Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Salt Yard

There are a good number of decent tapas restaurants in London and then there are those that are a cut above the rest. Salt Yard would like to think it belongs to the latter category but I'm not so sure.

Let's set the scene. It was a Friday night and we were having a reunion of all the Dubai folk who, by some freak of coincidence were in London at the time. Nothing suits a good cath up better than tapas - the sharing of food, a bit of sangria or wine.

First off, I would like to point out that any restaurant that has two sittings on a Friday night is never going to get an unreserved thumbs up from me. Especially when it is a group of ten people. Nothing puts the pressure on a nice, relaxed meal like a waitress reminding you every five minutes of the limited time you have your table for. The moment we sat down, a few minutes later than our 7.30pm booking she was already champing at the bit for us to get ordering and reminding us that we only had the table until 9.30. 9.30? I dont remember the last time I sat down for dinner with a group of nine other people and managed to eat pleasurably in less than 2 hours - but apparently, that is de rigeur at this 'homely' little restaurant.

By the end of the night, I felt like the subject of a precision-planned militiary operation - we were almost shunted out the door by 9.45. I personally am not interested in whether the restaurant wants to maximise their takings, I'm interested in sitting down, enjoying my food and wine and having a nice chat with my friends.

Rant aside, I'm going to put forward an objective view of why Salt Yard really could do better. Some of the dishes were outstanding - cauliflower flowers stuffed with goats cheese encased in the lightest batter were a treat to eat - perfectly seasoned and avoiding the pitfall of blandness we so often find with this dish.

The chorizo with marinated peppers was also something to write home about - not to gristly and with a depth of flavour that had us all reaching over to grab another slice while we thought no one was looking. But congratulating a spanish restaurant on great chorizo feels a bit like congratualating a Japanese restaurant for a tasty piece of sashimi. Its so obvious it's almost farcical.

There were definitely other highlights to the meal the Chargrilled Neck Fillet of Lamb, Crushed Jerusalem Artichokes and Salsa Verde perfectly balanced the melting softness of the lamb with the kick of the salsa and the Roasted Scallops with Caramelised Cauliflower Puree, Hazlenuts and New Season Garlic was a tasty, if utterly predictable take on scallops.

But there were far more disappointing dishes than I reasonably expect to find in a restaurant like this - Confit of 'Gloucester Old Spot' Pork Belly with Rosemary Scented Cannellini Beans offset a delicious pork belly with under-seasoned, nigh on flavourless beans. If one of my perfumes scented me in the same way the rosemary had supposedly scented the cannelini I'd be back in the shop and demanding a refund pretty pronto. The crispy egg with giolles and balsamic was so bland I barely remember tasting it, apart from the balsamic.

All of this would have been easily overlooked were it not for the fact that the service was fairly atrocious. As I mentioned before, there were ten of us, including one vegetarian. We'd asked the waitress to bring a selection of the dishes for us to share, presuming that she would bring out enough of each one for at least most of us to try.

That was, apparently, a presumption too far. Considering that the serving size of each of the tapas plates is paltry at best, I calculated that it would take three of each to ensure that everyone had a piece, so was duly baffled when the waitress kept on turning up with one dish of this and one dish of that.

One dish, four pieces of chorizo that are already fairly miniscule and don't lend themselves to be split into almost invisible portions. Ten people. HOW is this ever going to work?

I'll tell you how, it evolves into a strategic game of guerilla warfare. If you see something you are not overly keen on, you generously pass it down to the other end of the table hoping that next time, when there is something rather irrestible perched in front of you, you can take a piece without feeling guilty. Even then, sometimes you are required to 'fall on your sword' so to speak and pass up.

Ditto for wine, which was always having to be asked for when we'd run out. Nothing major in itself but the little things add up to a bit of a let-down on the service front. Fine if you're in McDonalds, but when I can honestly say I had much better service in La Tasca the week before, I think the Salt Yard has some work to do.

Overall, the night was lots of fun - but it was always going to be - it was old friends some of whom I hadnt seen in yonks. But when I'm presented with a £45 bill for tapas at the end of the night, I expect to have thought it was worth it and I can't honestly say this was the case

Waiting rating: Sloppy
Scoffing potential: Good - some blindingly good, some blindingly bland
Wallet buddy: Expensive for tapas
The crowd: On a Friday - fun, friendly and quite loud
54 Goodge St

Tel: 020 7637 0657