Social Wine and Tapas, London

Now it starts again, my raving of the great food and wine scene in London. Someone might say, so just move back already, but I am for now, just happy to be able to visit. Have I ever mentioned that I am a great fan of Jason Atherton’s cooking? I have visited several of his restaurants: Pollen Street Social, Little Social, Berner’s Tavern and Esquina (in Singapore). His style is tradition (French/Italian) meets social eating with a pinch of street-charm. Many of the dishes I love are the more simple ones, like sliders (pimped up with foie grass) and ice cream scones. But I must say that the Spanish breakfast at the Esquina, the English bistro in Singapore is a masterpiece (eggshell filled with yum). And the great thing about Jason’s restaurants is that his quality does not seem to suffer even with the many restaurants opening in his name. The man must be a genius to be able to keep so many chefs up to his standards.

But this review is about Social Wine and Tapas, Jason’s new restaurant in Marylebone, London. We originally didn’t have a reservation and thought about just walking in. Thankfully M did a last minute check and reserved two seats for the same evening, as when we arrived they seemed to already be fully booked. There are some walk-in tables, but we saw a crowd gathering after seven pm to wait for tables, and the lobby really was not that pleasant a place to be standing. We were seated on a bar facing the door, so we could follow the situation developing all evening (we got some evil eyes from the crowd after we had finished eating and were selfishly keeping the table sipping on wine). So the lesson is: Reserve a table before you go.

Chefs hard at work
Chefs hard at work
Awesome English sparkling and Francis Boulard Champagne
Awesome English sparkling and Francis Boulard Champagne

About the bubblies, wonderful choices. They had four different sparkling wines by the glass: one cava, one English sparkling and two champagnes. The Cava Mas Sardana was a disappointment. M had tried it before (at Social Eating House) and told me that he did not have more than one sip. So a wine warning for that one. We chose to have a glass of the English sparkling, Wiston Estate Cuvee Brut from West Sussex (12£/ glass) and a glass of Les Murgiers Champagne from Francis Boulard (12.5£/ glass). I love the style of Francis Boulard and Les Murguers, one of his cheapest champagnes is a wonderful toasty brut nature, just the way I like my aperitif. The Wiston Estate was a real surprise, bone dry with notes of yeast, brioche and citrus fruit. Even with a price of close to 30£ I hunted for a bottle of this for the rest of our trip. Unfortunately, and understandable, it was sold out everywhere. I must try to visit the next time we are in England.

The list of reds and whites was also rather comprehensive with close to 30 wines by the glass. We did not at all have the chance to sample as many as we wanted but M had the Love Red v.3 from the urban winery Broc Cellars in Berkeley. Rather fitting considering we had been to London’s first urban winery earlier the same day. I had the Vin de Table from Jean Michel Stephan from Rhone. The Love Red is a blend of 75% Carignan, 14% Valdigiué, and 11% Syrah. It is very light to be a red and really works well a bit chilled. It is full of berry flavor but the light character avoids the ‘jam’ feel and it has a pleasant hint of summery flowers. Would love to enjoy more of that.

For food we had some wonderful dishes. Traditional tomato bread, croquettes, heirloom tomato salad with burrata and foie grass sliders. We also ordered two Spanish breakfasts expecting them to be like the ones we had in Singapore (see photo), but to our disappointment, the Spanish breakfast at Social Wine and Tapas did not live up to the ones at Esquina. The dish was good, but it is always a matter of expectations vs. experience. Overall, the food was really good, for the exception of there being too little burrata for our liking. I must say that Jason has done it again and reached outstanding quality. Price-wise the restaurant is mid-range. We had four glasses of wine and six-seven different dishes and ended up with a bill of 100£ including service charge. Not too bad, but I cant really say it was cheap. Jose’s in Bermondsey still takes home the trophy (but I am very emotional about that place and biased) as the best tapas in London.

Heirloom tomato salad with (too little) burrata
Heirloom tomato salad with (too little) burrata
Jason's signature sliders with foie grass
Jason’s signature sliders with foie grass
The Spanish breakfast at Esquina Singapore
The Spanish breakfast at Esquina Singapore

So if in London, give Jason’s restaurants a try. Social Wine and Tapas is a good place to start with a reasonable price tag and a relative easiness of scoring a seat. You can work your way up the ladder via Social Eating House, Berners Tavern and Little Social to the bright star of Jason’s cooking, the Michelin starred Pollen Street Social.

Wineweek 36: London Greetings

It is pouring outside. Weather is what one would expect of London, the type of persistent drizzle you see in the movies. During my one and a half years of living in the city, it did not rain more than I was used to in Helsinki. Probably less. However, the humid air really gets under your skin and reaches your bones, so rather often you feel cold and wet even if it’s not raining. Luckily there are several cozy cafes (and wine bars) where one can sneak into to escape the rain. We have made camp at Tap Coffee on Wardour Street. After second breakfast we will make our way deeper into Soho, visit some of our usual caffeine hangouts and continue towards Selfridges to browse the wine department. I am hoping to find a bottle of Wiston Estate sparkling wine to take home. I am slightly hesitant though and will make my decision once I see the price. English sparklings have really taken a price hike since the success of Ridgeview and Nyetimber. Many of the local bubblies are basically priced as if they were Champagne. I am not saying they are not good, but comparing to some of our premium cavas, the English sparklings are seldom value for money. I have been wondering about the price: is it just that the Brits believe so much in their product, or is it due to the cost of production? I can imagine the grape yields being quite low…what do you think?

But what have we been up to this week? We traveled back home from Finland just to jump on the plane taking us to London on Thursday. Friday we visited a new potential producer for our range of wine, London Cru, an urban winery located near West Brompton (btw. their wines were awesome). And since, we have just been eating (and drinking) our way through London’s culinary hot spots: Kitchen W8, Gymkhana, Social Wine and Tapas, just to mention a few. Tonight we will be checking out the newly reopened Ivy. London always has something fresh to offer. But more about specifics later, here is a series of photos from the week:

Thursday dinner at Duck and Rice. The cava, Rene Barbour was a steal at around five pounds per glass.
Thursday dinner at Duck and Rice. The cava, Rene Barbour was a steal at around five pounds per glass.
Even though Borne & Hollingsworth is hardly a secret any more, the speakeasy has managed to keep a high quality on cocktails.
Even though Borne & Hollingsworth is hardly a secret any more, the speakeasy has managed to keep a high quality on cocktails.
Tasting wines at London Cru, urban winery.
Tasting wines at London Cru, urban winery.
Awesome English sparkling at Social Wine and Tapas
Awesome English sparkling at Social Wine and Tapas
Nothing like some Pimm's to start the day
Nothing like some Pimm’s to start the day
The market is overcrowded with tourists but makes for a colorful place to take photos
The market is overcrowded with tourists but makes for a colorful place to take photos
Coffees at the Magic Roundabout. The cold brew was awesome.
Coffees at the Magic Roundabout. The cold brew was awesome.
A trip to London would be incomplete without a pit-stop at Joses. Snacking on  Padron peppers.
A trip to London would be incomplete without a pit-stop at Joses. Snacking on Padron peppers.
The last drinks of the night at Whiskey Ginger
The last drinks of the night at Whiskey Ginger
An evening walk on the South Bank
An evening walk on the South Bank