Grapevine Archive for Restaurants

Mon 14 Oct 2013

Inside The Sommelier’s Kitbag

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Due to my husband’s job, I’m lucky enough to be able to eat out relatively regularly and to learn from sommeliers.

Alsace wines are remarkably versatile with food

Alsace wines are remarkably versatile with food

Sommeliers put up with working horrible hours and dealing with snotty customers because they are passionate about wine and I’ve generally found them to be enthusiastic teachers if you show a little interest.

Sometimes you can’t beat the classic wine and food combinations, of course, but I’ve found the reassurance of a sommelier’s recommendation a great way to push me out of my comfort zone. A bit like The Wine Society’s Promise, if you don’t like their recommendation they will find you something else that will suit, so you really have nothing to lose.

Being a bit sad, my husband and I often play the ‘guess the wine match’ game with the more esoteric dishes and time after time, when chefs throw the sommeliers a curveball of a dish it is the wines from Alsace to which they turn.

We’ve had an elegant starter of salsify served with a savoury coffee and cardamom set cream, paired beautifully with a very slightly off-dry pinot blanc with a subtle touch of oak.

Eating at London’s Duck and Waffle, we were duty bound to try their eponymous all-day brunch signature dish, bequeathed from its Miami sister restaurant: a waffle topped with duck confit, a fried duck egg and lashings of mustard and maple sauce. When trying to think of a wine that could cope this somewhat overwhelming combination, we were flummoxed. The sommelier recommended Alsace pinot gris and frankly we thought he was nuts (‘white wine and duck?!’) Needless to say we were wrong.

An off-dry gewurztraminer also saved the day at our recent chocolate workshop (of which more on this blog shortly) to work with white chocolate and even Bounty bars.

As an aside, we’ve enjoyed using sommeliers’ expertise to learn about sake which I think I would have been far too nervous to navigate alone. A light and delicately styled sake served chilled is a wonderful accompaniment to the increasingly popular cerviche dishes and a more full-bodied style, lightly warmed, can work with rare beef and wasabi.

If generally you find yourself always ordering the same old bottle, why not give the sommelier a go?

Louisa Peskett
Senior Merchandiser & Food Buyer

When trying out food and wine matches at home, remember that help is at hand in the form of The Society’s interactive Food & Wine Matcher.

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Fri 03 Aug 2012

Eating in the Languedoc

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When I go it is usually bleak midwinter and nearly everything is closed but my last foray in the Languedoc produced at least one outstanding eating experience.

The Mimosa, at saint Guiraud remains one of the best places to eat in that part of the Languedoc. The food is always imaginative and takes some of its inspiration from Morocco where David and Bridget Pugh spend part of their winters. I seem to remember eating pigeon which of course goes so well with the wines. Excellent cheese board too. The puddings come as a wonderful surprise: crumbles and pavlovas galore. If you?re lazy like me, there is a menu that chooses itself with a wine or two for each course. The wine list is magnificent with great things from around France. Fabulous list of Domaine Tempier Bandol., and great Champagne by the glass, usually Pol or Jacquesson. Better still though is the local choice. Saint Guiraud is surrounded by many of the top names of the Languedoc, starting with the likes of Daumas Gassac and Aupilhac.

But as luck would have it, it was closed that day. The Terrace du Mimosa (the same owners) in nearby Montpeyroux is also good though simpler. A good place for a lunchtime salad and a grilled piece of lamb. The wine list at shop prices with a little extra is excellent and mostly local.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has been to de Lauzun, a one star restaurant in Gignac, again nearby and on the way to Daumas Gassac. I didn?t like it

But now to my find of the year. Brand new and within weeks of opening already awarded a Michelin. This is La Coquerie, a pocket-sized fish bar on the way up to the marine cemetery in Sète. Four or five tables and a bar overlooking the very sparse kitchens. Everything is immaculate, spotless and everything in the kitchen is in full view. The menu is very simple, mostly fish, as fresh as fresh can be. The chef is Anne Majourel who cooks and chats at the same time. The dishes look beautiful yet are deceptively simple with no more that a half dozen ingredients.

The wine list was small but purposeful, the odd Trimbach riesling, a lovely Picpoul De Pinet and one of my finds for the 2012 Christmas List.

This is a white Corbières from Domaine la Roque Sestiere near Narbonne, a lovely herby dry white with hints of fennel and aniseed which went perfectly with my little piece of sea bass. This was her recommendation. Not surprising as her sister is married to the grower!

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Categories : France, South of France
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Wed 18 Jul 2012

Bring Your Own?

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Joanna Simon, who has one of the best palates among wine writers, giving sound advice regularly to Home and Garden readers and elsewhere, gave me the glad news that The Crooked Well in Camberwell lets you bring your own bottle on Monday nights.

This excellent pub and restaurant has been a delightful stop when we visit our son-in-law, daughter and small child because the food is delicious and the wines well-chosen and available by the glass, half-carafe or bottle. Both they and Joanna live conveniently close. The Monday ?BoB? night would be another excuse to go.

This set me thinking that members might write in with the names of their favourite restaurants that offer this service.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

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Tue 24 Jan 2012

Jamie Oliver, Wine and Beef

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An unexpected meeting with renowned chef Jamie Oliver last week got me reflecting about the similarities between sourcing quality wine and food.

I was dining with Wine Society supplier Daniel Castaño, behind the unpretentious Spanish monastrell we list, at Barbecoa restaurant in London (which happens also to list Daniel’s wine under its on-trade label – for obvious reasons, it’s several times more expensive there).

Jamie Oliver, Daniel Castaño and me

Barbecue beef is the speciality here and by happy chance Jamie Oliver was enjoying a night out with friends a couple of tables down from us. We soon got talking about wine and beef.

Jamie’s passion for quality was as evident as when he’s performing on TV. Apparently the choice of farmer, breed and feed are the key to a good piece of juicy, flavourful beef. And the parallel with wine starts here too. The decisions of the grape grower (like the farmer) will determine the quality of the harvested grapes. For breed read grape variety, for feed read soil management which aims to maximise vine nutrition and health. Like Jamie, The Wine Society starts by selecting the growers whose philosophy matches our quality expectations.

But it doesn’t stop there. Jamie Oliver goes one step further. He employs someone to select the very best from his chosen farmers by looking at the ‘marbling’ of each animal in the slaughterhouse. They might pick just two out of ten.

It’s what the Wine Society buyers do; granted, in the more amicable surroundings of a cellar or winery tasting room, but of the thousands of wines we taste each year, only a very small percentage makes it to the List.

Pierre Mansour
Buyer for Spain

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Wed 04 Jan 2012

Welsh Carignan?

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Domaine Aupilhac

Not really, but David Pugh is Welsh, married to a New Zealander and they opened the iconic restaurant Le Mimosa in the Languedoc. And one fine day a young farmer, Sylvain Fadat, tried to sell David some asparagus among other things.

But Sylvain’s career as a fruit and vegetable producer was short lived, as one year’s crop was wiped out. His father had some vines which he gave to Sylvain. He should have joined the coop, but he didn’t and the rest is history. Except that much of what Sylvain’s dad had planted was carignan.

When young Sylvain went to wine school, he learned that carignan was the root of all evil. But Sylvain made his carignan wine and it was David Pugh who tasted it and who bought it for his restaurant. And once again the rest is history.

Le Mimosa

Sylvain Fadat’s estate is Domaine Aupilhac which today is one of the top estates of the Languedoc and famous for its carignan.

The Mimosa was packed recently for a special dinner with a carefully chosen menu to match Aupilhac wines. The highlight unquestionably was a 1990 Carignan, Sylvain’s second vintage. This was a wine of extraordinary beauty and complexity.

It is partly thanks to Sylvain Fadat and the fact that he sold to David Pugh that the carignan grape was saved. I have recommended this restaurant before and do so again without hesitation.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Buyer, South of France

Categories : France, South of France
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Fri 18 Jun 2010

Gastro d’Oc

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It used to be said that Languedoc was a gastronomic desert. The truth of course is quite different. Ingredients here are second to none like beef from the Aubrac, lamb from the Larzac, cheese from Roquefort and elsewhere, oysters from Bouzigues, not to mention olives, fruit and vegetables. Influences come from far and wide, from the centre of France, from Spain, especially Catalonia, from Italy too and of course North Africa. There are a growing number of fine restaurants, including a newly promoted Michelin three star lost in the Corbières, to bring these flavours together.

David and Bridget Pugh

David and Bridget Pugh

Stars are not everything though and what has arguably been the most enjoyable restaurant to eat in has no stars at all. It is called “Le Mimosa” and it is owned and is run by David and Bridget Pugh.

David is in charge of the wine and has made his list one of the greatest showcases for everything that is good about Languedoc wine with several vintages of many top estates like Daumas-Gassac, Granges des Peres and Aupilhac. And there is more with fine offerings from around France: Trimbach Riesling, Bandol from Tempier, Sancerre from Cotat and a host of lovely Burgundies going back a dozen or so years.

Le Mimosa

Le Mimosa

Bridget Pugh cooks and draws her inspiration in part from Morocco where the Pughs have a house. Dishes are beautifully prepared and perfectly match the wines. A highlight included quail cooked with a hint of spice and the fragrance of preserved lemon. The cheeseboard is exceptional while puddings included rhubarb crumble and a marvellous Pavlova. The setting too is idyllic from the courtyard with its miniature pool generous proportions of its tables, and friendly, unmannered service.

This is a place where I like to be and so it is a little sad that the Pughs have announced their retirement from the end of October. Everybody who loves good food should find an excuse and go there one last time.

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