Ember Yard: Smokin’ (April 2016)

Ember Yard fitted perfectly the brief I had been given by my comrade for the evening: find somewhere cool but not too expensive for six people in central London at fairly short notice. I added an arbitrary extra criterion to the above, wanting to go to a place I had not visited previously.  Having dined enjoyably on several previous occasions at Ember Yard’s sister restaurant on Charlotte Street (Salt Yard), the former seemed a good choice for our night. In no sense were we disappointed. The place was busy on a weekday night, but with a pleasant atmosphere, buzzing but nowhere near so loud that we couldn’t hear ourselves speak. We were allocated a good-sized table downstairs and were attended to by prompt and enthusiastic staff. As the restaurant’s name hints at, the USP of Ember Yard is its approach to cooking, namely, over wood and charcoal. The restaurant’s website talks of how it commissioned a bespoke Basque-style grill and uses only single-species charcoal from Kent. While I cannot verify the accuracy of this claim, all the food we sampled received a resounding thumbs-up. Being a group of six, we were able to rove across almost all of the menu, taking in a range traversing meat, fish and vegetables. There were clear successes in all categories. Ember Yard draws most of its culinary influences from Spain and Italy, but their piece-de-resistance was the wonderfully rich and juicy hot smoked Gloucester pork belly, served with smoked apple and cider. It was indulgent and probably terrible for the health, but worth every moment. Ember Yard also proved that vegetables were not an after-thought and indeed we ended up ordering several of their hot smoked butternut squash and also their char-grilled artichoke dishes, both topped with enterprising herb/spices/ condiment combinations. The drinks list also impressed, and their selection of wines, while heavy on Spain and Italy, made a clear effort to draw bottles from the less-obvious regions. We found our Valencian Bobal juicy and refreshing, a versatile food match. It is clearly easy (particularly when in a group and re-ordering dishes) for the bill to rack-up, but more parsimonious diners can also comfortably come here and undoubtedly enjoy the experience.