Sharing plates are the dining equivalent to the old pick ’n’ mix sweets section of the much-mourned Woolworths.
Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods, says they are sociable, offer choice, range and small portions with a “fun, pick ’n’ mix informality”, and they are suitable for consumption any time of day.
Gustavo Giallonardo, head chef at Top 50 Cocktail Bar Oriole in the City’s Smithfield Market, adds that the venue offers more variety and a larger selection of dishes for the price of one.
Charlie Mitchell, CGA senior consumer research manager, says: “Given the rise and prominence of Tequila and mezcal across cocktail bars, there has been increased consumer interest in Central and South American-style outlets, successfully combining tapas-style small plates with high-end drinks offers, with the likes of Pachamama, La Bodega Negra Café and Andina leading the way.
“With traditional Spanish-style tapas remaining popular across the market, and as traditional food-led and drink-led occasions continue to merge, many traditionally wet-led outlets are investing in small plates and sharing offers to both capitalise on increasing consumer demand and to increase dwell time
The market has started to see a greater demand for regionally specific tapas-type dishes and concepts, be it Basque pintxos at Eneko Kitchen and Bar in Covent Garden, London, or Catalan tapas at Lunya in Liverpool and Manchester, says Mitchell.
He adds: “With increased interest in locality, many pubs are designing English tapas menus to play into this trend.”
Fail to plan
Piers Baker, owner of Church Street Tavern, says it all takes good planning. He says: “With sharing plates, we would have the base ingredient as the only additional item in the kitchen – say a whole seabass or rib of beef – and the rest of the ingredients are taken from what’s already on the menu to ensure we’re not carrying too much stock.”
Giallonardo says tapas-style dishes are easier to manage in terms of service because they can go out when prepared, instead of waiting to serve everything together.
Church Street Tavern aims for concise, clear and succinct menus. It ensures it offers at least two to three seafood dishes, the same number of vegetarian/vegan options and four or five meat options, that are regularly changed with the seasons.
Non-tapas sharing plates at the Essex-based business, for example, can include cheese and charcuterie platter with terrine, pickles and relishes; prime bone-in rib of beef for two with fat chips, Bernaise sauce and watercress; Slow-roast half a duck with cream and cider, roast beetroots, potatoes and rainbow chard; and grilled wild seabass, zucchini fritti.
Church Street Tavern also puts a sharing platter together from its bar menu, comprising mussels/French fries, pea and mint falafel, loaded fries with pulled pork, and crisp chicken drumstick with chilli jam.
The business prices all dishes to achieve a margin of 65% to 70%. “The more expensive the item, we generally take less margin,” says Baker.
Oriole Bar’s Giallonardo says small portions provide better control for gross profits and less wastage.
Fixed prices for a selection is becoming increasingly popular, he adds.
Katt Rodrigues, supervisor at Revolucion de Cuba, in Leeds, says sharing plates are great if you require a quick meal or you are not starving. “Instead of feeling under pressure to elongate your experience with two large plates, you can grab three small plates or tapas, share and be on your way.”
They also give diners more variety with a meal that could incorporate fish, meat, vegetables and any side dish.
“If you end up disliking a dish, you don’t have to return the whole thing and wait for another to be prepared,” Rodrigues says.
Colin Woodall, master curer at Woodall’s Charcuterie, notes that many sharing plates are served cold so little prep
For smaller establishments that focus specifically on cocktails, there may not even be a need for a kitchen, he suggests. “Limited chef skills are required to put these dishes together, and they can be prepared very quickly.”
Jonny Rushton, co-owner of Seven at Brixton, has noticed guests increasingly popping in for cocktails before booking at another restaurant. “Having small plates or tapas gives us the ability to upsell their starter, essentially.
“We’ve even managed, on occasion, to persuade guests to eat with us when they’ve intended to head elsewhere.
“Small and cheaper dishes can be more enticing. If they enjoy their first dish, there’s a good chance they will order more.”
Rodrigues argues strongly that getting the balance right is crucial.
“You don’t want the flavour profile to be incorrect, over or under-seasoned. You want your customers to be able
to order a certain number of dishes so you make a profit, but you don’t want to overwhelm them.”
The venue currently offers its customers the opportunity to mix and match cocktails and dishes on its Summer Escapes menu.
“This is the perfect chance for them to pick a cocktail that is perfectly paired with a dish,” says Rodrigues.
Pairing with cocktails
Church Street Tavern in Colchester, Essex, recommends:
■ Ginny Hendrick’s (Hendrick’s gin, oregano, lemon, elderflower) with cured Loch Duart salmon, juniper, blinis, lemon balm, crème fraîche
■ Golden Fields (Bourbon, lemon, Prosecco, mint syrup) with pea & mint falafel, and coriander yoghurt
■ Currant Affair (gin, cassis, hibiscus, sugar syrup, egg whites, lemon) with pork belly cubes, sesame, and soy
Revolucion de Cuba, in Leeds, suggests:
■ Pork belly skewers roasted in spicy rum sauce topped with pico de gallo paired with Creole orange mojito (Bayou Spiced Rum, blood orange syrup, lime, sugar and mint topped with soda)
■ Arroz con Padrón, aromatic rice with spinach, Padrón peppers and hazelnuts paired with Jolly Green Sailor cocktail – a mojito with a twist (Sailor Jerry spiced rum, Midori watermelon liqueur, apple juice, lime, mint and sugar finished off with a light absinthe spray)