Friday, 12 February 2010

Kensington Wine Rooms

Last month I flagged up Gordon's Wine Bar as one of the best drinking dens in London for wine lovers. This month, it's all about Kensington Wine Rooms, which we voted Newcomer of the Year in our February issue.

Set up in May 2009 by Icelandic entrepreneur Thor Gudmunsson, KWR boasts five enomatic machines at £8,000 a pop – gumball machines for grown-ups that allow imbibers to chose from 40 wines by the glass. It also offers Sampler style cash cards, which you can top up like an Oyster, allowing you to self-dispense the liquid pleasure by the measure.

The wines begin at modest prices – Leyda Cabernet Reserve, Maipo Valley 2008 costs £4.50 for 125ml, and soar at the top end. Classicists can enjoy 125ml of Château Lynch Bages 2001 for £23.65, or Château Leoville Barton 1995 for £24.55. The list is a refreshing mix of established names and exciting finds from lesser-known regions in Spain, Portugal, France and beyond. Big guns Shafer, Grant Burge and Cullen are all represented, alongside G.D Vajra and Albert Mann.

On my visit last Thursday night, I was excited to see the FMC Forrester Meinert Chenin 2008 on the list. I'd only ever tried it once before, during a dinner held two years ago by Ken Forrester at South African restaurant Vivat Bacchus in London Bridge. Before he poured the wine, Forrester announced to the table that Matt Skinner had recently christened it the Fucking Magic Chenin. I was blown away – smooth, creamy and rich, with delicious honeyed notes, it was the best South African white I'd ever tried by miles.

Luckily, the 2008 was on equally good form. Drinking it was an almost transcendental experience that took me right back to the Forrester dinner. It's so gratifying to revisit a wine and get as much pleasure the second time round as the liquid memory that persists in the mind. There's something comforting about knowing you can have that experience again at the push of a button.

Moving onto the reds, I decided to try the spice-scented Tinpot Hut Syrah 2007 from Hawke's Bay. It did a great impression of a wine from the northern Rhône, but after the euphoria of the FMC, could only ever have been an anti-climax.

With so much joy to be found on the wine list, the food is something of an after thought. Wine takes centre stage at KWR, but they offer a tapas menu filled with the usual suspects: calamari, jamón Ibérico, pimientos padron, boquerones, chorizo... and a menu of more substantial mains. The puddings are deliciously decadent – I went for coffee panna cotta with salted caramel sauce paired with a rich Lustau Sherry.

Kensington Wine Rooms is ideal for a luxuriously long lunch, or wine-fueled dinner. The decor is all dark wood panelling, leather sofas and flattering candlelight. It's cosy, intimate and very zeitgeist. Bottles of wines 'to go' temptingly adorn the Enomatic-lined walls. With choice at the top of the menu, it's an emblem of our impatient times.

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