Owned by Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton, the bar is set high for anyone who eats at Social Wine & Tapas in London’s Marylebone. After gaining a star in 2011 with the Mayfair-based Pollen Street Social, Atherton and fellow chef Marcus Rohlen have created a British-inspired tapas menu, where great wine and fine produce take centre stage.
Social Wine & Tapas screams luxury. Its slick exterior features tinted windows with just the small sliver of branding to let passers-by know what is inside, while the seating is rather strangely organised: tables placed around the fridges of wine and hanging charcuterie – as if you are eating inside a sumptuous reimagining of a marketplace and not a restaurant at all.
My guest and I were seated in the basement, surrounded by an intimidating array of wine fridges, shelves of wine and large bottles of the stuff packed in boxes. I will mention now, dear readers – as if you haven’t guessed already – I’m not exactly a wine connoisseur, and was particularly unsettled when visiting the toilets to hear the audio tapes of books on how to taste wine correctly. It was a strange setting considering we were sitting down to a £15 per person freeflowing cava brunch.
The servers clearly know their stuff, though. While carefully – and quite painstakingly – pouring cava into our glasses, they’re able to explain the country of origin and taste it would take on… But it seemed the knowledge wasn’t just wasted on just our table, but also a birthday party of mid-thirties women at the table next to us who, while making the most of the two hours of unlimited booze, interrupted the harmonious, soft piano music with their own rendition of “Spice up Your Life” by the Spice Girls.
In keeping with tapas decorum, we ordered a selection of three dishes each to begin. First was the crispy duck egg and confit leg with truffle (£9), a melt-in-the-mouth affair. For a smaller plate, the braised octopus with chorizo piperade (£9) was luscious: the rich Basque-inspired dish used smoky chorizo flavours to complement the soft fleshy octopus.
Continuing the meaty theme, next on the menu was Cumbrian lamb rump with spring greens (£14), which is brought out on a hot plate to fizzle slowly next to you – the addition of tangy salsa verde and pungent anchovies kept things spicy and interesting. For a non-meat option, the spice Italian aubergine with cucumber yoghurt, with roasted hazelnuts (£7), was a top choice – it brought together ingredients you wouldn’t usually mark as midday food, into a dish that was notably brunch-y.
Social Wine & Tapas’ menu is incredible, and made it on my list of best brunches thanks to the care and thought put into the food. But it did beg the question: is the offering in-brand for Social Wine & Tapas, or has London’s unquenchable thirst for brunches forced their hand?
Social Wine & Tapas, 39 James Street, Marylebone, London W1U 1DL; open Mon-Sat; 020 7993 3257; jasonatherton.co.uk/restaurants/social-wine-tapas
Pea, mint and pecorino bruschetta
These are just perfect for a warm day, especially when arranged on a pretty platter. A few slices of parma ham or smoked salmon draped in between the bruschetta make a more substantial lunch or supper.
Serves 6-8 (depending on the size of the bread)
200g fresh or frozen peas
2 sprigs of mint, leaves only
1-2 tsp crème fraîche
6-8 slices of sourdough, ciabatta or artisan bread, sliced diagonally
1 clove of garlic, peeled
3 spring onions, trimmed and sliced diagonally into thin rings
a little pecorino cheese, for shaving
Pea shoots and/or small, pretty salad leaves or salad cress, for serving
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the peas and some salt into a pan, barely cover with boiling water, and as soon as it starts to come to the boil drain and cool.
Purée the cooled peas with the mint leaves and some seasoning in a small processor or with a hand blender, leaving a bit of texture to the purée. Add the crème fraîche a teaspoon at a time, bearing in mind the purée will be spooned onto the bread – you might not need it all. Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly – it should be well seasoned.
Toast or griddle the bread on both sides, rub with the garlic and put onto a board, a large serving platter or individual plates. Drizzle over a little olive oil and top with the pea purée. Scatter over the spring onions and some pecorino shavings. Decorate with a sprinkling of nigella seeds, a few pea shoots and/or salad leaves or cress, plus a final swirl of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt flakes.
Make the purée up to two days before you plan to eat the dish. If using sourdough, the bruschetta can be assembled up to one-and-a-half to two hours before serving. After that they will become slightly less crisp in the middle. However, the length of time they remain crisp depends on the bread.
Hints and tips:
Serve warm or at room temperature. Cut large slices of bread in half before adding the topping.
Substitute broad beans for the peas and parmesan for the pecorino.
The Get-Ahead Cook by Jane Lovett is published by Apicius, £20 (apiciuspublishing.com). Photography by Tony Briscoe.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies