Saturday, April 07, 2007

Bites and Pieces

Salt Yard
54 Goodge Street,
London WIT 4NA
Tel: 0207 637 0657
Another great place that N and I hit for tapas in London during January this year was Salt Yard on Goodge Street. The restaurant is not too far away from Fino which I have already shared in an earlier blog. Though tapas are the theme of the restaurant, unlike Fino, Salt Yard features a wider Mediterranean influenced range of tapas. Beyond the Spanish favourites, Salt Yard also features selections from France, Italy and a hint of Greece in its menus. Just like Fino, reservations are a must unless you intend to pop in before 12pm.
The restaurant is modern and contemporary by design and is staffed by an equally enthusiastic group of wait staff. Giving us a cozy corner strewn with cushions for cuddling, I went through the menu delighted to find many tapas favourites that we can’t get to enjoy in Singapore’s Spanish restaurants. Ordering tapas is just like ordering dim sum. Basically u put a menu together with multiple items of meat, seafood and vegetables in snacking portions. Tapas are meant to be shared to the smaller offerings allow us to sample a bigger variety of items on the menu.
We started off with ham and cheese, not together but on individual boards. We chose an eighteen month old Jammon Iberico or Serrano Ham , sliced paper thin to go with the cheese board featuring 3 types of Pecorino Romano cheeses at different aging process, served with truffled honey. Personally I love Serrano ham more than the others like Proscuito De Parma or Jambon Saint Daniele. The quality of the pig matters as well as what the animal feeds on. Jammon Iberico is produced from the Iberian black pig, which is a close cousin of the Japanese Kurobuta. Fed on acorns and other nuts, this gives the meat a wonderful marbling and flavour intensity. Serrano Ham is also not as salty as Proscuito,De Parma making it more palatable for me. Each slice of ham carried with it flavours developed from the terroir of the environment that it was cured and air dried in. Slightly salty, nutty and fatty with a touch of wind cured aromas, It was lovely just eating them on its own although I was fantasizing having it with some luscious Charentais Melons or honey sweet figs.
Still on the salty and sweet fantasy, our cheese board came with 3 different ages of Pecorino Cheese. The accompanying Truffle Honey was like a mother nurturing three kids of three different ages. The youngest Pecorino @ three months was creamy, slightly softer and less pungent. Its taste was boosted by the truffle honey giving it elegance and a character. The middle age Pecorino at nine months was nuttier, slightly tart and firmer on bite. It is slightly saltier on the palate but this is complimented well by the sweet honey creating a balance of taste and flavours. The matured Pecorino @ twenty four months was pungent with tarty notes and a very nutty peppery bite. Its harshness was soothed by the truffle honey with the truffle aromas toning down the pungent flavours of the cheese. This was certainly an experience to talk about always.
More indulgence came with the Roulade of Cured Foie Gras with Smoked Pepper and Figs. The pate of foie gras stuffed with figs and lightly seasoned with Spanish smoked paprika had a very smooth finish on the palate. The sweet figs complimented the goose liver with a rustic charm giving the dish a touch of traditional pairing the foie gras with fruits.
Moving away from indulgence, we got back into bar nibbles with the Sauteed Padron Peppers, a short green chilli that is sauté with food quality olive oil and coarse salt, eaten as tapas in between drinks. While it is seemingly harmless about these chillies, the fun part lies in who is the lucky one. For every ten pieces or so of these chillies, there will be one extra hot pepper that cannot be differentiated out among with the rest. So the fun lies in who is the lucky one to pop it in and the chosen one has to buy the next round of drinks. These Padron Peppers are quite addictive without the extra spiciness. Sautéed over high heat in olive oil, they are served hot with smoky dried chillies aromas and coarse flakes of sea salt. Naturally sweet, the peppers pick up a crystal or two of the coarse salt and the result you have on tasting is a complexity of flavours like spicy herbaceous characters and some what a charred smoky aroma. Suddenly N’s eyes started to roll and she reached for water, she was the lucky one to finish the last piece on the plate and that happened to be the only spicy one in the entire batch that we were served.
After putting out the heat, our tongues were soothed by a delicately fried Stuffed Zucchini Flowers with Mount Enebro Cheese. Served drizzled with honey, the squash flowers were stuffed with a slightly pungent and mild goat cheese stuffing which gave the dish its character. Encrusted in a light batter, the honey smoothed by masking the sharpness and pungency of the cheese with is sweetness. Though the stuffing was rather generous, I felt it was too much a little over powering in proportion to the squash vegetable.

Lightening up our palates again was a Tuna Carparccio with Marinated Cannelloni Beans and Salsa Verde. Seared yellow fin tuna was served on a bed of marinated cannelloni beans that were given tossed in lemon juice and olive oil. The beans were nice and meaty, giving a complimentary support to the delicate tuna. An herbaceous slightly tangy green sauce sparkles up the dish with its vibrant colour and light acidity. The simple flavours provided the seared tuna with a sublime finish on our palate, the acidity cleansing off any aftertaste from earlier dishes.
Next item in line was a winner and a favourite with us. The Breaded Calamari was very well done to a crispy texture and yet tender enough on bite. It's a so simple yet so hard to get is right recipe and many chefs find it a real challenge to keep quality consistency with this dish as deep frying temperatures and the cut size of the squid matters a lot during cooking. The accompanying home made aioli or garlic mayo as it is more commonly known was fragrant with the sweet yet pungent spiciness of cooked garlic. A dash of lemon juice with this garlic mayo and the crispy calamari resulted in a harmonious balance of textures, contrasts and flavours. Great dish, great sauce, executed with perfection.
The piece de resistance for the meal was the Duck Confit on Braised Red Endives with a Chestnut and Raisin Reduction. Beneath the layer of crispy skin, was meat that was so tender on bite that it was almost falling off the bone. This is achieved by slow cooking the entire salt cured duck leg submerged in its own fat with spices and herbs for at least three hours, allowing all the flavours to be trapped within. Thereafter it is grilled under a salamander or oven baked to allow the excess fat to melt away and at the same time all the skin to crisp up. Due to the curing process, its slight salty taste is often counter balanced with a sweet fruity sauce or jam. The raisins and chestnuts reduction provided winter characters to the dish. The dried fruit also contributed a Muscat like sweetness and fragrance to the sauce complimenting the lovely duck meat. Absorbing all the drippings and sauces was a bed of braised red endives whose slight bitterness actually does good overall to dish buy pulling back the excess sweetness and richness of the confit.
Finishing off the meal was two home crafted desserts, a classic arroz con leche or rice cooked in milk, served brulee style and a soft chocolate cake with frangelico (hazelnut liquer) ice cream. The sweet creamy milk flavoured rice was nicely spiced with cinnamon and given a touch of citrus with freshly grated orange zest. Gratinated like a crème brulee, it was served with a scoop of home made rhubarb ice cream. Very innovative, very creative and we like the slight sourness of the rhubarb ice cream that helps to cut back on the richness of the creamy rice pudding.

The chocolate cake was nothing to shout about on its own but when paired with the in house made Frangelico Ice Cream, it created a sensational yet harmonious combination of flavours that can be very addictive once you start digging in.

I love tapas, but not in Singapore

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