Category Archives: restaurants

Wet, hot and…for your face?

I was lucky enough to be invited to Benares earlier this week, as a guest of Lenz Moser the Austrian winemaker via Bibendum Wines.

Amazing restaurant and the wines were quite spectacular too.

But what impressed us diners most was not the splendid delicacies of each course nor the 1970 Prinz von Hessen Winkeler Riesling, no what impressed the table to a near silence were the…face towels??

Check the video to see what I mean.

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Terroirs or not terroirs: that is the question

When Terroirs Wine Bar & Restaurant first opened, about a year ago, it created a huge buzz within the wine industry. This was mostly due to its association with Les Caves de Pyrene, the very popular and ever eclectic wine agent.

Les Caves sources and supplies a huge range of natural wines. If you think of biodynamic wines as extreme organic, natural wines are an extreme hyper-biodynamic — max…the natural kind.

There is no governing body for natural wines, but the idea is that they are…well…natural.  Nothing added to them at any point during the winemaking process and sourced most likely from biodynamic vineyards.  The lack of filtering and SO2 leaves the wine cloudy due the combination of left over yeast bits as well as oxidation.  The wines are very delicate too, in a chemical sense, if they are not already completely oxidised once the cork is pulled, you better drink it quick…because it soon will be.

The wines are very difficult to make and keep. They are by no means a recipe wine and when they are perfect can be some of the most sublime tasting wine you will ever try.  There is very little made, and of that very little is palatable.  I would like to cherish my first memory of tasting a natural up there with other great wine moments – sadly however it will only be remembered as the first time my gag reflex when into overdrive.

So  after all the hype about Terroirs, I thought I should pay the place a visit…and to cut a long story short, it sucked.  Snails were rubbery and the bone marrow slimy. …the wine wasn’t nice and the only saving grace was the lemon posset.  I didn’t like the place and for good reason.  This first experience was over a year ago and despite my lack of pleasure in the place, everyone else seemed to be having GREAT meals there. In chronological order there was Jancis Robinson…top wine writer giving the place thumbs up in November ‘08.  Next was the Independent,  4 out of 5, followed by Matthew Norman with a whopping 9.5 outta 10.

The Telegraph gave the place 5 out of 5

AA Gill…gave it 3 out of 5

Then in August, my most trusted food journo…Jay Rayner, the guy who I’ve agreed with most loves the place!

Honestly WTF!

I vowed to not go there again…but two Saturday’s ago was a very very cold 1.0 °C night…couldn’t bear the walk from Whitehall to Bar Italia, so I decided to give the place another go…

Perched in the newly-opened, retro fitted basement bar we quickly tucked in to Fine de Claire oysters at £1.50 each.  A fair price and amazingly fresh, as if the had only just been pinched from Neptune’s palm himself.  This was paired with a wonderful sparkling Tribbiano made by Camillo Donati in the region of Emilia Romagna…it was unfiltered and was cloudy…but despite the look the wine was amazing! It had light baked apple aromas and flavours, with some citrus fruits as well.

Fine de Claire Oysters, at Terroirs London

Camillo Donati - 2007 Trebbiano Bianco Secco

Next was the plate of charcuterie…with the triad of Saucisson “Noir de Bigorre”, Duck Rillettes and Pork & Pistachio Terrine, all as rustic as the wooden board they were served on. A generous helping but at £12, one would expect it.

The Tuscan chopped raw steak for £8 was coarsely cut up and melted in the mouth and came close to being my favourite dish (Note-As many of the dishes were in French I was surprised to see this dish listed as raw steak rather than tartar).

Charcuterie and Tuscan Chopped Raw Steak (why not say tartar?)

But the star of the meal was by far the Partridge and Choucroute, individually the bird was gamey and the sauerkraut…well tasted like sauerkraut (with juniper berries).  But together they made a beautiful flavour combination that deserves its own post – titled Partridge and Choucroute: You didn’t know?! It kicks ass!

Partridge and Choucroute (the chef kindly cut it in half for us)

As for desserts there was three of us and each of our desserts were splendid —>>>> Pain Perdu (French Toast) & Caramelised Banana, Bitter Chocolate Pot and Crème Caramel (this one was prob the best).

Bitter Chocolate Pot and Pain Perdu (don't worry it found its way...into our bellies)

Marco de Bartoli - Vecchio Samperi Ventennale

Besides the sparkler I also enjoyed  a wine that can only be described as a digestif.  Marco de Bartoli’s wine (incidently he is considered one of the best producers in Sicily) – Vecchio Samperi Ventennale is auburn in colour and has a splendid aroma of herbs and nuts, dried fruits and graceful palate with enough acidity to not make it cloying. It is made with the Grillo grape and probably considered a Masala wine in most circles, but de Bartoli ranks it as a table wine.

I can happily say this time around Terroirs stood up to the accolade and I shall frequent it again.


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not a winter warmer…but as fresh as they come

Here’s a quick video on the Innocent Bystander’s – slightly bubbly Pink Moscato 2009

It was full of aromas and had lots and lots of berry fruit just jumping out of the glass.
And by no means sickly, with bubbles and balanced acidity it just cleansed the palate.

Available at various online retailers – check wine-searcher and Harvey-Nics for about £5.99 – that’s a half-bottle, by the way.

innocent bystander pink moscato 2009

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Find your perfect match without online dating

Perfecting the fine art of food and wine matching takes nothing more than practice. And what better way to hone your expertise than diving in to the sinful world of gluttony.
There are times it just goes all wrong but those are out weighed massively for the times it goes all right!
Just before Christmas I was invited by Scott Burton (@scottburton) of Cube Communications to what seemed to be a very interesting food and wine tasting: ‘we’ll see if top end Aussie wine can stand up to Michelin starred French cuisine’.

Hmmmm…Besides steak I didn’t know Oz had anything ‘top end’,  and the restaurant was Roussillon so I at least knew one variable in the equation would work out!

Each dish matched individually to a McGuigan wine – and must say overall Roussillon’s food is superb.

Here are descriptions of my three favourite food and wine matchings (out of  the 5)

Perfect Partner

Milk Fed Lamb & Thyme – Shortlist Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Lamb and Bordeaux is a classic food and wine match and the Aussie substitute didn’t by any means back down from this challenge.
There was loads of blackcurrant with this Cabernet but also a mistletoe/mint leaf flavour that slotted in like a puzzle piece with the thyme rubbed lamb.

McGuigan Shortlist Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (thanks to Mathilde Cuisine for photo)

Match Made

Lobster & Purple Basil – Light Lobster Bisque infused with Purple Basil, Scallops & Confit Tomatoes Tortellini Mcguigan’s Earth’s Portrait Riesling 2004

Lobster & Purple Basil

Matching a wine here would be especially difficult as it would need to fit snugly between the buttery exploding richness of the lobster bisque and the delicate scallop flavour and texture.
Riesling is perfect for the job!  And Earth’s Portrait is an amazing example of what Australia can do with grape.  The distinct Riesling nose of kerosin/diesel backed by raw peach and stone fruits filled the acidity gaps in the dish. The wine is very fresh too and almost cleans the palate with every sip, that is despite it being 6 years old.
Riesling is a go to wine for many of London’s sommeliers, the Aus stuff  is especially good for matching with a variety of winged and finned foods.

McGuigan Earth’s Portrait Riesling 2004


Wild Sea Bass & Razor Clams with Sechuan Pepper matched perfectly with the Bin 9000 Semillon 2003

Wild Sea Bass & Razor Clams (thanks to Mathilde Cuisine for photo)

Australian Semillon is some of the best in the world and, as you can see, this wine came littered with awards. This little guy threw out pear skin and apple pulp from the glass and was especially crisp.

Bin 9000 went perfect with the fish/clam duo – the sea aromas from the plate stacked up well with the chalky/mineral/saline sparkling water flavours in the wine. But even better, the wine did not shy away from the light touch of spiciness in the dish.
When things get spicy in food it’s usually time to call up some off-dry and even semi-sweet wine, but no, this dry bastard was having none of it!
Above all the combined freshness of the wine and food really stood out.

Bin 9000 Semillon 2003 with Mcguigan's white wine maker Peter Hall

Sadly, you won’t find any of these premium wines in the UK, however, I’ve heard reliable rumours that will be doing a VERY limited premium mix case soonish and it might have some of this stuff in it…..stay tuned I will let you know when it’s out.

Any chef who openly winds up their sommelier on Twitter deserves a mention on this blog! In fact any chef who twitters from the kitchen deserves recognition. Follow Alexis here @roussillon_sw1

Alexis Gauthier is the man behind Roussillon

Finally,  had to add a picture of this guy.  Neil McGuigan is chief winemaker and heir to McGuigan wines.  He is hilarious, and really knows how to have a good time. Despite being completely jet-lagged and on a very regimented wine tour, he was by far the most energetic in the room.
It’s when you meet personalities like Neil that you realise all is not pompous in the wine trade.

Neil McGuigan - keeping the wine trade in check

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Bloody Marys aren’t just for breakfast

Went to The Clarence last night (it’s on Balham High Road, in Balham) and was greeted by this massive tomato on their bar.  “What is it for!?” I asked, immediately taken in by the little guy.

have to get one!

The tomato was supplied by 42 Below – that Kiwi vodka, they’ve been in the UK for awhile now – and it opened up to reveal a complete set of goodies. Now I am a total sucker for marketing and immediately and without a second thought craved and wanted a Bloody Mary.

Robot's in disguise

And the Bloody Mary was divine! So taken by the whole experience I was, I decided to get another….which incidentally went great with my fish & chips…

Apparently there are only four of these tomatoes in the country…and I really, really want one for Xmas. Yo, 42 Below get in touch and send me one please, I’ll pay for it!

Battle of Waterloo

There you are just south of the river, near Waterloo in fact, with so many cool little dineries to try…there’s Baltic, the Thai behind the Kings Arms on Roupell St, Cubana even has food, in fact there’s loads of places….well trust me to get the worst of them all.

Waterloo Brasserie – is not good.

Don’t really want to make this a long rant but between my being ignored and our order not being taken for a good 15 minutes…there were also plates riddled with more finger prints than CSI-Miami, ice cold fries, a mound of welted salad hiding some nuked goat cheese (it was stuck to the plate in that tell-tale microwave way) and a gloopy, chicken Caesar salad, drowned by salad cream (Rest In Peace you poor, poor salad leaves)….suffice to say, I ain’t going back.
Oh, but the Prosecco was good.

Waterloo Brasserie is across the street from the Old Vic

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Local is the way to go.

I am a closet glutton, please help.

I’ve been walking by Numidie for awhile now and only recently stepped in when I saw rouille (and fish soup) on the window menu.  Well actually it was fish soup with rouille but I didnt really notice the soup bit because  I have a sort of crack-like addiction to rouille.  It could have said rouille and 3 day old pizza or rouille and toast., I wouldn’t have cared.

This is the place!

Numidie is on Westow Hill in Crystal Palace and serves French/N.African cuisine.  The place looks nice it has three little art-deco chandeliers, little wooden tables and chairs, and a cool retro-French decor. And best yet there’s a little basement bar too!  Well the basement bar is only part of the best bit…the actual best bit is that three courses is only £14 and nothing on the wine list was more than £40?!

So, they have rouille, the menu and wine list are both excellent value and there’s a cool bar in the basement…PLEASE GOD make the food good!  Well to make a long story short — the food wasn’t good.

le menu

The food was SUPERB! In fact I have since found out that this little bistro is quite famous and has a very dedicated and loyal following.

The fish soup and rouille was very nice, I asked for extra rouille to put on the home-made foccacia-like bread.  For mains I had a roast chicken (always a test for restaurants) with Algerian dumplings and a chickpea sauce. It too was very good.
M, my dining partner enjoyed salade Numidie (say it with a French accent) as a starter – salad leaves mixed with an array of brightly coloured roasted red peppers, houmous and probably the best falafel I’ve ever tried.  For her main M had Couscous Royale with merguez, roast chicken and lamb (I secretly wanted her main) – the portion was huge and like everything else we had, excellent.

I opted out of dessert which was a tarte au chocolate but once taking a nibble of M’s decided it was too good to share, and promptly ordered another (this is the glutton bit, btw)

louis with the rouille

All in all a great experience and the bill came to under £50.  I have vowed not to frequent any more famous chef restaurants, offering little more than a bloated cheque after the meal.  To find such a welcoming, great value and excellent little place only 5 minutes from where I live, was a great surprise and pleasure. I will be most definitely going back.

Oh and nearly forgot, they gave us each a glass of pear digestif after our meals – loved it!

Numidie Bistro – 48 Westow Hill – Crystal Palace – SE19 1PX – tel: 020 8766 6166

Wine I recently tried

If you read imbibe magazine you will see I have a story about Zinfandel in the current issue.  Zin is one of my favourite grapes, that is, if it is made correctly.  Too many times it can be over-ripe, too tannic, sweet – in fact, it can be everything I hate about wine.  But when it is good, I can’t get enough of the stuff.
Sadly, like most things wine and American all the good things come with a price.  Plus with the added bonus in the UK very few California wines – and I’m talking around ten – are good and readily available.

That’s where Ravenswood steps in, Joel Peterson – founder and winemaker – is very well-known for his motto of “no wimpy wines” and this stands true to all that he makes.  Admittedly I am not a fan of all the wines in Ravenswood’s range, but one of my favourite is the Vintners Blend 2006 … for an entry-level, zin-introduction (I refuse to use zin puns) this wine is perfect. So,  I was happy to try it out (again) for the people at Constellation.

very good zin

On the nose there’s loads of dark berry fruit, ripe black-cherries, while on the palate it’s a mouthful of dark black berries, bramble, licorice and a nice cranberry tartness on the finish.  It’s costs £7.99 (Waitrose, Tesco & Spar) and for an entry-level Zin (in fact for a wine in general) it is good value.

By the way I had it with some homemade steak nachos, fresh salsa and guacamole, it was perfect.

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