“Social Wine & Tapas is the best tapas joint I’ve ever encountered outside Spain, because it gets the emphases right: this is, basically, a very fancy wine bar with a long menu of small dishes to share while trying umpteen wines in small 125ml servings.” The Independent
Social Wine & Tapas is Jason Atherton’s sixth London restaurant, it is the brainchild of his chief sommelier and long time servant Laure Patry (she will also be the restaurant’s maitre’d). Whilst Atherton is backing the venture he has stated that he will give her free rein on the restaurant’s future direction. Patry has solid pedigree, hailing from the Loire Valley, she moved to the UK to work for Gordon Ramsay and Claridge’s, before moving to work for Atherton. In addition to being a well respected wine expert she also has a good business brain, having set up the Wine Club – a website that sells sommelier recommended bottles from small wineries.
Unsurprisingly, the focus here is on wine: their list is 500 bottles strong with a backbone of low intervention and organic wines, along with some traditional classics thrown in for good measure. They also have a decent choice of lower value options, with the cheapest bottle at £20, and they have a wide range of wines by the glass (they use the Coravin system, which removes wine through a needle inserted in the cork and replaces it with argon gas, keeping the cork intact and the wine fresh). The restaurant has 70 covers and also houses a little bottle shop. The slick interior design is by Russell Sage, who also fitted out Atherton’s City Social and Dishoom.
Head chef Frankie van Loo is from Yorkshire and worked for Atherton at the Social Eating House. His menu is predominately tapas, with a few larger (mostly meat) plates and, unusually for a Spanish menu, it also has a good range of veggie dishes. We started with some decent padron peppers (£4.5) – they were slightly charred and properly seasoned, but they didn’t have as much character (or fire) as the equivalent dish at Jose. The ham croquettes, however, were exemplary (£4), coated in a light and crispy layer of breadcrumbs, they contained wonderful little morsels of ham and mild, gooey Spanish cheese.
The stand-out dish of the evening was curried hake, confit baby leek and mayonnaise (£9.5). The hake was extremely fresh – its flesh was soft and flaky, but nicely caramelised on the outside and finished with a hint of curry powder. The mayonnaise was the perfect creamy texture and combined nicely with the confit leeks. The salchichon (£6) was disappointing – it had been inexpertly cut (too think) and was quite chewy; the meat needed some more seasoning and a lot more garlic.
A fresh sardine on toast (£5) was served with a zingy tomato paste and a caper/pepper/onion medley. The fish was (again) really fresh and the its meaty flavour stood up well to the punchy toppings.
Verdict: fantastic wine and some great dishes, but they need to improve their tapas staples 7/10