60 Berwick Street ,London. W1F 8SU www.saltyardgroup.co.uk
A curious mix on paper – Italian and Spanish – it works rather wonderfully in the hands of the team at Ember Yard in Soho
I’d hoof it over from Covent Garden to buy fresh veg (from the marvellously named Mr Bean), have a riffle through the vinyl in the record shop, get some Italian supplies from the deli and best of all go to the cheese stall.
It was a cheese stall of a kind that’s probably illegal now. Piled high in stinky profusion were all kinds of cheeses, either bang on their sell-by date or edging past it.
I think the stallholder got them as rejects from supermarkets. The prices were very, very low but in exchange there was a Russian roulette element to it; you’d get home and find some of the cheese really was a health risk and had to be binned.
Since those days, Berwick Street market has all but ceased to exist. A handful of stalls left, the deli got knocked down, and even the terrible market traders’ pub has been ponced up.
There’s little reason to linger there.I was in a hurry anyway because at the top of Berwick Street, almost at Oxford Street, is Ember Yard, part of the Salt Yard Group, and I had lunch booked.
Now it’s reopened with a new look and Head Chef, Christian Parisi, and it’s a lovely little oasis on a very cold day.
Inside is cosy and welcoming with a nice casual air partly achieved by having tables of varying heights.
I’m a bit put off seeing small children eating at them, but I reckon I’ll be far enough way when the inevitable yelling starts. They won’t be able to hear me.
Tucked up in a corner, a bottle of Rioja opened, I’m happy and pleased to see that there’s a menu option that relieves me of the onerous duty of thinking’A Taste of Ember Yard’ and there’s nothing on it I don’t fancy.
So, kicking off with the’Nibbles to share’ we have burrata on a bed of smoked semi-dry tomatoes enlivened with nduja.Nduja was all the rage a while back, a gloriously spicy spreadable sausage type thing.
They could have used sobrasada to get the same effect in Spanish, but I guess with the burrata raising the Italian flag there was no point confusing things.
Slashing the burrata in half allows its creamy center to mingle affectionately with the nduja and we hastily spread the result thickly onto chargrilled flatbread, still smoky from the griddle. It’s a bit messy but worth it.
Easier to deal with are the croquettas, jamon in them for sure and a rich cheese of some kind. Gone in a mouthful, a passing and brief intense pleasure.
Dishes now start to come out with the regularity of a smart metronome that knows what time signature you want without being told.
Octopus and chorizo skewers have enjoyed the coarse, manly, bristly kiss of the open grill. The’burny bits’ enhancing their flavours while a saffron aioli moistens and intensifies everything. The textures match each other, soft pillowy bites.
Those of a squeamish nature might not enjoy the tomato and braised squid with cannellini beans, nduja and migas that comes next. There are rather a lot of tentacles waving about. I always prefer the tentacles though so I’m happy with this.
Migas is day old bread, used all over Spain to bulk out dishes. Once a peasant staple it’s now on lots of fashionable menus. It absorbs the juices willingly and works with the beans to create a dish that if it was any larger would be enough to keep me going all day.
The next dish is one for the veggies, and thinking back now it was my favourite – pumpkin risotto with a pickled chestnut and seed pesto.
The risotto was solid and served as a slice, some sharp creamy cheese was dobbed about on top, along with a few roasted pumpkin seeds, and the whole thing was an intense mouthful with the sweet, tangy, pesto kicking everything’up a notch’ as the kids say.
And still they came, as the lyrics of Jeff Lynne’s War Of The Worlds had it. A salad of beetroot, it’s earthy tones set against enebro cheese, viscous black beans and the iron twang of cavolo nero. Excellent and almost healthy.
Not so healthy was IbÃƒÂ©rico Presa with ajo blanco. Now this is of course the very best pork, which is why it can be safely served almost raw with just the exterior hit up with some searing heat.
It’s not quite my cup of tea to be honest, I always eat it when I see it on a menu because that bit between the sear and the raw is so good, but overall, it’s a bit too raw for me.
Proving again that the thigh is better than the breast, Marinated Chicken Thighs on celeriac, with dollops of truffle and date mascarpone is a total winner.
I wouldn’t want too large a portion though, the play of flavours and the richness means it’s best served tapas-size to avoid over indulgence
We ended by dipping gorgeously crispy, teeth-meltingly sweet, churros into chocolate sauce and washing them down with Pedro Jimenez so viscous you could almost hold the glass upside down and not spill any.
There’s a lot on the menu at Ember Yard that I’d go back for and I will.
The relaxed atmosphere, the friendly staff and the well above average food is a winner especially so close to Oxford Street where good food is not always a given.
Shame about Berwick Street Market, though.
Interior shots from Ember Yard’s Website