On the table: Social Wine & Tapas
Author: Victoria Stewart
There is one thing better than walking off a rain-soaked street and into the hands of smiling restaurant staff, and that’s doing the same thing in August, when one feels especially irked that it is raining at all. And on a visit to Jason Atherton’s new place – well, it’s under his name but the real brains behind it is his executive head sommelier Laure Patry with whom he has worked for years – this is exactly what happens.
On a Friday night a table at 5.45pm was the only one remaining – a tricky time to begin any sort of feast. Still, at Social Wine & Tapas, a place that reminds me of an upmarket version of an Italian taberna, you can graze for as long as your appetite allows. The place itself is just lovely; classic Atherton style with green and red leather high stools, armchairs or banquettes; low twinkling lights – with an impressive zinc mesh fixture above the bottle shop; stylish, copper-edged, wooden tables; cutlery displayed in copper holders and graceful, royal green water tumblers and Zalto wine glasses. Meanwhile service is slick – there if you need it but not overwhelming – as are the black-lacquer tiled bathrooms in which you can even learn about wine tasting from a plummy voice overhead.
There is endless wine – and quite a serious list of it too – plus some super snacks to pick at including tiny, succulent and salty Padron peppers, the addictive, melt-in-the-mouth ham croquettes, and dainty pieces of a jamón, Manchego and quail’s egg toastie made famous at Atherton’s 22 Ships in Hong Kong. At this point, just when you realise you could probably very happily fill up on a lot more of this delectable comfort food, there are countless other dishes of every size, so you can simply add as you go. Indeed, we make our way through these bites over glasses of Sherry to shake off any remaining raindrops.
Next came three roaring numbers. First, a tiny pan filled with a deceptively robust concoction of fried duck egg, confit leg and cassoulet that renders me briefly speechless; next a hearty, homely, salty dish of slow-cooked egg with ox-cheek dashi, creamed potato and black pudding that requires a spoon for scooping up juices at the end; finally, four humble carrots sitting in an absurdly good, earthy, umami-rich walnut and miso pesto cream. After this, a bowl of good lemony Spanish seafood rice cooked al dente and stuffed with mussels and squid. Mini veal and foie gras burgers with pulled pork, though, are very much in need of their accompanying spiced tomato relish.
Moving into dessert territory – we find we do have room after all – there is a miniature bowl of orange-scented, velvety crema Catalana, and a few scoops of red wine and mascarpone ice cream, so intense that my companion says it reminds him of ‘very rich but lovely cough syrup.’
At the very respectable hour of 8pm we plunge back into the rain again, but are both home in time to watch the Great British Bake Off catch-ups on the sofa: Friday nights half-in and half-out are the new rock ‘n’ roll, don’t you know.
What we drank: A glass of 2013 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Cirelli, Abruzzo, Italy and a glass of 2010 El Terroir, Domaines Lupier, San Martin de Unx, Navarra, Spain
Social Wine & Tapas, 39 James Street, W1U 1DL