To number 39, James Street, W1, to check out the latest star in Jason Atherton's burgeoning restaurant firmament 'Social Wine & Tapas' before I have to read what Jay Rayner, Giles Coren or Marina O'Loughlin think I should think of it. It is hard to believe that ten years have passed since Atherton first came to prominence, under Gordon Ramsay's guidance, as head chef of Maze on Grosvenor Square where he lit up the London dining scene with the concept of small and shared plates of inventive and expertly executed dishes. It is harder still to conceive that it is just five years since he went solo and established Pollen Street Social the first in a sequence of 'Social' successes that now extend to Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Located on a short street of simple bistros and trattorias aimed squarely at tourists wandering up from Oxford Street 'Social Wine & Tapas' stands out as being a much smarter and slicker establishment for destination dining. It ticks a lot of boxes with an in-house wine shop, club-like wooden panelling and comfortable leather chairs, bespoke lighting, smiling staff in suits or leather aprons (the former deal with your food requirements the latter wine), a 'no bookings' policy ('obvs') – although that can't possibly extend to the private room for ten people which would be weird and (of course) small plates and sharing plates. The whole is fresh and fun and there is lots of tempting tapas but is quite a posh and grown up 'fresh and fun' that might be better suited to business colleagues than first dates - unless you have cross-over there in which case you're home free.
Nothing is unreasonably priced but, as with all good tapas, trencher-folk (like me) can probably rack up a sizeable bill if they make an effort. Stand out dishes were a 'Jamon, manchego toastie with (soft, fried) quail's eggs', Padron peppers, seriously good 'chargrilled carrots' which our waiter sensibly insisted we try, 'Szechuan fried chipirones' (just delicious) and a stunning 'slow-cooked egg with ox cheek dashi, creamed potato and black pudding'. As one might expect the cheeses and charcuterie are top notch and cost what they should.
The wine list is presided over by long-serving super-sommelier Laure Patry and includes lots of interesting offerings by the glass and extends from the foothills right up to vast-format bottlings of aspirational wines that will be handy if a passing Premiership team decide to squeeze into the private room for an impromptu supper. We enjoyed a couple of glasses of a blameless Grüner Veltliner and a very ship-shape and reasonably-priced (£19) half-bottle of Chinon from Domaine Baudry.
I'll certainly be back but being time poor and pushing fifty I refuse to queue so might have to muster nine mates for an assault on the private dining room!