A couple of weeks ago, I ventured to the eagerly anticipated Nuala in Shoreditch.
Headed up by chef Niall Davidson (Noma, the Chiltern Firehouse, St John), with executive head chef Colin McSherry (Fat Duck and Dinner by Heston) with Honey Spencer at the helm of the wine list, (Noma Mexico, Den Vandrette and Sager + Wilde) with both husband Charlie Sims (Brunswick House and Noma) and John O'Dowd (Bistrotheque) as front of house. Meanwhile, downstairs, Nuala Bar is run by Lauren Taylor (previously of Hawksmoor Spitalfields). This presents outstanding culinary and vinous experience.
Niall, Irish, creates a modern, locally sourced menu with an (yep), Irish twist. Honey has curated an exciting wine list with both classic and unusual wine styles from forward-thinking producers with a great by the glass + carafe list featuring the likes of Sunier, Jurtschitsch and Tissot. The bottle list is arranged by bubbles, tried + true, the classics, a touch out of the ordinary and wild things. I am a firm believer that wine is not simplifiable, but here Honey has created something that gently guides the consumer in the right direction and makes decision-making a little easier. Simple, understandable and fun. The wines are fantastic, bold old world and new world, with Sadie's Treinspoor, a Musar 98, Octavin and Dujac but to name a few.
On arrival, we had a glass of Charles Dufours' La Pulpe et le Grain pt. 2, 2009 vintage, from the Vallée de l’Ource. Interestingly, here the blend is 45% Pinot Blanc, 35% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. It is fermented en cuve with 18 months in barrels on the lees with zero dosage. Just 3.807 bottles were produced. The wine has a tight wound core yet brings such open energy and vibrancy, apple skin, wild flower, heather honey and that subtle reduced minerality on the finish that I feel PB can bring. Particularly perfumed with some lifted rosehip oil notes.
With the Champagne, we began with little foie gras bites on soda bread with clementine. It was the encapsulation of that drool emoji on WhatsApp. The foie gras was served as a gentle shaving and the clementine brought tartness and freshness to the richness of the liver, and the little soda bread looked a little like a miniscule crumpet and gave a delicious texture to the combination. I asked my dining companion whether we should get another but she is more restrained than I am and we did have an entire meal ahead.
To start, I opted for the beefsteak tartar, extra stout sauce, egg yolk and dripping fries. Delicious. The stout sauce added an extra wintry hug to the plate. Being a great lover of sauces, I'm often very critical and with a Danish thick-giblet-and-duck-fat-cream-sauce family behind me I am often disappointed with the (sometimes) blander and thinner sauces that are commonplace in the UK, but here we had a perfectly textured and delicious rich sauce to add complexity and another layer to the meat.
With the tartar, we enjoyed a carafe of Vin d'Montbled from Domaine Sauveterre (Tutto), a new wine for me. Not topped up thus oxidative in style, the wine sits sous voile. I've heard of Burgundian producers doing sous voile but this was my first experience. From the renowned Perrières parcel, this was a selection of younger vines. Just one barrel was produced in this style, with a year under flor. Intense and heady on the nose, there's a lot of apricot skin and flower pollen on the nose, with some zippy tart flower oil notes - perhaps an indication of a tiny bit of VA, but in a good way, not a "fault" by any means. On the palate it is dense and rich, with almond skin, clove, orange peach skin, rock salt and a humming orange peel length. A pretty big wine, but equally very fresh and lifted the tartar wonderfully.
Next up I decided to opt for the fireplace pumpkin with Isle of Mull Cheddar and green sauce. Fresh and complex vegetal flavours were brought to a forefront with the help of Claus Preisinger's Zweigelt (Newcomer); a favourite of mine that I return to again and again and who I have just been to visit in Burgenland (more will follow). Equally fresh, inky, juicy yet stone-licking-like with a soft floral finish, it's fairly delicate in style and is the ideal food wine. The pumpkin had an intense and complex flavour brought to it from the fire pit in the middle of the kitchen. Since I ate it, it's been making me crave pumpkin.
Finally, for dessert we shared the most delicate, fresh and seemingly weightless millefeuille pastry with charred pineapple and buttermilk cream. It was the food equivalent of a watercolour painting; so delicately structured with such fine layers.
Tasters of the Pyreneen Jurançon from Domaine de Souch (Dynamic) and Czech Černé starosvětské from Koráb (Basket Press Wines) were the ideal accompaniment to the dessert; although both wines with quite a bit of residual sugar, their cooler climates provide freshness and a lifted acid structure to the wine that creates an important combination of sweetness without ever being cloying.
Afterwards we ventured downstairs to enjoy clarified milk cocktails (I'd never heard of that either) which were, for lack of another expression, so f&*^ing good that we had three.
Nuala, thank you. You've created something highly unique, authentic, creative, and most crucially - delicious. I'll be back ASAP.
On Sunday, I headed down to the eagerly anticipated Parsons, a new little British fish restaurant in Covent Garden.
The idea for Parsons was born a couple of years ago and it is the brainchild of Will Palmer and Ian Campbell, owners of the 10 Cases - the wine and small plates hangout that has become immensely popular with Londoners and the wine trade alike. The duo bonded over a love for classic English fish restaurants, and having noticed a frustrating lack of wine focus in such restaurants wanted to create something new and exciting, where wine also plays a central role in the experience. The name Parsons is a sentimental dedication to the mums of both Will and Ian, who coincidentally share the same maiden name.
Speaking to the team, they mused, "We wanted to create an environment in which the ceremony of a dozen oysters and champagne as an aperitif, a bowl of mussels and a glass of Vinho Verde as a quick lunch, a couple of grilled sardines and dry Sherry as a passing snack, or a whole sole meunière and Meursault as a lush dinner experience is celebrated, and available to all at any time without any pomp or fuss."
Taking the same approach to wine as we find in the 10 Cases; Gus Pollard is behind the inspiring wine list and has sourced a list of circa 100 wines representing classic fish pairings as well as more eclectic styles. We already know from the 10 Cases list that the wines are always of high quality and are listed with some of the best prices in London. With the new list highlighting mineral, terroir-driven whites, wines that are in a more exciting place than ever, this white-focused list is as much of a reason to visit as the food is. Wines are listed from all corners of the world.
To begin, we drank Dagueneau's Silex 2011, which I deem to be one of the purest expressions out there of Pouilly Fumé, and indeed Sauvignon Blanc. Louis-Benjamin, Didier's son, manages the domaine following the tragic death of his father - who was considered one of the appellation's best winemakers, and is doing a wonderful job to keep his legacy going. The domaine is managed biodynamically. The wine is just beginning to show some age, adding a special waxy texture to the sharpness and flintiness of the wine that I really admire; it is a highly specific texture that works so well with seafood. Next was a wine I have not tried before but from a producer, also biodynamic, whose Mondeuse I love. The wine was "Le JaJa" from Gilles Berlioz, made from one of the indigenous grape varieties of the Savoie, Jacquère. Jacquère is not something we see around often yet (with strong emphasis on the "yet"), so it's a joy to see it here with its unique lifted aromatics of fresh greens and a pretty yet immense salinity that makes it an ideal fish wine. While lifted, it's still pretty dense in texture so it works well with richer dishes too. Finally, one of my favourite young Jura producers - Loreline Laborde of Les Granges Paquenesses, is listed as one of the eight reds, with her Trousseau. Loreline ploughs her three hectares of vines by horse, and also cultivates and makes wine biodynamically. The wine is subtle on the nose - seductive and gently smoky, and on the palate it is mineral and dense with blackberry skin and tea leaf notes and some spice. It went perfectly with the steak sandwich served at the end (which was *^&*%$^** brill, excuse the ironic unintended pun).
I'm pleased there are reds here as they can provide brilliant pairings for fish. The reds listed are all lifted expressions that will compliment smoked fish and fish pie excellently, as well as evidently providing good pairings for the one or two meat dishes.
Other personal favourites from the white list include the the Pinot Gouges, which saw its start in life at the beginning of the 1930s as one single little mutation in Burgundy, and Norman Hardie's excellent Chardonnay is also on there. There is a great BTG list, with the current standout for me being the Gros/Petit Manseng, "Cuvade Préciouse" by Montesquoiou, from the Jurançon, right on the Pyrenées. Agan, biodynamic methods are used here.
We began with oysters (which I am still learning to love (shock horror I know)). I am slowly getting there - persistency is key - and my one oyster was delicious. This was followed by potted shrimp croquettes, fluffy, with lovely texture. Next was the sea trout tartare with bloody Mary jelly; fresh and with a subtle fiery kick, highly moreish and a dish I kept returning to. A shredded beef and pissaladière added richness to the meal. The sole meunière was the plate of the meal, and was some of the best fish I have ever eaten in London; buttery and rich without being heavy - there is a fine line and they got it bang on.
In the kitchen, we find Cathal O'Malley, Executive Chef of The 10 Cases and Parsons, (previously of Dinings, Le Petit Maison and Bibendum), and Guemon Ishikawa, Head Chef of Parsons, (previously of Fera at Claridges and Dinings). The food will change daily, changing depending on availability, but always with a focus on simply prepared fresh seafood, as well a selection of hot snacks and tapas-style dishes and sweets and savories to finish on. Specials will be painted on the tiling, like...
Fresh produce is predominately coming from coastlines of Cornwall and North West Scotland and the team are using many different suppliers with day boats and sustainable methods. One supplier of note is Kernow Sashimi - a Cornish husband and Japanese wife team that specialise in Sashimi grade fish and understand and utilise the Japanese methods of cutting the fish on the boat as soon as it's caught. They are a major supplier of fine dining Japanese restaurants in London.
Inpiration for the food comes from Sweetings in London, Wheelers in Whitstable, The Company Shed in Colchester, English's in Brighton, Ramiro in Lisbon and L'Ecailler Du Bistrot in Paris' 11ème.
All of the above factors combined with an excellent experience means we have a new classic here; a little fun restaurant that gently smoothes over what was, thinking about it, previously an awkward crack in the London restaurant scene. We now have an excellent seafood restaurant in central London where we can drink exceptionally well. It has a brilliant team, it's affordable, quality driven and fun.
Good luck to the team and thank you for providing us with an exciting new place to dine and to drink.
A few weeks ago, I met up with friend and wine journalist Jamie Goode, to go wine bar hopping out East.
The evening began in Bethnal Green at Sager + Wilde, Paradise Row, where we chatted with Michael Sager and mixologist Marcis Dzelzainis. S+W is very well known for its wine list (which is excellent), but this time we opted for cocktails which were delightfully inventive.
I had the Tahona (Derrumbes Espadin mezcal, roasted pineapple shrub, lemon and agave caramel), which was fresh, tangy and delicious - one of the best cocktails I have had in a long time. Jamie had the bergamot negroni and an amazing pine negroni made from a distilled pine infusion which Marcis makes himself. The flavours were incredible - a really exciting ingredient which I am sure will become a key component to many cocktails. Next, there was the Bijou (gin and chartreuse), followed by an aperol sgroppino - so pink and yum. We also had some amazing small plates - Chris Leach was appointed head chef in January and is doing a fantastic job with the food (they've also introduced a pasta (really good pasta) and glass of wine for £10 deal between 5 and 7pm Mon - Sun which is pretty unbeatable).
Next, we walked over to Hoxton/Haggerston, to another of my favourites, The Laughing Heart, which was opened in October last year by Charlie Mellor, opera singer and sommelier. They have recently opened their Cave downstairs, which has a dreamy bottle shop.
We pondered over the wine list for a while, which is also excellent, and opted for Charlie's last bottle (meant to be) of Les Dolomies Les Grandvaux Savagnin 2015. It was seriously, seriously good.
Very pure - mineral and lean, lemon pith nose. Striking minerality on the palate. Tense and direct. Saline mid-palate with underripe pear skin notes with some fresh pineapple. Really beautiful wine and a reason that I need to go to the Jura.
Next, we strolled a little further up to Dalston, to a more recent discovery, Brilliant Corners. Last time I went it was mid week and very chilled, but when we arrived this time it was really kicking off. It was a hot night so it was bustly and pretty toasty in there, so we went for a refreshing pet nat, one that I have actually always wanted to try - Jean-Pierre Robinot's l'Opera des Vins des années folles (VdF - Chenin Blanc and Pineau d'Aunis). Notes of red apples, raspberries, cranberries and a nice mineral edge. Lovely raw cider flavours. Great purity and very clean - sometimes petnat can have a mousey edge, but none of that here at all.
A super fun evening with brilliant wines at great venues, all of which I highly recommend. You can read Jamie's account of the evening here.
On a bleak rainy Saturday a couple of weeks ago, myself and two friends took shelter in Newcomer Wines’ shop and bar, in Dalston, where we set up camp (for many hours).
On a bleak rainy Saturday a couple of weeks ago, myself and two friends took shelter in Newcomer Wines’ shop and bar, in Dalston, where we set up camp (for many hours).
I’ve had a keen interest in Austrian wine for a while now: particularly impressed and thoroughly encouraged by the wines of Judith Beck, Andreas Tscheppe, Peter Veyder Malberg and Alwin Jurtschitsch (the latter two of whom I met recently at Sager and Wilde, which I’ll also be writing up soon). The country has a wealth of highly interesting and unique indigenous grape varietals of excellent quality. This, combined with minimal intervention in the vineyards and gentle winemaking, means the wines act as very clear vehicles of their unique terroirs.
Founded in 2014, Newcomer Wines began as a student start-up by Peter Honegger and Daniela Pillhofer. They source Austrian wine from the new generation of growers, and are importing into the UK. They work with many great wine establishments in London, helping them to source Austrian wine for their lists, such as The Clove Club, Fera at Claridges, Sager + Wilde, the Hawksmoor Group and many others.
2016 saw them open their bar, and visiting the venue has been at the top of my list for a while. I was very impressed by their impeccable range, as well as Toni Tossman’s thorough knowledge, and also the low mark-ups, still quite rare in London. We drank some wonderful, eye-opening wines.
The bar itself is lovely. Great light for tasting and lovely decor with bare bulbs and wine on all the walls, with Noble Rot magazines hanging invitingly.
I’d recommend the wine bar to anyone wanting a glass of wine, or a bottle to takeaway.
WHAT WE DRANK
All four of these wines are excellent examples of what Austrian terroir and Austrian varietals are capable of.
SIGHARDT DONABAUM‘S GRÛNER-VELTLINER
Indigenous yeasts, minimal intervention Gruner with long yeast contact.
Lovely floral nose of honeysuckle and blossom. Zingy palate of lime, lemon peel and fresh pear, with some fresh peach notes also. Tons of aromas. Pure, lifted finish, and actually has quite a prominent body.
CLAUS PREISINGER’S KALKUNDKIESEL
Biodynamic. Fermented on skins. Six months in oak barrels on the lees. Unfined and unfiltered. Limestone and pebble sites.
Red apples, stone fruit and apricot nose, quite heady and gorgeous. Layered and complex on the palate, with distinct minerality and a certain savoury and a surprisingly creamy finish.
RENNERSISTAS – WAITING FOR TOM
Pinot Noir, St Laurent and Blaufränkisch.
Rennersistas are two sisters, Susanne and Stefanie, who are beginning their natural wine journey, having taken over their parents winery, which was founded in ’88. After spending few years working abroad for growers such as Tom Lubbe and Tom Shobbrook, they returned to the family winery, and 2015 was their first vintage. They farm 13ha in Burgenland, in the surroundings of Gols. All vineyards and wines organically certified, and winemaking techniques are gentle.
Bright cherries, raspberries, fresh blackberries and some spice. Really vibrant and so juicy, with a lovely slight earthiness with liquorice on the finish. Up there with my favourite reds of the year so far.
WEINGUT WERLITSCH – FREUDE
In 2007 Sepp Muster and Ewald Tscheppe from Weingut Werlitsch started experimenting with skin fermented wines in clay bottles. This is the first wine Ewald has bottled in clay since 2010. Freude (joy) is a Morillon (Chardonnay) Sauvignon blend kept on the skins for a year. The grapes began their spontaneous fermentation in amphorae and were then moved into large oak barrels for another year.
Amazing, textural and rich orange wine, with notes of honey blossom and acacia on the nose, with a dense, orange peel and nutty palate of fresh almonds, with a lovely lean, slightly sappy finish. Banging wine.
Thank you to Toni who was a brilliant host to us. Will be back soon!
I popped down to L’Entrepôt in Hackney Downs yesterday to have a glass of wine after work. It was sunny and warm, and they’ve set up a great outside area where we managed to get a seat, something that’s quite the rarity as we all know.
Plus, as an added bonus there’s an art exhibition on downstairs with Dan Jamieson‘s art (see below).
Originally an outpost of Borough Wines, L’Entrepôt has now gone independent, still listing a lot of their wines, but also buying independently now.
The bar boasts a good selection by the glass, no mean feat when most pubs only list probably around 8. What’s more – they’re really reasonably priced, and span a vast array of winemaking regions.
I tried the Rocca Maura, a Chardonnay from the Languedoc, from the Vignerons de Roquemaure.
Rocca Maura is the Provençal name of the black rock on which was built the castle’s square keep, and gave Roquemaure its name.
The wine is fresh, with a nice rich mid-palate, floral fruity, with a strong sense of citrus accompanied by richer pear and stone fruit notes on the palate.
Next, I opted for a wine not on the list yet: the Racine Pinot Noir from the Pays d’Oc, made by Bruno Lafon and Francois Chamboissier, of Nos Vins de Sud.
From the Limoux in the South of France, this wine comes from the best plots of Pinot grown on 20 hectares. Short extraction, so it’s a delicate, light fresh and fruity wine, perfect for summer drinking.
Notes of cherry, roses, red berries with silky tannins. This could even benefit from being slightly chilled.
I think art of this style is great, and Dan’s lighthearted portraits of celebrities bring them down a notch back into humanity.
I took some snaps of my favourites below. Would I Pick Ryan Gosling’s nose? Not so sure, but I know many that would.
Thx for a great exhibition, Dan.
I recently visited the Raw Duck in London Fields for brunch. It’s a trendy, charming and buzzing spot where care has gone into every aspect of its decoration. Industrial chic with plants all around and raw produce on the counter to underline its healthy, clean approach to eating.
They produce all of their own ferments, pickles, jams and juices in house. The harissa paste I had was so good I wish it was possible to buy it (they ought to sell them). As usual, I couldn’t decide what to pick from the menu so I veered away from my usual choice and went for harissa eggs on charred flatbread, greek yoghurt & coriander. I’m into fresh yoghurt and spice at the moment, and I love fresh coriander.
It was amazing. Eggs poached to perfection and the (again – back to the harissa paste) the best I have had. Thoroughly recommended to anyone passing by Hackney.
Onto the wine. I actually read about Raw Duck in one of Jancis Robinson’s articles – London for Wine Lovers. Which, by the way, if you haven’t read is a must read. Not just for the wine aspect but for excellent, reliable and trendy spots for food and atmosphere.
She mentions Raw Duck. I’m challenging myself at the moment to learn as much about organic, biodynamic and natural wines. Here’s a really good short summary about the three from Will Lyons in the Sunday Times this week – what actually is organic, biodynamic and natural wine?
Organic. The UK tends to be quick in picking up trends, fashions and styles, but we’ve been a bit slow on the uptake with this one.
The UK market lags behind the rest of Europe when it comes to purchase of organic wine. However, in the independent sector, growth is appearing with some independents reporting growth by 12% year on year. In my experience, trends appear first in independents: whether that be wine, beer, fashion or even as far as the independent music sector. After these independents thrive, the “multis” follow.
Organic produce. We should be eating it (we are – organic food sales have risen 2.3%) and we should be drinking it where possible. I appreciate in many wine regions it’s hard to produce organic, due to climate difficulties. However, in many warmer and drier regions, we can.
The Raw Duck has an exceptional wine list of organic, biodynamic and natural wines.
That’s the case with this wine. It comes from Sicily, made from a local Sicilian grape which I had never heard of called Catarratto. In a nutshell, orange wine is sort of white wine but made in the style of red.
This wine is made with minimal chemical intervention in the vineyard, but without organic certification. It practices the “la lutte raisonnée” method, meaning ‘the reasoned struggle’. Growers who practice this kind of viticulture claim to use chemicals less often and less aggressively than conventional growers.
In this case, the wine is allowed to macerate (sit on its skins) for three whole days. Maceration with white grapes is either actively avoided or allowed for a few hours, to max 24 hours (much more extreme), generally speaking.
In this case, the maceration gives the wine its bronze colour, and the tannic structure similar to a red. If you shut your eyes, it’s likely you would be fairly confused.
This round, big wine is the perfect match for harissa.
It has rich nutmeg and spice notes combined with deep notes of cooked apples and plums that perfectly balances the heat of the harissa. Moreish and delicious, the best pairing I have made in a long time.
I picked the perfect evening to head to Sager + Wilde for the first time - Wells Guthrie, winemaker of Copain Wines in Sonoma County, California, was present. The bar itself is small, cosy, dimly lit with bare wood and stripped walls.
Sager + Wilde works in a very unique way with a sole purpose to please the wine enthusiast. In a dog eat dog world, it is increasingly rare nowadays to find somewhere that specifically caters (and cares) for the consumer. Small mark-ups = very thankful. When it’s payday, I’m coming back to try some of the finer wines that I no doubt would not be able to taste for those prices elsewhere. It is clear this is a bar born from love and passion, evident in the owner's exuberance.
Their wine list changes daily, with a large selection of wines available by the glass. We chose the Syrah ‘Tous Ensemble’ 2012 and the Pinot Noir “Tous Ensemble” 2012, both from Mendocino County.
Syrah ‘Tous Ensemble’ 2012: Blackberries and black cherry aromas with pepper, with underlying hints of spice. In the mouth, the tannins are already developing well, with a slight meaty presence.
Pinot Noir ‘Tous Ensemble’ 2012: Wonderfully earthy nose with hints of moss , with cherry and some ripe raspberry in there too. In the mouth, round , supple and moreish.
Wells Guthrie came and spoke to us personally, first introducing himself, explaining his career thus far in winemaking. He originally started his love affair with wine with Syrah, and moved to the Northern Rhone working with Chapoutier. he has also spent time in Burgundy with Frédéric Mugnier (this revelation left me painfully jealous – there’s really no better way to learn about Pinot). This French background shines strongly through in his wines, and I must admit in a blind tasting, the Pinot Noir could have fooled me for a Burgundy (perhaps a Beaune? They had similar qualities).
Wells emphasised that he admires the European style, and shies strongly away from the often very bold Californian new oak style (good). He stressed that he does not use new oak, indeed French barrels of approximately ten years old instead. This really allows the varietals to shine through and leaves them without the overly present and often overpowering Californian oak style.
The Syrah is 15% whole bunch, a good percentage, adding the right amount of tannin. The Pinot Noir is 100% only grapes, no stems, which Wells said was important to him as he is a Pinot purist. I strongly agreed! Both wines demonstrate an impeccable balance, and I would be very excited to try them again in a few years’ time. The Syrah is produced in large 600l barrels, whereas the Pinot is in standard, which again demonstrated to me exactly why the wine is the way it is. The Syrah needs this larger barrel to develop as well as it has, and this shone through evidently in the wine in front of us. The small production and low yields of both are vital in recognising just how excellent the quality is.
He certainly impressed me, as did the wines, and I’ll be looking out for them.