Anyway, you know you’re in a top restaurant when the name of the guy who owns the place forms part of the name of the restaurant itself: just think of Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, SW London, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s… and now Salt Tapas by Luke Mangan.
So I called at around 3pm to book for 8pm the same day: the reservation was confirmed, the guy I spoke to read the details back to me, all was well. My companion and I turned up at the appointed hour and… no record of our booking of course. No apologies either (I guess they assumed I was blagging it – the customer is always wrong, presumably). I tried to explain that I was at least as famous in Singapore as Luke Mangan is in the UK, but that didn’t seem to impress them. But in fairness, they did find us a table fairly promptly.
Now, I do like tapas, but when you get it in the UK, it is always expensive and involves miniscule portions. And a glance at the menu at Salt Tapas ticked the first box at least: it ain’t cheap. However, here is the first major plus-point for Salt Tapas: the portions are enormous. The items we went for, with one exception, were main course-sized portions, not farty little jumped-up finger-food (which would be one unkind way of describing some of the tapas I've had in my time). But we didn’t know this in advance, and of course I ignored the evidence all around me on other people’s tables, so we ended up with a galleon-load of grub…
The onions were fine – we all know about bangers with onion gravy, so this worked, predictably. The saffron rouille didn’t really add much, in my view. Solid grub, though, this wagyu and polenta, the kind of thing a heavy-set Italian working in a Toyota factory somewhere might eat, I suppose. It was very rich though (cheese with everything at Salt Tapas, it seems), so be warned.
Anyway, the next dish to arrive felt spiritually closer to traditional tapas, to my palate: ‘eggplant, haloumi, chickpea, dried tomatoes, herbs, tahini dressing’. That’s the name of the dish, in fact. Catchy, eh? I’m not sure what the herbs were, but this one had a distinctly Arab/Eastern Mediterranean vibe to it. And more cheese again. Speaking of cheesy, I feel like making a joke about how ‘Othello-like’ this Arab-style food was at this point, in the sense that it was moreish, but I think the pun might fall flat…
Anyway, it was pleasant to be reminded what haloumi cheese tastes like (I haven’t had it in three years, at least), and the dish probably worked thanks to its simplicity (despite the many ingredients). One additional observation to make: the portion was very small compared to all the other dishes we had. But enough for two delightful mouthfuls each, so: thumbs-up.
The meatball meat was squidgy, soft and crumbly in an overly-moist way. I know home-made meatballs and burgers can be somewhat friable like that, at times; at the other end of the scale, I also understand the extreme importance of creating the right meatball mix so that the balls are tender (the jaw-proof, crown-snappingly tough pork gob-stoppers that I made for my mother’s 60th birthday dinner taught me that lesson in the cruellest way possible – I blame the Nigella Lawson recipe I used, of course). But these ones from Salt Tapas were so soft they were bordering on being a terrine.
They came with a tomato sauce that was frankly weird tasting – far too strong and unsubtle, and containing powerful flavours that were hard to identify (I am guessing it was the sumac spice at work). Even more odd, there was always a strange and unwelcome late aftertaste of chilli spiciness that crept across my tongue long after the food had gone down my throat. Ugh.
It just wasn’t very edible. And a restaurant is doing something wrong if I am convinced that I - a fumbling culinary dilettante - can produce better meatballs, better tomato sauce and smoother, creamier mash than their chef can.
If you agree or disagree with what I said, why not leave a comment? It would be great to hear from you!
http://salttapas.com/ - Salt Tapas website.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumac - all about sumac, if you were wondering what it was. I must confess, I had never had it before. An acquired taste that I do not intend to acquire…