Monday, 22 March 2010

Bar Pepito: London's first Sherry bar

It’s a drizzly Thursday night, but inside Bar Pepito it’s as hot as pimiento. Opening the door of the tiny bodega in King’s Cross, I’m whacked with the intoxicating smell of jamón.

The bar sweats Andalusian charm – a slice of Jerez squeezed into 30 square feet, from the floor covered with azulejos (traditional Spanish tiles), to the flamenco posters and esparto-grass mats lining the walls, it’s easy to feel transported to Southern Spain; it even comes complete with an authentic Spanish racket.

I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with friends around a Tio Pepe barrel table dotted with brightly-coloured bowls of kikos (fried corn) and habas fritas (fried broad beans). Plates of pan con tomate, jamón ibérico and sheep’s cheese emerge from the miniscule kitchen and four small glasses of Tio Pepe Fino are brought over to our barrel.

It’s the launch night of Bar Peptio; London’s first Sherry bar. The tiny bar, a converted storage shed, lies a few Spanish steps away from sister restaurant Camino in Varnisher’s Yard.

Keen to shake off Sherry’s grandma image is Pepito’s hispanophile owner Richard Bigg. He’s on a mission to convert London into a city of Sherry sippers and give Sherry the makeover it desperately deserves. Once described as the grand druid of hip hangouts, Bigg has a bloodhound nose for the next big bar, having started up Cantaloupe in Shoreditch years before the cool kids invaded.

‘Sherry is druggingly deliciously and the public are ready for it’, Bigg begins with brio. ‘Wine knowledge is going through the roof – people are becoming more confident and want to experiment with new styles. It’s a risk’, Bigg concedes, ‘but I like taking risks. It would have been riskier if I’d opened a stand-alone bar, but I think it would still work.’

Bigg has collaborated with Gonzáles Byass, whose wines make up nine of the 15 Sherries on offer, along with one beer and a seasonal Sherry-based cocktail. The list is deliberately short, so as not to intimidate novices, but Bigg already plans to edit the offering and include a different 'wild card' wine each month.

Team GB are out in full force – managing director Martin Skelton and marketing director Jeremy Rockett flock to our barrel, armed with a bottle of Gonzáles Byass 1968 Oloroso. It’s outstanding, with a nose of varnish, walnut skins and mahogany. On the palate is sweet spice, orange peel, dried figs and hazelnuts. It’s deliciously long and amazingly vibrant for its years.

Accompanying the wines is a well thought out tapas menu including venison carpaccio and devon crab salad. Each dish comes with a Sherry recommendation. ‘Sherry has to be drunk with food – it’s the best food matching wine there is’, says Bigg. ‘It’s all about serving fresh styles at the right temperature in the right glasses’, he adds.

Written on mini blackboards is a selection of six wine flights (three 50ml measures), including the Oloroso-based ‘Glorioso’ and the PX-fuelled ‘Decadencia’. A cage-like cellar lines the back wall, and next to it, a single Enomatic machine. Bigg is offering Bar Pepito cards, which you can load up with credit to buy 25, 50 and 75ml Sherry shots starting at 95p and going up to £4.50 for the ‘68 Oloroso.

Sherry has always been the wine world’s best kept secret, but it looks like the secret is out. I woke up with a head thicker than peasant bread, but it was worth it. Pepito looks set to change London’s wine drinking landscape – make the detour while you still can.

1 comment:

  1. The story of Spanish wine sherry is really very interesting. I like this post, very much.