Thursday, 30 January 2020

Ember Yard, Soho

I've often told people that with a restaurant obsession as unhealthy and fanatical as mine, the only other city in the world I could live in is New York. The depth and maturity of its restaurant scene, the variety of its cuisines, their service culture and a love of eating out that's embraced at all levels of society, it all adds up to one of the truly great food cities, somewhere I'm very sure I could find a happy home.

There is a downside to the place, though, and one that's almost a dealbreaker for a food blogger. New Yorkers like their restaurants dark. And while I'm sure that's great for a first date, or cultivating that traditional New York speakeasy vibe, it plays havoc with the illustrations on a review. The lighting scheme at Ember Yard takes me right back to New York City, places like Maison Premiere or the Breslin, where the gloomy candlelit dining rooms are only occasionally pierced by people turning their mobile phone torches on to read the menu. What I mean to say is, sorry about the pictures you're about to see. It was very dark in there.

Fortunately lighting aside, Ember Yard is a blast. The fusion Italian-Spanish thing done so well by their sister restaurant the Opera Tavern shines just as brightly here, with hand-carved Iberico ham offered alongside various premium Italian charcuterie, both Spanish and Italian cheeses, and a largish list of dishes that skip daintily but confidently around the Mediterranean. Padron peppers, blistered attractively, went incredibly well with a glass of La Gitana. Yes that is a photo of a bowl of padron peppers and a glass of sherry. I promise.

Next, boquerones, sharp and sweet like mini pickled herrings, also excellent quality and not overly pickled and mushy like they can sometimes be.

If I was so inclined, I could criticise the ham at Ember Yard for being carved a bit clumsily and thick, but in all honesty it was still soft and perfectly easy to eat, and with that nutty, earthy flavour of the finest Spanish pig. In fact, the thick slices just meant we ended up with more ham, and as any Iberico fan will tell you, More Ham is always a Good Thing. Even if I'd ended my evening at Ember Yard here, I would have come away with a smile on my face - the care that goes into the food is evident from the smallest snack to the largest sharing plate.

I didn't get to try this, the courgette flower stuffed with Monte Enebro (goat's) cheese, but given the rate it disappeared I'm sure it had plenty to recommend it.

I would have been very annoyed if I didn't get to try any of the octopus and chorizo skewer though, so I made sure to leap in there quick and grab my share. The octopus was beautifully tender with a good "crispy bit" quotient, and the chorizo was soft and fatty and spicy as the best examples always are. If you like chargrilled octopus, and you like chorizo, and you'd have to be pretty odd not to, then this is a must-order.

I'd noticed early on that the Ember Yard rib-eye comes with 'chicken jus' and from that moment knew I'd have to end up ordering it. It didn't disappoint - a huge amount of beef, carefully charred in the Josper, dressed in a thick, umami-rich chicken gravy that somehow didn't battle the natural flavour of the beef but enhanced it. I think I'd prefer it if they'd presented it charred-side up rather than laying all the slices down on their sides, but that's a minor niggle. Also, all this lot cost £28 - not a bad price at all for so much cow.

"Cheesecake" was in fact more of a caramelly mousse on a bed of biscuit crumbs, dressed in a sauce made from carrot and blackcurrant. The dulche de leche made a great base for the dairy, and the carrot & blackcurrant sauce wasn't as weird as it sounds, as the carrot flavour was fortunately quite subdued. A very enjoyable dessert, this one.

And finally churros, a straightforward and familiar dish perhaps but one you'd have to have a heart of stone not to enjoy. Fried pastry, chocolate sauce and chantilly cream. Perfect.

I was always going to like Ember Yard. The Salt Yard group are distinct and sophisticated restaurant operators that know good food and know how to cook it, and if you've ever had a bad meal at any of their places you must have been very unlucky indeed. Restaurants like these - tastefully realised, authentic enough, keenly priced - are the backbone of the London dining scene, the kind of friendly and flexible space you can pop in for a plate of ham and a sherry or settle in with a group of friends for a long session; on the evening we visited there were plenty of people doing both.

And it got me thinking, perhaps I couldn't live in New York after all. I don't think NYC really has any answer for these kind of places, or countless other uniquely London restaurants that take a cuisine and reinvent it for a local audience without losing the glow of authenticity. Or I don't know, maybe it does, I've not been for a few years and it all could have changed. All I do know is that New York doesn't have Ember Yard. And I'd certainly miss that.


I was invited to Ember Yard and didn't see a bill.

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