Combine great tapas of Spanish and Italian influence, insistence on great produce, throw in the latest trend du jour of smoking, add little seasoning, and you get Ember Yard, the latest opening from the dependable Salt Group.
Since last year, Opera Tavern, has been one of my favourite eateries and places to take new people to London. It is one of the few places that does the superlative Ibérico pork meat rather than just the jamon, and sits nicely in the pricey but not extortionate value range. Ember Yard is another step up from this adding another layer, a smokey one at that, to an already successful formula.
The upstairs is great, lively atmosphere, open kitchen with chefs shouting orders, long tables, waitresses darting around with slate served tapas. Downstairs is a bit more relaxed with a jamon carving bar, when I went service was a little slower down here, so if you are less time conscious you can simply enjoy the ambiance and make your way through the incredible cocktail list. Negroni with smoked campari & ice or the Ember & Ash – 'raisin infused rum, PX with bourbon smoke!
The menu is a similar format to the other Salt Yard group restuarant, few snacks and cheese/hams on the front and Fish, Meat, and Veg dishes on the back. Now I've been back quite a few times, there is only a few things left on the menu yet to try, the majority.
From the ‘Bar snacks’ the anchovies are worth going for. Cold smoked, and to be eaten bones & all, a completely different flavour profile to what you would expect, brilliant, although it does divide opinion some on our table really didn't take to them at all. Such a shame, more for me, the joy of tapas and not being fussy! The chipirones (basically baby squid), are easily missed, I had to Google what this was, but are really moreish. Gordal olives with goats curd, orange and pistachio are a great and fresh combination, if only there was more. As for the ibérico pork fat chips I shouldn't need to say more except IBERICO PORK FAT CHIPS. These weren't allowed to settle on the table until almost inhaled by the table.
Large sharing plates is a fab idea, the eyes draw and immediately boggle on reading ‘hot smoked old spot pork belly with basque cider, and smoked apple’ completely overshadowing the ‘Bistecca Fiorentina’ (T-Bone steak). ‘We are having that, no question’. Even for 3 of us there was a lot to go round, a large portion smothered in an incredible cider glaze. Old Spot is one of the fatty breeds, this was incredibly rich and juicy, those that think they can take down this beast on their own may have eyes bigger than their belly.
Onto the fish section. If I was an octopus I would be offended to be put in the ‘Fish’ part, they are very smart creatures, but so be it, they are also delicious. Prawns are dumb, I doubt they really care where they are, mislabelled or not.
The cuttlefish with pumpkin and n'duja is a standout dish, such punchy flavours. The smoked sea bream carpaccio with bergamot and bottarga was disappointing I was looking forwarded to this, slightly too much bergamot was overpowering, and by the time I came back after another dish it was a hostile takeover, completely overwhelming everything. The octopus however was perfectly cooked and tender paired with pepperonata and mojo verde aioli.
Don't think it will come as much of a suprise when I say if you were to only have one dish at Ember Yard it should be the Ibérico presa with the jamon butter. The butter so good I had to get a little pot of it to myself, those who know me know how much I love the yellow stuff (which is actually good for you). The presa is a flavoursome cut, cooked medium rare, something only really do with iberico due to it's breeding. With a nice char on the outside, it's a pork version of a good steak, like flat iron, it being from the shoulder region.
The iberico ribs are really tender and succulent, but the quinze glaze is slightly too sweet for my tastes, and the meat isn't as flavoursome as the presa. The basque beef slider is a beautiful few mouthfuls, not reaching the heights of the opera tavern foie gras and iberico one though!
Perfect for a group get together, a true test of a relationship ‘sharing food’, or a quick lunch. It's very easy to work your way through the menu, and thankfully their use of smoking isn't just jumping on a bandwagon but really brings certain dishes up to a different level.
Unashamedly, I'm very much a meat and fish person, except for kale, it's trendy didn't ya know, someone ordered the root veg roasted gratin, with smoked ricotta and Idiazabal cream. This is a really good, and a very rich dish, the smoked ricotta particularly stands out.
Still got room for dessert? I went for the tiramisu and lemon ice cream, nice but nothing spectacular. I hear their donuts and quinze jam though are really good…Something to go back for