Photos by James Lea
Social & Co. has appeared on the quieter side of Zhujiang Xincheng and we doubt things are ever going to be quite the same. Behind the chunky block letters of the gently lit sign awaits a unique trip through a personal culinary history.
New Zealand-born owner Aaron McKenzie has made the prevailing prerequisite for every menu item that it has to be homemade. While that may sound great, let’s face it, it’s hard to even know what that means anymore, let alone in China. It takes a leisurely dinner and some digestive reflection to realize the extent to which effort has been made to stick to this philosophy.
McKenzie adapted the majority of the recipes on the uncomplicated menu from his mother, grandmother and friends, gathering them over 15 years spent in Australia. Many dishes stem from a nostalgic connection or familial story. The sausage roll (RMB35) reminisces of junky versions eaten after school in his younger years, squeezing ketchup onto each bite. At Social & Co., they mince their meat themselves and the sesame-dotted pastry (made with butter, no margarine) is courtesy of the former Boomerang bakery owners. At first bite it’s likable enough, but after dipping it in its own tomato relish, this antipodean staple is sure to garner impressive and appreciative noises around any table.
Next, enjoy a grazing session with the Social Eat Me Platter (RMB135). This is not a typical meat and cheese board, with crispy pita and homemade hummus, bread from Perma bakery and meat the restaurant slices themselves as needed. Nice touches are the olives, zucchini and peppers that are marinated in-house.
The pea and feta salad (RMB38) is a delightful oddity, a heap of sugar snap peas, snow peas and more peas tossed in a zesty lime dressing and garnished with slivered radishes. The combination works well; the various legumes pop in the mouth, enlivened by the tangy sauce and bite of the radish - a veritable garden in the mouth. What will make any diner remember this pile of greens is the handful of macadamia nuts on the plate’s periphery, which have been rolled around in toffee.
Other items also please the taste buds. The shredded chilli salad (RMB38) is coleslaw with punch, and the two-piece Portuguese chicken (RMB55) is not overcooked and contrasts nicely with the accompanying cheek of lemon.
Special mention must be made of the wine selection, which is unique and reasonably priced. A glass of Distant Land Merlot Malbec from New Zealand (RMB55 per glass) is a lighter version of the South American varietals, while the Trinity Hill 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, also from New Zealand, is a smooth, universal wine that carries through each course. And at RMB220 for the bottle, it’s pretty easy to take one or two down.
Drum roll, please, for the big finisher. If you have never heard of banoffee pie (RMB40), get thee to Social & Co. This gorgeous little round wonder arrives frosted in whipped cream on blue and white china that’s just like Nana’s. It’s almost a bit mysterious, as it gives away very little of what waits inside. After cracking into it with our forks, we are almost breathlessly anticipating the next bite of graham cracker crust, toffee and bananas. Crikey, for the first time ever, we contemplate sticking our face right into the pie.
All of these surprising and scrumptious dishes are served up in an atmosphere completely lacking in pretension. The two floors exude the same warmth, intimacy and simple sophistication that the food does. McKenzie wants customers to walk away feeling happy after a good meal, one they are happy to pay for. And sure enough, we do not remember the last time we left a restaurant so smiling and satisfied.
// Shop 112-113, 6 Huajiu Lu, Zhujiang Xincheng, Tianhe District 天河区珠江新城华就路6号112-113铺 (130 4805 5825)