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Dezat Sancerre

By mthomas

I revisited the Squid Ink restaurant in Looe last weekend (previous review here) and, although it has changed hands, it is still pretty good. It also has a decent wine list. We were eating various fishy bits and meat so went for a rose’ from Andre Dezat et Fils who have some great holdings around Sancerre. The restaurant had it listed as 2011/12 and I would usually go for the more recent vintage but the 11 turned up and was fine . It is a proper food wine and stood up/complemented pretty much everything from mussels to steak. We asked for the second bottle to be a 12 (to do a bit of a geeky compare and contrast) but it wasn’t available.

Taking the dog to Victoria Park a couple of days later I popped into the Bottle Apostle and lo and behold the 2012 was sitting there. They also stock the white and red so I got a bottle of the former (but not the latter as I am on a pinot noir moratorium because I have plenty in the cellar drinking really well and am also a bit skint). It was predictably fresher than the 11, showed a bit more acidity and fruit forward flavours. However, the 11 seemed a bit more complex so maybe this is a rose’ that can evolve in the bottle. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend cellaring loads though.

The white was equally impressive and a reminder why sauvignon blanc does not always have to be NZ grapefruit juice.  Their Menetou Salon and Pouilly Fume’ are also good (according to a couple of my tasting notes from 07 and 09) but the red perhaps a bit less consistent. Wines from Dezat aren’t cheap and are stocked by quite a few top end retailers including Berry Bros, Fortnum and Mason and Harvey Nichols. However there seems to be quality across their range and it is worth paying the £15 or so for these wines.



Westfield w(h)ine

By mthomas

The central debate in East London at the moment is around the contribution of the newly completed Westfield. On one side we have those who view it as a temple of Mammon  and consumerist nightmare which has destroyed ‘indigenous’ businesses and eroded communities.  On the other side are those who see it as a positive force for regeneration and employment in an area defined by deprivation. I guess there are also those who have concluded it is just a bloody great shopping centre.

The oft repeated statistics are impressive. The biggest of its kind in Europe, 10,000 jobs created etc. Lots of thought has gone in to making the investment pay off. Architects know how to stimulate spending and from the moment you enter the environment is cuing you into the retail opportunities. Having now visited a few times I thought it might be useful to focus on wine at Westfield.

The obvious place to start is with an overview of those places that sell wine in the complex. Of the 6 listed bars two are for juice of the unfermented kind (Boost and Zumo). The other 4 are TGI Fridays (yawn) , Tap East (a ‘pub’ run by the Utobeer team who also run The Rake in Southwark near Borough Market), The Cow (another ‘pub’ from Geronimo Inns) and, the most upmarket venue, Searcy’s Champagne Bar.

There are also over seventy restaurants in the complex, the majority of which sell wine. Many are familiar outlets such as Giraffe and Eat but others such as  Busaba Eathai and Wahaca might be a bit more exciting for East end foodies. There are decent wines to be found in many of the restaurants, from the Spy Valley Pinot Gris at Balans to Ridgeview Estate ‘Cavendish’ Vintage 08 Sussex at Bumpkin. Of course there are rivers of cocktails and oceans of beer too.

The main turnover of wine is likely to be at the huge Waitrose and Marks and Spencer which ‘anchor’ Westfield. Both have really strong wine credentials and it will be good to browse their stock over coming months. I can already vouch for the Herbert Beaufort, Carte Or, Brut Tradition, Bouzy Grand Cru NV £30 which won a regional trophy in the Non vintage Champagne over £10 category. A really elegant Pinot Noir dominated Champagne, maybe too lean for some but right up my street and I have put down a few for the Festive period. Another from M and S is the consistently good Secano Sauvignon Gris 2010 from the Leyda Valley £8.49 pictured left made by Vivianna Navarrette. This knocks spots off many whites costing double (as does the Champagne above). Very pale with a lovely floral nose. Lots of obvious grassy notes and refreshing acidity. Limes and elderflower but also a depth and minerality that mark it out. A fringe grape in the right terroir and the hands of someone skilled using lees not oak resulting in a really good affordable white. Both are discounted slightly in cases of 6.

Westfield’s Stratford City website is here



Olympic Basketball and ‘Wondering Wine’

By mthomas

A midweek outing to see Great Britain play Serbia in the Olympic Basketball Arena (pictured left) was destined to be dry as the tickets specified ‘airport style security’ and ‘no alcohol’. However, on arrival we were happy to note a shiny airstream trailer selling a decent selection of bottles. It is part of a fleet of vintage vehicles, also including classic Citroen vans,  used by the Wondering Wine Company (I wondered if it was a misspelling…) an offshoot of Bibendum Wines committed to entering the lucrative  ’festival market’.

The list includes three sparkling, five whites, a rose and five reds.  A solid mix of the familiar and dependable with a few pleasant surprises including some at a fiver a glass. The De Castellane Brut NV was ok but not cheap at £45  for a bottle or £7.50 a glass, although the blurb was a bit OTT with ‘compote, brioche and gingerbread’. Spy Valley Pinot Noir is consistently good, as is their Sauvignon Blanc and both were under 30 quid a bottle or £7 per 175 cl glass. Having wines like this available is welcome and I had a brief chat with Simon Swift MD the driving force behind Wondering Wine. He was particularly effusive about the Margaux on the list, La Bastide de Dauzac (£34 or £8.50 for a glass) which was ‘spicy’ as advertised but confusingly described as ‘clean’. It was technically sound and very drinkable. Having wines like this available, rather than some of the horrors on offer at other sporting events, has got to be a good thing.

I was most interested in the way in which the wines were served though. A lot of effort, and cost,  had gone into the cardboard box, with optional ice, and the ‘specimen bottle’ style plastic decanter (£5 deposit and pictured left). A nice touch is the label with the details of the wine on which is attached to the carafe with a rubber band. The tumblers were also plastic but a cut above the standard flimsy things favoured at glass free events. Perfect for picnics. If you are paying 30 quid for a bottle of wine you don’t want to drink it from something that completely undermines the taste and these were the best non glass ‘glasses’ I have experienced.

We got lucky in the Olympic ticket lottery with boxing, shooting, basketball, handball and diving tickets (friends attribute it to a postcode conspiracy) so it was exciting to get a taste of what’s to come.  I can really understand people being frustrated with the lottery but for me the tragedy of the games is that local kids have not been allocated tickets.  My kids will get to be part of it but many of their friends will not. Boris should reconsider this and keep in mind the alienation felt by many young people in East London.

Btw Great Britain lost in a nail-biting finish: with two seconds to go and two points behind Serbia they completely fluffed a potential 3 pointer which would have won it. Oldest son Luke, who is ‘shooting guard’ for Newham All Star Academy, could have got it closer! It was an exciting game though and the series of ‘test events’ should help preparations for the real thing next summer. Hopefully some decent wines will be available but the burger company monopoly might undermine a wide range of food being available…



The Corner Room

By mthomas

I had a wonderful lunch at the Corner Room in Bethnal Green before I went sailing but did not have time to write it up. It really merits a review as I can still recall the meal despite eating out every night last week. Timeout had given it five stars and a rave review and I had high hopes having previously eaten Nuno Mendez’s impressive food at the Loft. The Loft  was his testing ground for Viajante, the flagship restaurant, in the ambitious Town Hall Hotel and Apartments (pictured above). The Corner Room though is a much humbler space accessed through the impressive lobby with its sweeping staircase and quirky modern art.

I think Sommelier Witeke Teppema is one of the brightest stars among young sommeliers in London. She isn’t in awe of Bordeaux and articulates a clear vision in terms of her role in helping people enjoy wine. She also manages to find matches for Nuno’s, often challenging and sometimes exceptional, cooking and has put together a list that is full of good value and interesting wines.

I started with poached artichoke, San Jorge cheese and spinach which showed great confidence in its simplicity. The mustard sauce and little pink radish slices contrasting prettily with the green leaves. It ate brilliantly, no fireworks just great flavours. A glass of Mas des Agrunelles “Fleur Blanche” 2009 (pictured right) recommended by Witeke was a good match. Not a wine I would normally be drawn to but it manages to combine the best aspects of Chardonnay (70%) with the floral fun of Roussanne (30%). It was fresh and citrus with a lovely richness. Almost waxy it is a good food wine and has depth way beyond its relatively humble cost (a fiver a glass). This is further evidence of the great things happening in Languedoc Roussillon and the value of trying a wine I would normally ignore because of my biases.

My main course of pork and ‘Portuguese bread pudding’ was one of the most enjoyable plates of food I have had this year. Top quality Iberian pork with carrots and wonderful buttery fried bread. This dish was clear evidence of confidence in three components’ that, when cooked well, work together brilliantly. Slightly decadent, hearty and satisfying I felt compelled to thank the kitchen and encourage them to keep serving the pork quite rare (as I guess many diners might look at it and be a bit worried by the pinkness of the meat). The Domaine Grosbois “La Cuisine de Mere” 2010 Chinon Rose had a touch of tannin and worked fine to cut the unctuous crispy bread but the Giacomo Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2009 is probably a better bet. The list is small (five whites, the rose’ and four reds) but they are solid and as well thought out as the cooking.

I can still recall the flavours of the dessert of blueberries with goats cheese caramel, brioche and shiso. Pretty as a picture and fresh as a daisy, the shiso granita was a palate tingling joy. Not one for sugar and chocolate freaks but they are well served by the dark chocolate with peanut butter ice cream. The atmosphere was relaxed (the room pictured left is informal and bright), the service was great and I can’t recommend it enough. Luckily this qualifies as local for me and I hope it thrives as I intend to revisit asap and as often as I can, as cooking of this confidence and quality is rarely available at this price.

My great friend Paul was the nominated photographer for the sailing trip and once he gets me some images I will post them. We had an amazing time including a lovely encounter with a pod of seven playful dolphins in the Bay of Palma and some decidedly demanding waves off Dragonera island. Time for emails now and prep for the coming hectic week. I also want a quick spin round the park with Sarah and the kids before we settle down to lunch and the Wimbledon men’s final.



Pub Psychology at The Antelope

By mthomas

My friend and fellow psychologist Nash Popovic is slumming it body surfing in Hawaii and asked me to speak to his ‘Pub Psychology’ group at the Antelope (pictured left) in Eaton Terrace last night. I do not get over to Chelsea very much nowadays but spent a lot of time there in the 90s so it was pleasantly nostalgic to amble down the King’s Road.

I popped into the Saatchi Gallery but was underwhelmed by the works in the current exhibition; ‘The Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture.  I was lucky enough to attend the Sensations show opening and cannot see how things have really moved on from then. Dead horses and Chapman style mannequins, it all felt a bit old hat so I quickly headed for the Antelope. I hadn’t been there previously and it seemed a nice little local pub.

Nash convenes the group with Michael Toppin who produces TV programmes but is also passionate about all things Psychological. Previous topics have included ‘dreams’, relationships and wellbeing and the group meets weekly. It attracts a diverse and engaging group up for some friendly banter. It was a pleasure to discuss wine with them and was interesting to note the healthy spread of ages, experience and interests.

If you are interested in attending future sessions contact the Personal WellBeing Centre on 0845458256





By mthomas

I am teaching on the Masters in Positive Psychology programme at UEL later today and am reflecting on what contributes to ‘enjoyment’ of  wine. I have had some amazing experiences recently (see below) and have previously argued that wine enjoyment W(e) can be understood as a function of 3 main variables; features of the wine itself (W),  the personality and physical attributes of the drinker (P), and the environment or context in which the wine is drunk (E). Thus W(e) = f (W, P, E). Positive psychologists work to build on strengths and have useful ways of thinking about the nature of enjoyment and it is interesting to reflect on what I enjoyed tasting this week and maybe unpick why it was so enjoyable.

On Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited to a vertical tasting of Frank Cornelissen’s wines by David Harvey of Raeburn Fine Wines. Frank is an intense yet very amiable winemaker who settled on Etna as his ideal terroir. He makes wild, exciting wines with names like Magma. He doesn’t align himself to movements, be it biodynamics or natural wine, but has a clear ethical and conceptual framework which informs his craft. He ploughs his own furrow and in doing so produces wines that are individual and expressive. When matched with a menu specifically designed by Claude Bosi at Hibiscus (2 Michelin stars and rated in the top 50 eateries in the world) to match these wines, it is fair to say some of the contextual ‘enjoyment variables’ should be in place.

Frank talked us through his wines, giving us intimate insights into intellectual and emotional aspects of his work, as well as details of how each wine was made. I loved the 2006 Magma Rosso N0.5R Frank has a complex system for designating his wines and when unsatisfied he declassifies them. 2006 was a hard vintage due to the hot weather and his first in a ‘lined’ amphora. In appearance, much lighter than the 04s we also tried (4VA and 5R), it was a racy, perfumed thrilling wine. It was interesting to talk with other tasters as preferences varied greatly, as would scores I guess. There was consensus though  in terms of excitement and respect for Frank’s approach. Thus, in terms of variables, we had wine made with care, love even, great food designed to work with it that was cooked by a highly skilled chef, knowledgeable and engaged people to taste and talk with and the winemaker himself to enrich proceedings. This translated to great enjoyment and a memorable learning experience. I can only apologise to Neil Beckett Editor of The World of Fine Wine for eating his bread…

Another enjoyable event was a ‘Benchmark Tasting’ convened by Joe Muller at Corney and Barrow’s HQ near St Katherine’s dock. Joe put together a list that illustrated the strength and depth of C and Bs range. A 2007 Leflaive Macon-Verzé more Chablis than Puligny showed that you do not have to drink at premier cru level. Interestingly the stand out wine for me was another racy Sicilian red from 2006; the Tenuta di Passopisciaro, (pictured) made on the Franchetti Estate from Nerello Mascalese. It was a joy, light but mineral and thrilling. I am enjoying discovering my affinity for volcanic reds (and whites). Etna is on my must visit list now.

Joe, who manages private wine sales at C and B, encouraged us to relax with his understated engagement with the wines. We tasted a few bottles blind and participants had fun assuming various bodyshapes (hands in the air, fingers on nose etc.) depending on an ‘either or’ choice of variables (old or new world etc.) proposed by Joe.  One managed to rattle a chandelier by throwing up his hands excitedly and another embraced the ‘buttock grasp’ with a bit too much enthusiasm…

Again, my enjoyment at this tasting depended on the combination of good wine and good company combined with someone passionate and engaged with the wines. Joe is a rising star and would be a great choice for anyone wanting someone unpretentious to guide them through a list. Corney and Barrow are maintaining an excellent selection of wines across the price range and this helped matters. They also still provide that personal service which the supermarkets can never match. Long may such variables which are integral to enjoyment, for me anyway, be maintained.



Birthday and boats

By mthomas

My mum’s birthday on Sunday saw a gathering of the ‘clan’ in Leigh on Sea. The venue was chosen so that we could all admire the boats built by my stepfather Brian, a marine engineer. There were 4 or 5 docked (two pictured left) and a few more came and went during the afternoon. Most are cocklers but he also builds tugs and the odd commission including a really impressive replica of the boat Joshua Slocum used in his ground breaking round the world trip.

We had lunch at Simply Seafood, the name says it all.  Between us we covered most of the menu. My sole was fine and it was good to eat some of the local cockles given the boats we were there to admire. Highlight of the wines was a Macon Lugny ‘Les Genieveres’ 2008 from Louis Latour. Nice green tinge to it and a balance between honey and lemon. Refreshing with a surprisingly good finish. Versatile in terms of matching different fish dishes and pretty good value at £21.45. I am a fan of Macon and in a decent year like 2008 there are bargains to be had. I might order some of this as it is drinking well.

Interestingly I am working my way through a 2002 white Burg from a good supplier. Five bottles in and three have been badly oxidised. Symptomatic and sad because this ‘hit and miss’ aspect of Burgundy really puts people off experimenting and they, understandably, head for the mass produced reliability of supermarket mega brands. I am happy to let the odd bottle go but when half the case is problematic it becomes impossibly expensive to do this. The merchant has agreed to refund in full for the ‘bad’ ones because they understand that not honouring this would destroy trust and therefore valued long term custom.



Cornish Fizz

By mthomas

Just back from a lovely short break in Cornwall to see family. It was good to get away for some fresh air with Sarah and the kids as I have been working really hard. We spent most of the time walking, rock pooling and beach combing at Hannafore opposite Looe Island. My two sons (youngest pictured) are London boys but love beaches and are at the age(s) when they still marvel at anemones and find hunting for crabs really exciting. I quickly regressed back to my childhood as we explored perfect pools packed with sea life (and even found a beautiful bay sole amongst). It was good to see that the ecology of the UK coast is still thriving. The landscape is striking and different from anywhere else in the world I have visited.

I love the Cornish produce too. The cream is superlative and I really enjoyed the local bitter; Doom Bar (named after an infamous sandbank). I sometimes have this in London but it tasted better in its spiritual home. It is a slightly spicy pint, sweet and bitter in perfect proportion and really refreshing after a few hours walking. It also goes well with a pasty.

By far the best meal of the trip was at the Squid Ink Restaurant (website here) run by Sarah Hall who spends half the year cooking and the other half lecturing at the Glasgow School of Art. She focuses on good local produce, especially fish, and her treacle tart(pictured) was about 3 inches deep and  ’to die for’. She is clearly a talented cook because it was head and shoulders above any other version I have ever tasted (and there have been a few).

We came back loaded with Cornish produce including hogget from a local farm and a couple of Cornish sparkling wines. Camel Valley Brut 2009, (pictured) more Prosecco than Champagne but none the worse for it. Ocado stock it and the website reminds us that Sparkling wines were made in England as long ago as 1660. On 17th December 1662, Englishman Christopher Merret presented a paper to the Royal Society on how to ‘render wines sparkling’ – more than 30 years before the French made their first sparkling Champagne! Camel Valley Sparkling Wine is bottle fermented ‘traditional Merret method’ of 1662. It is light, pure and refreshing, great for summer. The other bottle was Bosue Vineyard ‘Quality Sparkling Wine’ from St Austell. I can’t review it because unfortunately the cork had lost its flare or skirt and I guess this was the result of bad storage (in a shop in Looe). This seems all to common an issue with fizz stored on shelves in shops and maybe I will stop buying sparkling wines when this is a possibility. It didn’t spoil a lovely trip and Cornwall like Sussex and Kent is showing that sparkling wine has a great future in the UK.



Catch all catch up

By mthomas

The run up to Xmas is well and truly underway. I could have blogged every day over the last couple of weeks (maybe a sign I am working, eating and drinking too much). Highlights have included the opening of Chisou in Knightsbridge (pictured left). We had sake and sushi of the highest quality thanks to owner proprietor Honami Matsumoto.  I also met Paul Masters and Shirley Booth of the British Sake Association, nice people with a great mission; to advance all things sake. I have joined, and if you want to the website is here.

A reunion dinner at Hawksmoor was notable for us taking advantage of the £5 corkage charge on Mondays.  The sense of this approach was evidenced by the packed restaurant on a cold night. I bought along a 2006 Vieux Telegraphe as I wanted to compare it to the 2005 which I don’t think is very approachable at the moment. The 06 is also intense (incense!) but much more enjoyable in its youth and worked well with the ‘bone in sirloin’ I ordered (it came text book medium rare as requested). I was glad I decided to take it rather than my last 98 VT.  Hawksmoor have the 95 on their list for £130 and one of the wine waiters told us that they are adding the 06.  So if you want to enjoy good wine and avoid enough mark up to pay for a three course meal you know how to do it.

I was too busy catching up with people to take notes on the bottles (or photos as I dropped my phone in a puddle and it is off being mended) but contributions included a good fizz,  wonderful Condrieu and young but steak friendly Pomerol. There was something to drink with whatever anyone ordered from the menu. A Pedro Ximenez with sticky toffee pudding finished me off and made me vow to fit in an extra work out during the week. Huw Gott from Hawksmoor has confirmed that the new branch in Covent Garden will also be offering the same corkage deal on Mondays. It has been getting rave reviews so book up now.

I somehow managed to win the University tennis club competition at the weekend (maybe making up for the midweek indulgence). Despite the frozen conditions at West Ham Park a few hardy souls turned out and much fun was had.   I am far right in the ‘winners photo’ and am standing next to Nuradeen,  UEL’s Tennis Development Officer, who used to coach the Nigerian tennis team. I am very proud of my prize; a full UEL sports strip. Thanks to Michael who organised it.



Mas de Daumas at Chateau Boundary

By mthomas

In May 2010, Prescott & Conran launched Château Boundary, “a free wine club, for beginners, enthusiasts, connoisseurs and those who simply enjoy vinous treats“. Being an interested local I joined and asked for a ‘look around’. The generous response was an invitation to a tasting of the wines of Mas de Daumas matched with a menu of classics from the Languedoc at the Boundary Restaurant (website here). The Boundary complex itself was opened on New Years Eve 2008 and now includes a food store, bars, eateries, roof garden and rooms. It is situated in an attractive large Victorian warehouse and has been a major addition to this thriving bit of East London.

Mas de Daumas resonated with me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Mondavi versus Aime’ Guibert stand-off portrayed in the film Mondovino (a perfect David v Goliath and Old World v New World clash of ideologies). Secondly because I used to visit this area of France 2 or 3 times a year and some of my favourite wines are produced there. It is an area full of passionate, and sometimes radicalised, winemakers. I love it.

high-valley1One of Charlemagne’s advisers founded the first vineyard in the Gassac valley over a thousand years ago. In more recent times the wider area became associated with poor viticultural practices and inauspicious wines. However, in 1970 whilst searching for a family home, Véronique and Aimé Guibert found an old farmhouse, owned by the Daumas family, in the heart of the beautiful Gassac valley. Not winemakers themselves they were fortunately friends with Professor Henri Enjalbert, a geologist and author specialising in the relationship between land and grapes. He visited and, according to the Domaine website (here) “raved about the ice age scree covered land likening it to the best soil in Burgundy’s Côtes d’Or“. He is reported to have exclaimed ‘It’s quite possible to make a Grand Cru here but it would probably take 200 years for it to be recognized and accepted as such!’. Enjalbert suggested that underground cold water springs and the influence of the surrounding mountain created a micro-climate reminiscent of the Medoc. The first vintage arrived in 1978 and by 1982 the wine had plaudits, such as Gault et Millau which described Mas de Daumas Gassac as ‘a Languedoc Château Lafite’. Emile Peynaud also showed an interest and when journalists asked him why he bothered with an unknown Languedoc domaine when he was used to dealing with the world’s great vineyards, he replied : ‘I’ve advised the greatest producers in France, but never before been lucky enough to be present at the birth of a grand cru’. So I expected quite a lot from the tasting (despite some years ago not being particularly impressed by a bottle of red from the Domaine).

I was lucky in sitting next to Samuel Guilbert, oldest son of  Aimé and a polished Ambassador for the Domaine.  I thought the whites showed better than the reds (which were relatively young). I particularly liked the 2008 Mas de Daumas Blanc which sang with a wonderfully intense Bisque.  The 20% Viognier gives it perfume and aromatic notes without it becoming cloying. Lutetian limestone is cited as adding minerality and the other main varieties used in the Cuvee are Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Petit Manseng (also at around 20%) with each contributing its own characteristics. The last 20% is made up of more obscure varieties (often not the usual Languedoc suspects due to the micro-climate) in very small amounts. This style of wine demonstrates the winemakers’ vision and skill at combining complex elements to create something integrated and coherent.

laurenceI was impressed with the cooking at Boundary and the lamb and cheese courses would have made any red drinkable. I also had a Proustian moment with the oven warm Madeleine. It was a thing of beauty with a perfect foil in the Mas de Daumas Vin de Laurence pictured left. I could appreciate how the psychology of memory was laid bare by this humble cake.

Enthusiastic Head Sommelier Gabriel Danis was on hand with a copy of the ambitious wine list. It is comprehensive in its coverage and has good ‘Sommelier suggestions’. I also noted that 125ml measures can be requested as an alternative to 175/250ml. There is something for everyone on the list, no mean feat, and a good balance between established makers and bottles that shout out ‘try me!’.

I had a lovely night and would encourage you to take the plunge by joining the ‘club table’, which during my visit included the amiable, and clearly very astute, Peter Prescott. I also send my regards to Alex and Paul and hope we get to meet again some time as it is always good to come across kindred spirits. Chateau Boundary’s approach to wine supports this conviviality and should be applauded.