that life is good. Tits good, in this case.

The following dish had me moaning and growling with unadulterated pleasure. I am often telling people that sausages, if they are good, are one of the best things you can eat. Consequently, char-grilled chorizo with roasted peppers was directly targeted at my pleasure centre. The sausages were super meaty and just spicy enough. They had been cooked to total perfection. I suppose the peppers were nice, but ooooohhhh those sausages…

Straight from the very top shelf of food porn was confit of Gloucester Old Spot pork belly with rosemary-scented cannellini beans. The pork was totally tender and exploding with flavoursome richness, with a great layer of crackling on top. We ate with glee, stopping only to chortle with mirth from time to time. Then there were the beans, just soft enough and cooked in a super-piggy stock. Wow, such a small plate of food can be so mind-bendingly enjoyable; this is how we like things.

We did encounter a dish which, on first taste, seemed a bit more pedestrian, but we ended up quite enjoying it. Roasted Gressingham duck breast with broad bean puree and mint vinaigrette. The duck breast was properly pink and meltingly tender. Its flavour was faultless. It took us a couple of tastes to appreciate the bean puree, but we ended up liking its butter and cheese-infused richness.

Our final tapas dish was bloody vegetables, do we really care about such things? Patatas fritas with romesco and aioli: chips, basically. Yeah, they were pretty good, nicely seasoned with paprika, but when you have just been necking quality meat will a small bowl of chips transport you to another realm? No. Daniel’s triple-cooked chips blow these away (I’ll get him to post the recipe next time he makes them).

By this stage we were grinning broadly and repeating to each other how we liked certain dishes, so it seemed like a top idea to try their dessert offerings. Caprini cheesecake with amaretti and macerated strawberries was an unqualified success; lovely, creamy, fruity and the amaretti base was freaking A+. I could not have asked for a better dessert. Then I swapped plates with Daniel and got one. Rhubarb and mascarpone custard with orange caramel was basically a vanilla-free creme brulee with rhubarb. The acidity of the rhubarb really balanced the richness of the dish. I was thrilled, charmed and eventually sated. This was as good as desserts get. We drank a couple of glasses of what I shall euphemistically call ‘interesting’ dessert wines, but after so much good food we were positive enough to see the fun in these weirdies without being too bothered that they were differently drinkable.

It is always a great pleasure to dine at an establishment where they care about what they cook and serve; a lot of attention went into the selection of ingredients and how they were prepared. As such, this was the best tapas we’ve had in London, far, far better than the Brindisa joint near Borough Market. Based on the quality of the food we had, I think you could order anything from the menu and feel you had done well. Drink their Manzanilla, eat their food, smile and feel at ease with the world.

Contact: Salt Yard, 54 Goodge St, London W1T 4NA Tel: 020 7637 0657

This was a winning recommendation from Mark Locke, clearly a chap who can tell good from bad. We must meet for lunch or dinner one day, Mark. Lunch is a good meal, don’t you think? Especially a long, Burgundy-fuelled, baroque feast of a lunch.