Sunday, 31 October 2010

Bompas & Parr Chewing Gum Factory

Culinary wizards Bompas & Parr have found a new plaything. Moving on from the jelly moulds that made them famous, the pair have turned their hands, Wonka-style, to chewing gum.

Last week, the boys set up shop in Whiteleys, with a pop-up artisanal chewing gum factory. On arrival I'm swiftly lead to the dimly-lit Flavour Library, complete with haunting music on a loop, and scientific diagrams linking the 200 flavours on offer, from the play-it-safe strawberry and cotton candy, through the more adventurous white truffle and green pea, to the downright ludicrous curry, anchovy and hot dog.

I whiz around the aroma room, frantically opening flavour-scented jam jars in a bid to whittle down 40,000 possible combinations to my final two. Watermelon is divine, as is caramel, but they're both too predictable. Peanut jumps out of the jar, along with banana and almond, but I'm looking for something a little more playful. A mix of sweet and savoury perhaps? I strike upon what I believe to be an ingenious duo: foie gras and crème brûlée, having tasted something similar at a basque gastronomy evening the week before. It'll either be delicious or disgusting.

I write my flavour combo on a raffle ticket and hand it to the lady in a lab coat across the counter. She glances at it disapprovingly. The factory is proving so popular, punters have to wait for their numbers to be called, Bingo-style, by a bespectacled man on a megaphone. To ease my wait, I indulge in a Hendricks and tonic from a jam jar.

Finally my number's up, and I'm lead into the gum factory, a pink room lined with long wooden work benches. I'm given a gum-making tutorial by Sam Bompas himself, who dashes out the back to retrieve my flavours. He returns with a vial full of caramel coloured liquid, which I'm told to squirt on my clear gum base and then stir furiously. Icing sugar and citric acid is then added, and more stirring ensues.

'Would you like to add a colour?' Bompas enthuses. 'Why not make it bright green?', he suggests, squirting a few drops of green food colouring into the mixture. I stir it furiously, until it's the texture of Play Doh, then pick it up, douse it with icing sugar and roll it into small gum balls. Impatient, I pop one in my mouth, fearful of what I'm about to chew. Luckily, the crème brûlée dominates and it's surprisingly tasty.

The foie gras is definitely in there, but it's the custard-like, vanilla backbone that lingers. I finish rolling my pea green gum balls and pop them into a tiny white Bompas & Parr box. For their next trick the boys want to go one further and create a gum that changes flavour mid-chew, from savoury to sweet, recreating the Three-Course Dinner Chewing Gum Violet Beauregarde has the misfortune of eating when still in the testing phase in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, turning her into a giant blueberry. Wonka would be proud.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ferran Adria interview

Wine and the City caught up with renowned Catalan chef Ferran Adrià on Monday while he was in London to promote his new biography by American food writer Colman Andrews. In the interview, Adrià opens up about the pressures of being a commercial chef, and his plans for El Bulli when it reopens in 2014 as a foundation for gastronomic creativity. Watch it here...

Monday, 25 October 2010

William Curley interview

Wine and the City catches up with master chocolatier William Curley to get his opinions on wine and chocolate matching, and find out about his latest project: recreating classics like the Jaffa Cake and Bounty bar.

Wine and chocolate matching with William Curley

With Chocolate Week in full flow last week, I was invited to a wine and chocolate matching event with master chocolatier William Curley, hosted by Quintessentially Wine at Curley's Belgravia shop.

Much has been made of wine and chocolate matching, and I was keen to hear from the master chocolatier as to whether he thinks there's anything in it.

Eight pairings were put forward, with wine writer Matthew Jukes picking the wines, and Curley the chocolates. Interestingly, only one of the eight wines was sweet. Jukes begins by telling us he's bored with the cliché that chocolate can only be matched with sweet wine, and tonight aims to prove that dry wine can pair equally well.

I admire his risk taking, and championing of daring pairings, but as I scale down white wine heavy list, I wonder whether he'll be able to pull it off. First up we try Ayala NV Champagne with a thyme & Scottish heather honey chocolate. Elegant and smooth with herbal notes, the chocolate is very pleasant, but I'm not wowed by the Champagne match.

Next up is a JJ Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 2007, paired with a jasmin choc. The wine has an intensely limey, slate-like nose, but the white flower and honey notes on the palate mirror the jasmin in the chocolate, bringing the pairing into balance. I'm hopeful for what's to come. The second of the still whites is an Etienne Sauzet La Tufera Burgundy 2008, paired with a wonderfully textured Piedmont hazelnut chocolate. While the mineral and citrus notes in the wine don't echo those of the chocolate, the hazelnut seems to bring out the brioche and wild honey notes in the wine. The best match so far...

Moving on to the reds, we try Curley's best seller, and the chocolate all chocolatiers are judged by: sea salt caramel, with a slightly mismatched garriguey Roussillon 2008. We then munch on a mint chocolate paired with a 2005 Parker Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvingnon from South Australia's Terracotta-soiled Coonawarra region.

This is easily the best pairing of the night. The minty, medicinal, black currant fuelled wine is the epitome of what a Coonawarra Cab should be. Decadent and velvety on the palate, it fuses effortlessly with the chocolate, that attacks the palate pleasingly with a blast of fresh mint.

The penultimate pairing is inspired: 2006 Rene Rostaing Cuvée Classique from the Cote Rotie with a szechuan pepper chocolate. The peppery Syrah becomes even more pronounced after a bite of the chocolate, bringing the pepper to the fore from the savoury, gamey flavours. Last up we are treated to a sweet wine: 2006 Clos Dady Sauternes, matched with William's take on the Jaffa Cake.

Sipping the Sauternes and nibbling the Jaffa Cake, all the flavours intertwine until the one becomes indistinguishable from the other. The tangy marmalade in the wine perfectly compliments the orange in the Jaffa Cake. It occurs to me why chocolate is traditionally matched with Port, Sherry and Sauternes, and not dry wines. The pairings work. They make sense. There's a synergy there, a harmony, a fusion of flavours. I'm all for daring pairings, and pushing the creative envelope, but sometimes tradition wins out over innovation.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

El Cantara Soho

It's a crisp autumn evening and I'm out on the shisha terrace of the newly launched Spanish /Moroccan restaurant El Cantara Soho. The small outdoor space is effortlessly cool, and feels more SoHo New York than Soho London.

As I puff away willfully on my watermelon-flavoured shisha pipe, making patterns in the air from the resulting smoke, a woman emerges wearing a yellow snake and very little else.

The five-year-old snake – as long as the length of the smoking den – is called Sheba. 'She doesn't prey on humans', her owner assures me, as Sheba's head darts towards mine, her black, unblinking eyes fixed forward. I stroke her surprisingly soft yellow skin. Detecting some sort of bond forming, Sheba's owner impulsively wraps the snake around my shoulders. I'm terrified. Luckily, she only accessorizes my dress for a moment, before taking residence on other revelers' shoulders.

Inside I'm offered the house cocktail - Champagne and rose water, with a tiny chunk of pink Turkish delight at the bottom. The Moorish interiors are part Andalucían tea house, part Marrakesh harem. The small, arched, basement space is decorated with lanterns and paintings of flamenco dancers and bull fighters. When placed side by side, I'm struck by how similar their movements are.

Upstairs, the restaurant is heaving. Huge silver trays of chorizo, lamb kofte and pigeon pastilla are passed round, before a banquet of paella, and lamb tagine with cinnamon cous cous. Amidst the throng, a belly dancer emerges, nonchalantly twirling a pair of fire sticks. I scramble out of singeing distance and for a minute I'm mesmerized.

In the far corner a brunette couple are in full flamenco flow – she clicking furiously on castenets, he making dramatic sweeps with an invisible cape. A crowd forms around them and starts clapping in time to the wailing woman keeping the tune. I head back up to the terrace for another go of the shisha pipe. The evening is winding down, so I switch to mint tea and sticky baclava. El Cantara Soho, with its fusing of Moroccan and Spanish cuisines, seems a logical step for London, which is now, undoubtedly, the most cosmopolitan city in the world.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Interview with William Biddulph of Wickham Vineyard

Wine and the City caught up with William Biddulph, winemaker at Wickham Vineyard in Hampshire, to talk about the 2010 harvest and the ever-improving quality of still English wine.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Wickham Vineyard harvest

In my three years at Decanter, I've yet to pick a grape. Until last weekend. With English sparkling's star in the ascendancy, I was keen to get out to one of our local vineyards and muck in with the picking.

Wickham Vineyard in Hampshire invited me to take part in their harvest last Saturday, along with members of WineShare - a vine sharing scheme that offers vine rentals in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Provence, Chianti and Hampshire.

Picking starts predictably early, so I have to board the train in London, bleary-eyed, at 7.30am, in order to be there for the 9.30 start. The early start is made bearable by the beautiful weather. It's one of those perfect autumn days - bright, crisp, and full of sunshine. Looking out of the train window, the leaves on the trees burn bright with jewel-like hues - copper, ruby and amber – in their final blaze of glory before death.

A short taxi ride from the station and I'm at the vineyard, being ushered into a garden full of WineShare members huddled together in their wellies, clutching cups of coffee for warmth. Gulping down a coffee (it's too early for bubbles, even for me) winemaker William Biddulph hands round a bucket of pruning sheers and explains our mission for the morning - to pick as many grapes as humanly possible.

Biddulph, who looks like a foppish Jason Donovan, started life at Berry Bros, then spent the mid '90s in Gisbourne, New Zealand, taking the helm at Wickham five years ago as winemaker on the seven hectare estate planted with six white and four red varieties, including the epically named Triomphe d'Alsace; the grape we're about to pick, which will go into their Row Ash Red 2010 and Row Ash Rosé NV.

We're split into three groups and given a row each to work on. Basket and sheers in hand, I stand at my alloted spot and get picking. There aren't many rules, we just have to avoid unripe and over-ripe bunches. Apprehensive of the sheers at first, I soon find my rhythm and pick up picking speed. Seeing everyone else frantically picking around you helps spur you on. It feels a bit like a competition, but the more you pick, the quicker your basket gets emptied.

Mid pick, I pop a couple of the grapes in my mouth. They're small, round and inky blue-black like blueberries. They're lovely and sweet but incredibly tannic. I decide not to eat any more, and take to peeling one open instead. Behind the blueberry skin, the flesh is red and pigmented like Dornfelder. I squidge it between my fingers and ruby red juice squirts everywhere.

After a couple of hours, the sun is high in the sky and warming our backs. It's hard work, and I find myself looking at my watch and wondering when we might be rewarded with lunch. Every now and then a quad bike roars up my row and zooms away with the contents of my basket. Flagging a little, I wish were picking to music. I run through a picking soundtrack in my head of high octane tracks to keep my momentum up.

Snipping off the final few bunches on my vine, I scan the row and realise it's naked of grapes. Lunch beckons. I bound back to the garden and am treated to a banquet of a buffet. Famished from my morning's work, I ask for a bit of everything and the food seems to taste especially good having laboured for it. In three hours our small group stripped the vineyard of two tonnes of grapes. We toast our success with a glass of Wickham Special Release Fumé - a blend of Bacchus and Reichensteiner aged in French oak. I'm looking forward to the Row Ash Red being bottled, and to drinking a wine I helped make.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Sumosan restaurant review

Nobu and Zuma dominate London's modern Japanese dining scene, gaining column inches as much for their celebrity clientele as for their food. Sumosan is something of a modest younger sister flying slightly under the radar.

Tucked away on a quiet side street off Green Park next to a Vietnamese art gallery, Sumosan's light, airy space is decked out in tasteful beige and lilac. The pared down interiors are very zen-like and calming.

I visited on a Wednesday lunchtime and the place was reassuringly buzzing with a mixture of wealthy Russian expats (the restaurant is Russian owned), office workers and ladies who lunch. Bypassing the á la carte menu offering the likes of seasonal Toro stuffed with foie gras, and sea urchin risotto, I opt for the reasonably priced five course lunch menu for £22.50, with a side of rock shrimp tempura.

Lunch begins with a refreshing cup of miso soup with tiny shiitake mushrooms, that serves as the perfect palate cleanser. Next up is a delicious, umami-rich Kaiso salad crammed with sesame seeds and peanut butter, which I enjoy with a glass of Domaine de Joy Ugni Blanc from Gascony. The rock shrimp tempura doesn't disappoint - made up of heavenly chunks of fried shrimp, lifted by the citrus Yuzu dressing.

A sashimi selection follows, featuring the usual suspects: salmon, tuna (which is air-shipped from the US at -80 degrees), prawn, and richly flavoured white bait, all of which match incredibly well with my crisp, lime-fueled 2008 Hunter's Riesling from Marlborough, New Zealand.

For the main event, I go for the Black Cod with Miso, keen to see how it fares against the Nobu version. I was slightly disappointed by its diminutive size - call it the Kylie Minogue of the fish world, but what it lacked in size it made up for in flavour. Sweet and rich with a melt-in-the-mouth texture, there are few flavour experiences that top that of well cooked Black Cod. It's all consuming, transcendental even, and I feel almost beatific reverence for the fish and the pleasure it produced. A tricky one to match with wine, my 2008 Tasmanian Pinot Noir from Devil's Corner, whilst not harmonizing completely, far from jarred.

Pudding is a decadent affair. I choose Sumosan's signature dish - a white chocolate fondant, which arrives in an exquisitely crafted golden cage made of latticed sugar. Gooey and toothy tinglingly sweet, it tastes like liquid Milky Way and matches surprisingly well with my Thienot 2002 Champagne, for which Sumosan are the sole suppliers.

Although I chose to drink wine, there's an extensive saké list to experiment with. Head Sommelier Jean-Louis Naveilhan offers eight different sakés by the glass, and saké flights – three sakés by the glass for £10.50. Naveilhan is adamant that the rice wine, which should always be served chilled, can be enjoyed throughout the meal, from apéritif to pudding.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Tales from Jerez

Last week I spent a couple of glorious days in Jerez with Gonzalez Byass. I was particularly excited about going as I lived in Granada whilst at university and haven't revisited Andalucía in six years.

After checking in, I head out with team GB for tapas at the very Spanish hour of 10pm. Striking upon an gem – honest and unpretentious, we sit outside on plastic chairs, drink copious amounts of Tio Pepe and eat the charmingly titled 'Scrambled to the Boots'.

Our boots filled, we stop by bar Kapote for an Amontillado before bed, and host Jeremy Rockett regales me with stories of Times food critic Giles Coren's outrageous exploits on a recent press trip to Portugal, which end in Charles Campion putting him in a headlock.

Before going to sleep, I open the door to my balcony and sit, soothed by the cool night air, watching the stars and listening to the trilling of the cidadas. Luxuriating in the moment, I feel totally transported – a rainy gray London sky to a blanket of stars in a matter of hours.

Shortly after sunrise, we troop onto a bus and are driven out to the Gonzalez Byass vineyards, just outside the Sherry triangle. Disembarking, we're given a few minutes to roam. The morning light over the vineyard is haunting. A layer of mist hangs on the horizon, and spreads across the vines like gauze. The sun is still low in the sky, and everything seems so fresh and full of hope.

Our next stop is the Gonzalez Byass bodega, complete with a fire engine red Tio Pepe train, which looks like it arrived in Jerez by way of the Magic Kingdom. The tour begins in La Concha, a shell-shaped room designed by Gustav Eiffel before he transformed the Parisian skyline, built in honour of la Infanta Isabella, the 'nymphomaniac' queen.

We shuffle on to the barrel room, and I go off in search of artists and writers. French poet Jean Cocteau describes Sherry as 'the blood of Kings' on his barrel, while Picasso illustrates his with a raging bull. In the far corner of the room is a Sherry glass with a tiny ladder leading up to it, set up for the infamous Tio Pepe mouse I'd heard so much about. He makes an appearance one in every five visits. We wait patiently, holding our breath. Nothing. The group moves on but I'm determined to catch a glimpse of the elusive rodent, certain he is close by.

I stand in the doorway in silence and wait, camera poised, finger on the button. After a minute or two, a tiny figure emerges from under the barrel and scurries across the sand. I frantically focus the camera and take a few snap shots of my brief encounter. A second later, he's gone.

After an epic lunch at Juanitos that includes chocos (fried cuttlefish), langoustines and the house speciality – scrambled egg and crisps, Jeremy and I take a detour to Bodegas Tradición to check out their impressive art collection, which includes works by Goya, Velazquez, Murillo and El Greco.

But the painting that will stay with me is that of a cocky bullfighter with a missing front tooth and a black pirate hat, leaning against a wall, cigar nonchalantly in mouth, a dagger ready for action in his blood red cummerband. His robes are so richly rendered, from the regal purple cape he's wrapped in, to the soft brown embroidered jacket and ornate floral waistcoat. It's such a vivid image he seems utterly alive, as if he could leap out of the frame at any moment and ask for a light.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Gonzalez Byass rare and old Sherry tasting

It’s mid afternoon and I’m being lead into a secret part of the Gonzalez Byass cellars in Jerez by winemaker Antonio Flores.

Joining us are Vicky Gonzalez Gordon, a 5th generation member of the Gonzalez family and UK marketing manager Jeremy Rockett. We’re here in search of an Amontillado with flor – a layer of yeast that forms naturally on the surface of young Sherry wines aged in barrels purposefully not filled to the top.

After the success of Tio Pepe En Rama – a Fino bottled in its raw state without fining or filtration, which launched at the London International Wine Fair this year and sold out in 30 minutes, the team is on the lookout for the next limited edition Sherry to bring to market.

Rockett suggests that a young Amontillado yet to lose all its flor could be next year’s En Rama, which would be bottled as Tio Pepe Pasado En Rama. Flores stops at a set of barrels. Brandishing a venencia, he dips it deep into the barrel and pours it swiftly at height into one of the tasting glasses with the grace of a bullfighter.

We all get a glass. It’s a wonderful golden colour but the flor has already fallen away so we swiftly move on. Two more attempts prove fruitless, but eventually we hit upon an exciting discovery: a seven-year-old Amontillado. Atop the golden liquid is a thick layer of flor. We may have found the next En Rama.

I’m tasked with filling the remaining glasses using the venencia. My hand-eye coordination is not all that it could be, and my first flourish ends up on the floor. I soon get the hang of it and rather enjoy more role as venenciadora. Jubilant from his discovery, Flores leads us to another secret cellar and fills our glasses with a 60-year-old Amontillado. In the muted light the copper wine glints like a new penny. It smells like a varnished desk. Full-bodied and with a long, nutty finish, it’s the most complex Amontillado I’ve ever tasted.

Flores paces up and down, looking for a particular barrel. Locating it, he plunges the venencia in. The Sherry is deep mahogany – a 100-year-old Palo Cortado. I let out an uncontrollable gasp. It’s incredibly intense and concentrated, but the oak is overpowering, and it’s like chewing on a log. Not all wines can stand the test of time.

Determined to show us an old wine still very much alive, our next barrel sample is one I will never forget; an Amontillado from 1850 made by the winery’s founder, Manuel María Gonazlez. Heady on the nose, it smells amazingly youthful for its 160 years, with notes of salted caramel and hazelnut. On the palate the acidity is astounding, paired with excellent body, weight and depth of flavour. The sandlewood finish remains hauntingly in the glass.

In our final clandestine barrel room deep in the bowels of the winery, we end with a trio of sweet Sherries. The first is a 25-year-old sweet Palomino, made and aged in the same way as a Pedro Ximenez. Tawny with a yellow rim, it has a Moscatel grape-like quality with a tropical fruit finish. The 75-year-old PX is as black as crude oil and equally thick, while the 85-year-old Moscatel has a lifted, floral quality and coffee finish. Our palates fatigued by the liquid history lesson, we follow Flores out of the barrel room and into the glaring sunlight, and I feel as if waking from a dream.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Wickham Vineyard grape picking

With harvest in full swing, I spent this glorious autumn day picking Triomphe d'Alsace grapes at Wickham Vineyard in Hampshire. Our hardy group reigned in 2 tonnes of grapes, which will be used to make 5,000 bottles of Row Ash Rosé. Watch the picking in action here...

Gonzalez Byass: tales from the barrel room

I've just got back from an amazing couple of days in Jerez, where I learnt, amongst other things, how to pour Sherry into a tasting glass from a venencia. Check out the video of my first (and only) attempt as a venenciadora...

Friday, 8 October 2010

Henschke tasting with Simon Woods

Last week on an incredibly soggy Wednesday eve, I braved the relentless rain and skidded across Wandsworth bridge to the West London Wine School for a Henschke masterclass hosted by Simon Woods, who was recently crowned Online Wine Columnist of the Year at the Louis Roederer Wine Writers' Awards.

Fresh from a trip to South West France, an ebullient Woods began by lamenting the typically British weather, though talk soon turned to the eight wine spread from the pioneering Eden Valley winery founded by Johann Christian Henschke in 1868. Legend has it that Johann fled Silesia by boat for the Barossa with his wife and four children, but arrived a single father of two having suffered three bereavements en route.

Having established the winery in Keyneton, Johann's great-grandson Cyril went on to make the switch from fortified to table wines, pioneering single varietal, single-vineyard wines. The winery is now run by 5th generation Stephen Henschke and his wife Prue – he makes the wine, she runs the vineyard. The pair are potty about organics and biodynamics (organic certification is due in 2011), and follow the principles strictly, picking Hill of Grace just before the full moon of Easter and Mount Edelstone a week after.

Other elements to their alchemy include sprinkling crushed eggshells from Henschke hens on the soil, burying cow horns filled with ground quartz, and planting yarrow flowers fermented in a deer's bladder into the soil, then dousing it with nettle tea.

With such whacky winemaking methods, I was curious to see what these lunar wines tasted like. What struck me about the range was that each wine had its own character representing the ever changing challenges of season, place and variety. The Eden Valley is higher, cooler, wetter and stonier than the warm, undulating Barossa, but I found myself drawn to both of the styles.

Highlights included the mineral, fresh and limey Julius Riesling 2007, which Woods described as 'like licking wet pebbles face down on a beach'. The Louis Semillon 2007 also impressed with its textured palate and orange blossom aromas, while the Croft Chardonnay 2007 from the Adelaide Hills had a powerful nose of rich buttered popcorn, peach and nut, and yet had a fresh, rounded, mineral palate.

As for the reds, there were two clear front runners: Keyneton Estate Euphonium 2004 from the Barossa and Cyril Henschke 2004 from the Eden Valley. The former, made with Shiraz and Bordeaux varietals, was Cabernet dominant, with black currant, black cherry and mint upfront. Voluptuous and opulent on the palate, I found notes of vanilla, cedar, smoke, tar, eucalypt, pepper and spice, with a black olive finish. Going back to the Cyril after 1/2 an hour, it had really opened up, with rich black fruit, licorice and mint on the nose and lush, fleshy, velvety fruit on the palate. Rounded and mouthfilling with a lingering finish, it emerged the superior wine. But for three times the price, you'd hope so.

The innovations at Henschke are far from over. After a stint of world travel, Stephen and Prue's son Johann is getting his hands dirty in their various vineyards and putting his own stamp on the wines. And being named Johann, he has some seriously big shoes to fill.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Camino Puerto del Canario

It's a chilly late September evening and I'm at London Bridge City Pier about to board the Thames Clipper to Canary Wharf. Only this is no ordinary ship - it's a Sherry ferry.

To celebrate the launch of Camino Puerto del Canario, sister restaurant to Camino King's Cross, showman owner Richard Bigg has rounded up a troop of willing guinea pigs to be transported to the venue by boat.

We're given the signal to board, and our uproarious group, made up of wine hacks, food bloggers and the odd chancer or two besieges the boat, scrambling excitedly for window seats. As I pace to the front, I'm handed a large glass, which is promptly filled with a generous slug of Tio Pepe Fino.

Having secured a window seat, the Sherry ferry chugs into action and I'm treated to epic views of the Thames by night. As I sip my Sherry and nibble on a slither of Manchego, Tower Bridge comes into view. I would never typically consider taking the boat to work in the morning, but it's a magnificent way to see the city. And drinking Sherry on public transport feels deliciously decadent - one in the eye for Boris.

My glass is topped up and I soon spy the flashing lights of One Canada Square, where I once did work experience at the Daily Telegraph. Barely have we set sail and we're already at our destination. I'm slightly disappointed at the Sherry ferry's efficiency, as I was hoping for a longer voyage, but there's no time to think as we're ushered off and told to leave our glasses on deck. Most are empty. Back on dry land the Tio Pepe has gone to my head. I'm blaming the boat.

Before we even make it inside we're served Cava in old-fashioned flat Champagne glasses. It seems like Mr Bigg is on a mission to get us intoxicated. The venue is seconds from the boat stop, on the water's edge. Looking across the river, bright lights flicker against the black backdrop. The city seems pregnant with promise, and I get the feeling that I'm part of something big, as if stepping back from the city allows you to see it properly for the first time. This could be the Cava talking.

Soon I'm inside and being given a tour of the kitchens. Plates of pata negra ham do the rounds, and I grab a handful to munch on. The Sherry ferry has whetted my appetite and we're not sitting down to eat until the very Spanish hour of 9. The restaurant has an industrial feel– set in a large square space with open brickwork and wooden floors, the bar and restaurant are divided by cage-like barriers. It doesn't feel as cosy as Camino King's Cross, but I don't think it's supposed to.

I have a quick sip of Ferran Adria's home brew: Inedit, which tastes like honey and lemon Lockets, then it's time to sit down to eat. And boy did we eat: a 16-course Spanish banquet including stuffed figs, octopus tentacle, black rice with cuttlefish, Ibérico black pig shoulder blade, and the apogee: Scottish rib-eye steak cooked on a charcoal grill from Bilbao then rubbed with rock salt. Rare, tender and ridiculously juicy, it was a seriously sexy slice of meat.

The wines on the night also delighted, from the Valdeorras based Bodegas Valdesil Godello 2007 - fresh, crisp, textured, complex and elegant; a Godello worth waiting for, to the Viñas del Vero Pinot Noir 2008, with Burgundian notes of cherry, raspberry and violet. Matched with the meat was a wine from Bigg's Big Guns list: Cillar de Silos Torre Sillo 2007 from Ribera del Duero. Opulent, rich, ripe and sweet, it's as close as you can get to drinking velvet. Other highlights of the Cañones Grandes list include Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia 1982, Vega Sicilia Unico 1999 and Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi 2006.

From the quirky voyage on the Sherry ferry to the cracking open of the big guns, Richard Bigg certainly knows how to put on a show, and I'm sure his sister venue across the river will pull in hoards of hispanophile punters. The Big Guns list should certainly prove a draw for high rolling city boys out to impress big cheese clients. With new outposts of Roka, Canteen and Wahaca also recently opened in Canary Wharf, the financial district is now firmly on the culinary map.