It’s probably been about a year since I went to the Salt Yard, and seeing as I keep referring enthusiastically to it on this blog it’s probably high time I wrote something about my visit!! The restaurant opened last year (if I’m not mistaken) to a flurry of good reviews and presented itself as serving a fusion of Spanish and Italian tapas-sized dishes. I’m a total sucker for all things edible and Italian or Spanish so after reading only good things about the place, Johanna and I set off to have dinner there in the interests of culinary research I’m not 100% sure whether he was the head chef when we visited, but these days Benjamin Tish (formerly of Al Duca) rules to kitchen.
The restaurant is spread over two floors, with street level being taken up by a buzzing bar and a few small tables. If you are just popping in for a few snacks, you can do a lot worse than to perch at the bar and watch as your Jamon Iberico de Bellota from Jabugo is sliced for you and served with a glass of Fino. But Johanna and I were into more serous eating, so we trooped downstairs to the lower level. The room is decorated with dark wood and dimly lit in a sexy sort of way, so that it does a good job of approximating an upmarket Madrid tapas joint. If I had any criticism it would be that seating is a little cramped and it’s noisy due to the lack of soft furnishings – but these were minor quibbles. After all, we were there for the food, not to whisper sweet nothings!!
Our first stop was the wine list which consists exclusively of an impressive selection of Spanish and Italian wines. There is also a good choice of sherries, from bone-dry Fino to Christmas puddingy Pedro Ximenez. Yum. In our enthusiasm for the both the food and drinks menu, I neglected to take down the details of the wine that we ordered, but if pressed I would say it was the Inurrieta Norte (a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Granache and Syrah from Navarra). What I do remember is that it was delicious – definitely recommended. The food menu consists of a bar snacks and charcuterie section, as well as a tapas section. We ordered various bits from both, but stayed predominantly on the tapas menu as that’s where the really innovative dishes were. However, I have no doubt that their classic bar snacks like boquerones, patatas and various charcuterie would also be nothing short of perfect. A nice bonus is the number of innovative vegetarian choices on the menu, so any vegetarians in your party won’t have to make do with bread and salad!
So… first up was thinly sliced smoked duck breast served on a bed of chargrilled melon slices and radicchio (pictured on the menu above). This was a great take on the classic melon and ham theme. The duck was depply flavoured and smoky and contrasted beautifully with the chargrilled melon, which itself had a smoky edge due to the blackened grill marks. The radiccio added a nice crunchy textural contrast and a slightly bitter edge which worked beautifully with the other sweet, smoky flavours. Delicious. Another outstanding dish was the (sadly not pictured) courgette flowers stuffed with soft goats cheese and crisply fried in a tempura-style batter before being drizzled with honey. Oh my. This dish has subsequently become their signature dish and it’s not hard to see why. There is something singularly decadent about stuffed courgette flowers, and the delicious sensation of biting through the light, crispy batter into the yielding, warm goat’s cheese is heavenly. The honey and cheese also made perfect pairing – probably my favourite dish of the night. The third dish in our first round of tapas was braised artichokes and broad beans in truffle oil. Let me assure you that the aromas wafting out of that bowl were the closest you can get to heaven without actually turning up at the Pearly Gates! I am a sucker for broad beans and truffles, plus I love artichokes, so this dish was another hit.
From there, we moved onto a second, meatier round of tapas. First up was a perfect piece of grilled salmon on a bed of fresh peas and lentils. The salmon was correctly cooked – not overdone and with the requisite grill marks – and the lentils together with a squeeze of lemon made this a light and satisfying dish with good complementary flavours. Hot on its heels came the confit of Gloucester "old Spot" on rosemary-scented canelli beans. This was a big hit, with the pork belly done to total, tender, melting perfection and topped with another of my personal weaknesses: a little square of crispy crackling on top. A rich and satisfying dish guaranteed to warm the heart (and belly!) of any carnivore. Last but not least (visible lurking behind the salmon) were the sticky pork spare ribs cooked in sherry – cooked until the meat was a gooey delight that fell off the bone at the touch of a fork. Oh. My. Goodness. Absolutely drop-dead stunning. I think this was my next favourite after the courgette flowers.
Unbelievably, after having soldiered manfully on through all that, we still had some room left! Although the desserts looked great, we opted instead for a selection of pecorino cheeses (1 young, 1 middle-aged and one old) accompanied by a bowl of truffle-infused honey and fabulous bread. It was an unspeakably lovely combination and pandered to my rapidly-developing apetite for truffles The contrast between the three ages of pecorino was interesting, but it was the surprisingly wonderful interplay of honey and truffles that lingers in my memory. Sigh.
History does not record the price that we paid for that rather wonderful meal, but I don’t recall it being much over £35-£40 per person which, given the extremely high quality of the ingredients and the spot-on preparation, is very reasonable indeed. While the Salt Yard may not give you an "authentic" tapas experience in terms of fully traditional dishes, if you like the fashion for lots of excellent small plates of food but refuse to pay chi-chi restaurant prices for it, this is the place for you.
54 Goodge Street
Tel: 020 7637 0657