When Social Wine and Tapas opened its doors to thirsty Londoners and discerning wine lovers alike earlier this month, I was quick to pencil in a date for my next catch up with fellow foodie and wine aficionado, Shakira – you may recognise her as the prolific entrepreneur behind Grappled, an incredibly handy app that shows you how to wine while you dine. Or from her blog Shakira’s Wine Space, where she helpfully dispenses tips and quips to suitably address all your wine-related dilemmas.
Well here’s what the two of us have to say on the latest venture from Jason Atherton – a tapas restaurant, wine bar and shop, where every waiter is a sommelier, and for bar bites you can expect inventive tapas dishes borne out of the best of British produce…
SWT appealed to us from the moment we escaped from the madding crowd of Oxford Street into the urban den created by Russell Sage Studios (the invisible hand also behind Social Eating House, Grain Store & Dishoom). The surroundings alone provide much to drink in, from the industrial chandelier illuminating the entrance and copper artwork against the walls to the use of rich woods and leathers, with strong metallic finishes offset by subtle gold undertones. The striking display of wine bottles and gleaming glassware lining the walls is unmissable.
Shakira on the wine:
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from SWT. On the one hand, my most recent experience at an Atherton joint (City Social) left me disappointed – the wine list by the glass was short, overpriced and uninspiring. On the other hand, the focus of SWT is in the name – so I dared to hope for a more carefully curated wine offering.
I was relieved to see sophisticated, interesting and downright peculiar wines pepper the whole wine list – including the by the glass section and even the wine flights.
Not one to make life easy for anybody, I gave our very helpful waiter a challenge: “please suggest a white wine that is medium-bodied, bone dry, potentially slightly aromatic, ideally something out-of-the-ordinary, oh and I’m not averse to oak”. He went ahead and suggested three different wines in succession, allowing me to taste each before committing to a whole glass.
His first suggestion certainly satisfied the “interesting” criterion. It was a Traminer from Jura – a French wine region most famous for vin jaune, a wine with distinct Sherry-like characteristics. Whilst the taster was enjoyable, I was not in the mood for the salty, yeasty characteristics it presented.
The waiter left and returned with something even more interesting – an orange wine from Campania. Although this style of wine is made using white wine grapes, the production method is much more like red wine than white wine. Typically, when white wine is made, the skins are separated from the juice before fermentation; conversely red wine is fermented alongside the skins which imparts colour, tannins and flavour. Interestingly, orange wine is fermented alongside the white grape skins – giving the final product an undeniably distinct orange hue. Comprising of three different indigenous Italian grape varieties, this wine offered a pleasant mix of stone fruit and spice, but it still wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.
Still off the beaten path, but veering towards something vaguely more conventional, the third – and winning – suggestion was from Santorini, Greece. Made from the Aidani grape variety, this wine was delicious, offering tropical fruit and balanced acidity. Although it may have tasted better on a beach in Mykonos, it was certainly a fine choice on a warm summer evening in London.
All in all, an excellent experience discovering different wines alongside the guidance of a very patient waiter.
My take on the tapas…
When it came to the food, as a vegetarian, I was unsure what to expect either given my personal less-than-stellar experience back in 2011 at the critically acclaimed Pollen Street Social, Atherton’s first solo restaurant in the U.K. Put simply, my meal had consisted of four pieces of tomato garnished with a tomato salsa, alongside a minscule serving of cucumber mash. Needless to say, I’ve mostly stayed away from Atherton’s subsequent dining establishments since then… until now.
The tapas menu at SWT is divided simply into six categories – hams, cheese, eggs, vegetables, fish and seafood, and meat – in addition to a small selection of bar bites “para picar”, like the delightfully moreish padron peppers.
The carrots were a standout affair, compensating for any past grievances I may have held against Atherton. A riot of flavours and textures, they arrived grilled to perfection on a bed of bed of burnt aubergine, miso and walnut pesto, that we unabashedly scraped off the plate long after we crunched through carrots. The burrata another favourite – truffle oil delicately lacing soft creamy cheese, served with basil and fresh heirloom tomatoes in a light gazpacho vinaigrette.
The desserts all sounded terribly tantalising, the reputation of the Crème Catalana already preceding it as contender for the best crème brûlée in town. As we had just popped by for a pre-dinner tipple and light bite, we held back – albeit with much reluctance. Still I do suppose that it gives us just the excuse we need for another visit soon, this time no doubt to also brave their esoteric wine flights.
Social Wine and Tapas, 39 James St, London W1U