Food envy is a real problem that has not received enough coverage. How often have you finally taken a punt on the lamb dish only to watch the waiter waltz past with beefy nirvana destined for some smug diner on another table? When your own dish arrives it will inevitably be seasoned with regret and sadness – the piquant sauce of what might have been. All is not lost though, as the cunning Spaniards have hit on an excellent solution – order a load of individual small plates as and when you fancy them and if something delicious walks past, order some of that too. Tapas is genius.
Sadly, because of its popularity and ubiquity good tapas is very hard to find. In Barcelona you can stumble into any old dive – Tapas24 for instance – and have a phenomenal meal. In London it’s a little harder – there are big chains which do a reasonable job and independent tourist traps with laminated menus that commit horrendous crimes against food. There are a few gems – Brindisa do wonderful work and I have an unhealthy obsession with Little Taperia in Tooting (though please don’t go, it’s busy enough as it is You won’t like it. Honest.) A few months ago the ever reliable Jason Atherton (him of Pollen Street Social, Little Social, Social Eating House, lots of Socials…) opened a new joint behind Selfridges – Social Wine and Tapas.
The premise is simple – a short, focussed menu of tapa, blending traditional ingredients with modern interpretations. Patatas Bravas is served with a potato foam, sardines come with a citrus yoghurt. We adored the suckling pig – crisp crackling and achingly tender flesh with a wonderful charred pineapple chunk. It’s smart, fresh and executed with precision. The raw ingredients are superb – the jamon selection includes Iberico ham of such porky intensity that you can practically taste the happy grunts of the pig as it gorged on acorns.
Even the vegetable dishes are a delight – beetroot nestling happily next to lactic cheese and a gorgeous red wine jelly, charred carrots with a smokey aubergine puree – we didn’t find a bad dish. The desserts are equally good – a rich chocolate tart and a clever, moussey crème catalena.
The wine list is very extensive, covering all the major wine regions of the world. Importantly, there’s also around forty wines available by the glass, starting from just £4. They mix old favourites with newer discoveries – the txakoli is wonderful with fish. My pick though, is the house red from Pollen Street Social. I’ve had it before at Little Social and it’s still marvellous. A cabernet franc from Anjou in north-west France, it’s full of black bramble fruit and silky smooth tannins. A glass of that and the frankly tremendous suckling pig is a near perfect evening in itself. One of my favourite features is the ability to take a bottle home afterwards at retail (rather than restaurant) prices. I may have bought a magnum.
The décor is dark and sophisticated – with interesting bottles scattered around the walls. The staff are wonderfully polite and happy to describe the wines and offer tastes if you’re unsure. Being able to order as you fancy and pick reasonably priced wines to match is a great way to spend an evening. I’ll definitely be back, but in the mean time I have an enormous bottle of wine which needs enjoying.