Small Plate Dining
‘Small Plate’ dining is a style of dining that is tremendously popular all around the world.
Typically, small plates allow diners to select a number of dishes to enjoy so they can savour a range of flavours. The dishes can be shared around a table between guests, and can vary in style – anything from street food to the finest of dining.
Small Plates have been popular in European and Asian dining culture for centuries. In Europe, you can enjoy Spanish tapas, or Greek or Turkish Meze, or maybe Italian Antipasti. In other continents, you can savour Banchan from Korea, Zakuski in Russia, Izakaya from Japan, or Xiaochi or Xiao Pan from China.
Tapas is perhaps one of the better known small plate dining styles in the United Kingdom. The word derives from ‘Taper’ (or to cover), and tapas was served by innkeepers to keep travellers fed as they took their rooms. These innkeepers would write the names of the dishes on ‘Tapa’ or pan lids and soon the term took hold. Despite this theory, there are currently many other ideas about how the style began.
Tapas is constantly evolving and whilst there are many traditional dishes that diners would expect to see, new dishes are constantly on offer, and many tapas chefs bring their small plates to a National Tapas Competition, held annually in Valladolid, Spain.
Meze was made popular through the rise of the Ottoman empire. Places such as Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and many more all have different styles of Meze. The word itself comes from the Persian ‘Maze’ which was to taste or snack.
Depending on the region, meze is made and served with local ingredients and local drinks. The ingredients may include Halloumi or other local cheeses, vegetables, and meats such as beef or lamb, or nearer the coast, served with fish or other seafood.
It is guessed that the traditions of meze are similar to tapas in that they were small dishes intended to help those on their travels, that became local specialities and remain as they do today.
Xiaochi is an important style of small plate dining in China. Once, and remaining in some towns and cities, it is considered a snack or transportable meal that can be taken whilst working. Yet, with the rise in popularity of Xiaochi, and with local markets or towns becoming renowned for their favourite dishes, this style of dining has expanded to restaurants and risen in popularity. The Xiaochi dishes are often highly localised, with local chefs using ingredients to make delicious dishes for diners. People often travel from surrounding areas to enjoy these renowned dishes, and they almost always take on interesting names, so dishes can be distinguished from others. Xiao Pan is a style of dining that originated at Lu Ban Restaurant in Liverpool. Inspired by the dishes of Tianjin, fused with the Xiaochi idea that using local ingredients to create special dishes that are served as small plates, would offer discerning diners from the UK something delicious to try. The menu at Lu Ban is inspired by the cuisine of Tianjin, a northern coastal region of China where food from the sea, and fresh, seasonal local produce is a feature of the typical Tianjin diet. Our menus respect Tianjin culture, and each of our dishes has a story based on our own experiences there. You can take view the ingredients we currently use in our ‘Xiao Pan’ small plates menu here.