Anyone familiar with the Salt Yard Group probably already has Ember Yard firmly on their radar. Opening up a fortnight ago in Soho, it's the fourth restaurant from the group, after their eponymous first on Goodge Street, Dehesa near Carnaby Street and Opera Tavern in Covent Garden.
As in their other restaurants, Ember Yard blends together Italian and Spanish influences to create a buzzy tapas bar and restaurant where you can pop in for a wine and a few plates or choose to feast the night away. The name hints at another theme for this incarnation: there’s a focus on char-grilling, smoking and generally cooking food with fire.
Dimly lit with low-hanging lights (yes, we did bump our head), exposed beams and closely-packed distressed wood tables, this is the most rustic of the group’s restaurants; the atmosphere conjures romantic notions of a stumbled-across rural Spanish tapas bar, even though we all know that really it’s a slickly designed, on-trend Soho hotspot. Seriously – just go with it.
The menu is large, divided into bar snacks, charcuterie and cheeses, and then meat and fish dishes – with around four plates recommended per person. From the first three sections, we try succulent chorizo skewers, which meld a punch of paprika flavour with sexy, smoky overtones; chipirones (baby calamari), which are perfectly crisp and given extra oomph by the addition of fried capers and sage leaves; and smoked anchovies, which arrive in style on a still-smoking charcoal brick and are soft, delicate and delicious – it’s just a shame they’re so bloody boney.
In the mains department, pork ribs glazed with quince are as sweet, sticky, messy and indulgent as you’d imagine, and the meat even more tender and richly flavoured than you’d dare to dream. It’s rare that we get to try pork ribs made from truly great meat (Chinatown isn’t known for its careful sourcing) and these babies are proof that you can really taste the difference.
Opera Tavern is renowned for its Iberico pork and foie gras burger (do try it), and Ember Yard is gearing up for an in-house challenge with its own version. Their mini smoked-beef burger served with goat’s cheese and the genius creation that is chorizo ketchup is perhaps not quite as rich or distinctive, but it’s good enough to give just about any slider in town a fair run for its money all the same.
Another dish of cuttlefish served with pumpkin and spicy ‘nduja sausage (a bit like soft chorizo), may seem tame in comparison to those two meat feasts, but it shines through nonetheless for the tender, creamy-soft seafood and bursts of light, fresh flavour given by whole oregano leaves.
A must-have is also the Salt Yard Group’s signature dish, available at all their restaurants: a courgette flower stuffed with goat’s cheese, deep fried and served drizzled with honey. It’s sweet, salty, crisp and even better than it sounds.
An extensive wine list almost entirely from Italy and Spain (Champagne is the only exception) competes with a list of smoky cocktails for your attention in the wash-it-down stakes, and indeed a downstairs bar area makes that notion of popping in for a quick one all the more appealing. Snacks start at just a few pounds, and small plates start from around £7 and rarely cross the tenner mark (unless you go wild on hams and cheeses), so it’s easy to keep things modest. That said, with a full menu of temptations and reasonably small portions it’s probably not that difficult to go wild either. As one of our favourite new openings of the whole year, we reckon it would be a good place to do so.
Ember Yard is at 60 Berwick Street, W1F 8SU.
Disclaimer: We review anonymously and pay for all our meals/drinks.