British ‘tapas’ has long moved on from the shrivelled-pieces-of-processed-meat and slabs-of-rubbery cheese-and-tinned-pineapple-on-a-toothpick variety.
Beautifully sourced and expertly executed treats are the norm in any decent pub now, but finding enticing British morsels in central London is a challenge, especially in the high-end restaurant/drinking hole/Euro cafe-fest that dominates in Soho, particularly at the Carnaby end.
Battling past the area’s over-perfumed hordes one sticky late summer’s evening brought me to a bar/restaurant by the name of Central & Co, which lies pretty much opposite Liberty in Great Marlborough Street, and where small plates are a major part of the menu - and not just the ubiquitous homemade Scotch eggs and sausage rolls.
Mini salmon fishcakes, glazed baby sausages, summer salad, chicken liver parfait and an egg and bacon salad featured next to a succinct selection of mains, the ingredients of which are all sourced from these islands.
While the food is British, the slick interior has an unmistakably Continental feel, beautifully laid out with brass chandeliers apparently salvaged from an art deco Czech hotel and Carrera marble tables and vintage wall lights.
It may have been muggy outside but walking inside was akin to stepping into a fridge, and a word with the manager succeeded in getting the air con turned down.
We settled in with a couple of cocktails (£8.50): a Spring Garden Martini with basil, apple and vodka had the aroma of pesto but tasted a good deal more exciting, while a Clover Club of gin, lemon juice, home-made vanilla syrup, egg white and whole raspberries was delicious.
Some background house beats made for a chilled out atmosphere, while the highly engaging, knowledgeable and friendly waitresses helped us out with the food choices.
We decided to share three of the said small dishes (£5-6.50): chicken parfait was very rich and massive in flavour and combined to great effect with a Yorkshire pudding and some red onion jam; the fishcakes, which came with a dill, lemon and tartare sauce, were more than passable, while a starter portion of mussels with a creamy cider, sage and leak sauce could have done with a little more seasoning, but was otherwise excellent.
A main of corn-fed chicken breast with spring veg, baby jacket potatoes and a Lancashire cheese and spring leek sauce (£12) was light and nicely presented, while the fish of the day, a massive plaice, was far too intimidating for my dainty dinner date - more fool her because it was fresh and excellent.
As the light faded outside, so the music racketed up, attracting the drinking crowd, and if food coma hadn’t set in I would have gladly sunk some more cocktails in the downstairs, speakeasy-style bar, which features artwork including Jessica Albarn’s hand-painted ostrich egg and a rare canvas from Ben Eine.
* Central & Co is open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Central & Co
22 Great Marlborough Street
0207 437 4106