Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Bar Battu, Brawn, Fulham Wine Rooms, Vinoteca Marylebone: London's wine awakening

Once could be called a fluke, twice a coincidence, but now with half a dozen respectable natural wine bars in operation around London town, it's safe to call it a movement. It all started two years ago with Terroirs - the Charing Cross-based brainchild of Les Cave de Pyrene's managing director Eric Narioo, who this week opened his second natural wine bar – Brawn, in Columbia Road, E2.

I remember being impressed with Terroirs when I visited shortly after it opened. There was something different about it, from the pared down interiors and laid back bistro food, to the exciting and varied wine list offering everything from the funky to the downright strange, it was clear Terroirs was onto something. It successfully tapped into a previously unexploited niche and quickly had Londoners lapping up its unadulterated wines.

Two years on, and I've heard talk of a serious dip in the quality of service. Complacency seems to have set in, and with its reputation secured, the bar doesn't feel it needs to try anymore. Wine folk are fickle, and we're quick to switch allegiance if standards drop, so the savvy Terroirs crowd of yore has migrated to Xavier Rousset's hugely successful 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen in Fetter Lane, and more recently the newly-opened Bar Battu in the City.

28-50 isn't a natural wine bar per se, but does offer an extensive number of wines by the glass, along with an impressive collectors' list, which Xavier personally sources from private cellars. After much hype from the wine trade, I made the pilgrimage to Bar Battu last week, and was pleasantly surprised. I'm slightly distrusting of natural wines. I don't really understand them (there's no official definition of what constitutes a natural wine), and I'm often thrown by their unpredictability, cloudy appearance and savage aromas.

Despite my reservations, I think it's a fantastically brave move to open a natural wine bar in the City. If the wine trade are suspicious of naked wines, then the average punter must be positively fearful of them. But fear is borne of ignorance – all we need is to be taught. London is light years behind France in embracing the natural wine movement, and a decade behind New York, but with bars like Terroirs and Battu, we finally seem to be catching on.

I shared a bottle of white and red on my visit and enjoyed the symbols on the menu that help novices navigate the list of unfamiliar names – while a cloud predictably denotes cloudiness, a white bull appears next to semi-wild wines, and a red bull beside really wild ones. Our white Burgundy was light, fresh and uplifting, but the Languedoc red was fiercely feral. It smelt and tasted like a pig pen, and somewhat traumatised one of my fellow imbibers. But that's the deal with natural wines - you never quite know what you're getting until you open it.

I've yet to visit Brawn (it opened yesterday), but set in an old wood-turning mill in the gritty climes of Shoreditch, it promises an evolving list of 150 natural and biodynamic bins covering a range of styles and regions, including 12 wines by the glass and 500ml caraffe. Only time will tell if it has the muscle to compete with London's better established drinking dens.

Aside from the natural wine bar revolution currently gripping London, a sprinkling of sister wine bars have also popped up in the last month, beginning with the Fulham Wine Rooms in early November, which is hoping to mirror the success of the Kensington Wine Rooms. On my visit last week the vast, cavernous space was empty - making my friend and I feel like a pair of church mice in a wine cathedral. That said, it was nearly midnight on a Monday. The Enomatic selection was impressive - including favourites from Kensington such as Ken Forrester's the FMC, and new arrivals: a stunning Sassicaia 1998.

Last week, Farringdon favourite Vinoteca opened a sister bar in Seymour Place, Marylebone, completing a hat-trick of exciting openings in the past month. Having only worked in wine for the past three years, I've been lucky enough to join the industry at an incredibly fertile time, and the pace of change is showing no signs of slowing down. The mushrooming of forward thinking, relaxed, informed wine bars in the city is helping to put wine firmly on the cool map, and opening Londoners' eyes to the phenomenal selection of wines the city has to offer. I'm excited to see where the trend will move next.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

New in town: Eighty-Six, Cassis Bistro, Pommery E: Cube, Vista at The Trafalgar

The festive season is well and truly upon us, and with it a flurry of new bars and restaurants have arrived – some which will merely pop up and down again before the new year.

The last two weeks have been particularly busy on the launch front, so I thought I'd switch up my blogging style a bit with a round up of the hottest new openings around town. My first pitstop was at Eighty-Six restaurant, which opened last week in a converted Georgian townhouse on the Fulham Road, a space once occupied by the somewhat less salubrious Cactus Blue.

Founded by George Adams and Charlie Kearns, who cut their teeth at venues in Oxford and Verbier, Eighty-Six has lassoed Mark Broadbent of Bluebird fame as head chef, who was cooking up some quirky modern European comfort food on the opening night, including a rich, creamy lobster bisque and unctuous bone marrow served warm in the bone.

The three-tiered venue is a talking point in itself, beginning with a see-and-be-seen bar on the ground floor, up a spiral staircase to a smaller bar/lounge area filled with framed pictures of besuited, bushy tailed badgers and foxes, to the gold-panelled restaurant at the top, crowned by a mirrored ceiling. My visit was brief, but the canapés piqued my interest, and I'm keen to return to try the food.

Later last week I swung by the Pommery E: Cube bar, by way of the Winter Wonderland currently taking residence in Hyde Park. Walking through the fairground past wooden shacks selling everything from German brawürst and silly hats to Spanish churros, I got excited for the first time about Christmas. Europeans do Christmas markets with such flair, and it looks like we're finally catching on - even if we have to copy most of their culinary creations to make it work.

Inside the ultra violet E: Cube, the place is buzzing. The house music being belted out reverberates around the white padded walls, and it feels like I'm at some teenager's end of ski season wrap party. An intense smell of fondu permeates the cube. Rather than simply sniff it, I seek out the source, tear off some scraps of bread from a nearby loaf, and slather my plate with molten cheese.

Moving on to this week, on Tuesday I popped into the launch of Cassis Bistro on the Brompton Road in Knightsbridge. On arrival I spot Charles Campion keeping court, Champagne glass in hand. The space has a reassuringly casual air, with brown leather booths and simple gray brickwork. The food is traditional bistro fare - snails in pastry, scallop ceviche, an array of patés, hazelnut tarts - all very lovely, but haven't we seen it all before? I struggled to find a USP.

The night before I headed to the Vista roof bar at the Trafalgar Hotel, which has been given a Nordic makeover in time for Christmas in a hat tip to the Norwegian Christmas tree which will soon be furnishing Trafalgar Square. The erstwhile al fresco bar has been covered with a white canopy and filled with heaters, to keep the party people toasty all festive season, before it's dismantled on New Year's Day.

In keeping with the Nordic theme is a series of Scandi cocktails, including the devilish Fjord Escort made with Chambord, cream and cinnamon, and the dangerously delicious Stockholm Syndrome made with Hanger 1 poached pear vodka and Pommery Champagne, finished off with a fizzing sugar cube – after one sip I was sympathising.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Whisky and Indian food matching at Quilon

I seem to have written a lot on the subject of Indian food and drink pairing of late. A notoriously hard cuisine to match with wine and sprits, earlier this year I attended a dinner at Moti Mahal in Holborn matching Indian food with saké, which worked strangely well.

More recently, I returned to the restaurant to see how Indian wines fared with their native cuisine, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wines made from international varieties coming out of Grover Vineyards, in the Nandi Hills near Bangalore.

For the hat-trick, this month I attended a dinner at the Michelin-starred Quilon in St James's, to see whether whisky and Indian cuisine make good bedfellows. I don't pretend to be whisky fan – I can appreciate its complex array of aromas, but find the burn on the palate hard to swallow. The evening was hosted by self-confessed whisky nut Dominic Roskrow, who has recently published a 300-page tome on the subject: The World's Best Whiskies (£30). Quilon, which specialises in south west coastal Indian cuisine, has a 50-strong whisky list, so served as the ideal venue to put the pairings to the test.

The unassuming Roskrow is keen to divorce himself from any snobbery associated with whisky, which he views as 'a farmers drink' made in poor areas for people to celebrate and commiserate with. Roskrow touched on the need for whisky brands to reach out and communicate with the new generation of writers and bloggers coming through.

After his impassioned speech, mouthes were parched, and we were all keen to get our heads in a glass. First up we tried an Indian whisky: Amrut Double Cask, which had a young, intoxicating nose of barley, peat, cedar and spice - almost like Old Spice aftershave. The palate was smooth and creamy, with notes of vanilla and an aniseed finish. Next we imbibed a 1982 Karuizawa (pictured) from Japan, weighing in at a eye-watering 56% abv. The nose had lovely aromas of sea salt caramel, held up by an intensely peaty backbone. The charred, smokey notes made it taste like a liquid bonfire.

Third in line was my personal favourite: Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon – by far the smoothest of the quartet. An attractive deep amber colour, it smelt like a sweet Oloroso, full of vanilla, caramel and toffee notes, along with walnut, varnish and maple. The American oak leant it an approachable banoffee pie character. Smooth, round and long, it was the only whisky I didn't add water to. Finally, we were presented with a serious Scotch: Glenkeir Macallan 17 Year Old Cask Strength, which showed great elegance, with citrus and orange peel aromas, along with the customary peat, wood and spice.

But how did these alcoholic giants fare with the delicate Indian food? They take their spices so seriously at Quilon they have three full-time chefs working soley on sourcing them, and import more spices than any other London restaurant. Head chef Sriram Aylur is a purist, known for championing subtle flavours and not using any butter of cream in his dishes – something I was disappointed to hear, as I'm into rich, heart-curdling food.

The food may have been lacking in fat, but it was far from lacking in flavour. It's easy for a chef to slather his dishes in butter for instant customer gratification, but it takes real skill to create big flavours from subtle ingredients. Standout dishes included exquisitely moist, soft and juciy Dakshini pepper chicken, a powdery soya bean chop with plum sauce, Okra Pachadi – fried okras mixed with yoghurt, ground coconut and cumin seeds (I ate the entire bowl intended for four), and curious pepper ice cream, which perfectly navigated the playful divide between sweet and savoury.

I can't come to any prolific conclusions about the suitability of whisky as a drink pairing for Indian food, as I switched to wine as soon as the food arrived. But perhaps that says it all: some drinks are best enjoyed on their own, and the alcoholic burn from whisky wouldn't work with dishes with any degree of spice in them. But the fun is in the experimentation, and I'm happy to be proved wrong.

The next whisky dinner hosted by Dominic Roskrow at Quilon takes place on 1 February 2011. Tickets are priced at £59.50 per person. To book, call Quilon reservations on: 020 7821 1899.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Interview with Tom Harrow of WineChap

Wine and the City catches up with Tom Harrow of WineChap, who was recently voted one of London's most influential people by the Evening Standard, to find out about WineChap's latest projects, from a new Bar Chick website, to a high altitude wine tasting in a private plane.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Wine Chap truffle and wine evening at Polpo

With truffle season in full flow, last week I was lucky enough to be invited to the latest WineChap Eno Club dinner – a Piedmont inspired truffle fest at Polpo in Soho, hosted by WineChap's flamboyant frontman Tom Harrow.

The ten course epicurean epic began with a trio of starters: deliciously textured and creamy chopped chicken liver with truffled leeks, a salty, gooey, potato and parmesan crochetta and a crunchy wild mushroom crostino, which were matched with a light, playful Langhe Arneis Nieve 2009 from Castello di Nieve. We were off to a sensational start.

Dressed in a pastel pink shirt accessorized with a clipped beard, the dapper, dandified Harrow, who was last week voted one of London's most influential people for his hugely successful WineChap iPhone app that irreverently analyses the wine lists of London's top restaurants, introduced each of the wines with an anecdote. He was due to fly out the next morning to northern Italy to take part in the famous White Truffle of Alba auction, where Decanter's Asia contributing editor, Jeannie Cho Lee, forked out a staggering €105,000 for a 900g truffle.

The bacchanalian feast continued with a trio of dishes laced with white Alba truffles, beginning with fresh taglierini with butter, which the waiter elegantly furnished with finely grated truffle, then moving on to the tastiest risotto I've ever experienced: scallop and fennel, dotted with white truffles. Soft, rounded, creamy and rich, yet with a freshness from the fennel, it was expertly cooked, and quickly devoured. The accompanying fennel, curly endive and almond salad was equally exquisite - light, freshy and lemony, with a nutty backbone, I could have munched a bottomless bowl of it.

The trio was matched with a sherbety Gavi di Gavi 2008, which Tom described as 'Chablis on a Vespa', and a glinting, ruby Villa Saparina Roero Andre 2006, that came in a curious bottle shaped like a Roman amphora, and sang of sour cherries.

Harrow believes that, rather than due to the terroir and growing conditions, northern Italy has a strong red wine culture because of the meat heavy cuisine –whites just wouldn't stand up. Moving on to the main event, both the food and wine went up a notch on the flavour intensity scale. First we tried calves liver and polentia bianca infused with truffle oil, which, although well cooked, was not to my taste.

But the succeeding grilled sliced flank steak, porchini cream and black truffle was the culinary apogee of the evening. Soft, juicy, heady, salty, sexy - I was in food heaven. The steak was accompanied by deliciously crispy mini roast potatoes that glowed like nuggets of gold. On the wine front, we tried a trio of double decanted Nebbiolos - Italy's answer to Pinot Noir according to Tom. First up was a Castello di Nieve Barbaresco 2006 – the wine served at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's wedding, which was firm but feminine, with notes of rose, licorice, sour cherry and mint - Cruise has good taste!

We then tried Sperino Lessona 2006, which went divinely well with the meat. It has an opulent nose of sour cherry, and a voluptuous, full, spicy body. Rougher round the edges than the Barbaresco, it had something of the rogue about it; masculine to the Barbarescos feminine. We ended on a high note with Brovia Barolo 2004, which was rich and opulent, with notes of black cherry, plum and violets wrapped around huge, bear hug tannins. Dense and long on the palate, it had a treacly, minty finish - a most intriguing wine.

Desert was an exiting affair - beginning with sticky fig and goat's cheese bruschetta with walnuts, truffle and honey that was so exquisitely textured and flavoured (crunchy, nutty, savoury and sweet), I had to close my eyes in the pure pleasure of it all. We moved on to panettone and truffle honey ice cream, which matched incredibly well with the marmalade fuelled Arneis Passito and smelt like warm waffles.

After such epicurean heights, a small group of us wound down in the Groucho Club drinking espresso Martinis and discussing Danish cooking and the merits of brogues beneath a neon pink Tracy Emin scribble mounted on the wall. I called for a carriage at midnight, but a few hardy souls soldiered on. The next morning, a friend emailed to say that Damien Hirst and Fergus Henderson showed up shortly after I left and sunk a few bottles with them. I suppose that's the trick to life - knowing when the right time to leave the party is...

Wine Chap host regular Eno Club dinners. To find out about their latest events, visit: http://winechap.com

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Ravenswood wine dinner at 28-50

Last week the King of Zin Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, California, was in London to host a wine bloggers dinner at Xavier Rousset's wine workshop 28-50.

I remember quizzing Xavier about his next venture during lunch at the Fine Wine 2010 conference in Ribera del Duero in May. He mentioned he was about to open a sister restaurant to Texture, but this time he wanted to focus on wine, so had christened it 28-50 after the latitude at which vines are grown. Six months on and the place is heaving with both the wine trade and city slickers day and night - smart move.

Beginning with a glass of fizz, our group is soon ushered upstairs to a long wooden dining table overlooking the bistrot below. In the far corner I spot Tim Atkin and Victoria Moore, who were no doubt discussing the latest broadsheet wine writer transfers. It's like the end of the football signing season - everyone's on the move. Moore has just been snapped up by the Telegraph, and Fiona Beckett has filled the vacancy at the Guardian. So where does that leave Johnny Ray?

I digress. After an enjoyable interview that morning, I was keen to find out more about Peterson, so saddled up next to him. He'd brought seven Zins with him, from the wallet friendly 2007 Vintners Blend (£7.99), to the top end Barricia Zinfandel (£24.95). In keeping with his 'No Wimpy Wines' mantra, we were to drink Zinfandel from starter to pudding, so I chose the boldest dishes on the menu, to give them a chance of standing up against the big, bold, peppery beasts.

Peterson is a consummate raconteur, and spent most of the evening recalling tales from his winemaking past, from picking four tones of grapes during a thunderstorm under the watchful gaze of three ravens, and sleeping in fields in Spain, to being propositioned by a masseuse in the Middle East. During the starters (delicious duck rillettes for me) he tells me the winery is named after the leading man in Donizetti's opera Luica de Lammermoor - Sir Edgar, Master of Ravenswood.

'The raven is seen as a trickster god to the American Indians, so it wasn't a large leap to adopt it as my totem', admits Peterson, who promises free tastings for life to anyone who has the distinctive Ravenswood symbol permanently inked.

The winery has been making some of the world's best Zinfandels for over 30 years, and Peterson still seems fiercely passionate about California's native grape. Moving on to the main event, a suitably un-wimpy onglet of beef, the wines come into their own. Both the Tedelshi 2006 and Barricia 2006 stand out - full of sumptuous, brambly black fruit, pepper and spice, they are big, bold and grippy without being monsters, with a lovely licorice finish. I'm amazed at how smooth, soft and approachable the wines are, despite their high alcohol levels.

The final wine - Lodi 2005, is served in a mammoth bottle by a brave waitress. In our interview earlier that day, Joel had championed Zinfandel as a wine capable of ageing gracefully, describing how the best wines take on Northern Italian tar and roses qualities. Curious to experience the flavours first hand, I was disappointed not to see an old Zin in the line up. Perhaps I'll have to look into getting that tattoo...

During desert, our veins pumping with Zinfandel, Joel and I engage in a spiritual discussion. He concludes that the world is a magnificent accident and that we have to live as if there is nothing else afterwards, making each day count – an exhilarating and liberating philosophy. 'Did you always feel that way?', I ask. 'Hell no, I was a Christian fundamentalist at university, but a bit of Peyote put paid to that'.

Interview with Joel Peterson of Ravenswood

Last week I caught up with founder and chief winemaker of Ravenswood, Joel Peterson – in town to host a wine bloggers dinner at 28-50, to find out what winemakers need to do to get Zinfandel recognised as a world class wine, how zinfandel ages, how he felt about being bought by Constellation, and why there are so many 'wimpy wines' in the world. Find out what the King of Zin had to say here...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Decanter First Growths masterclass

Saturday was an iconic day for the Decanter team. We hosted our First Growths masterclass at The Landmark hotel, bringing together the directors of the five Bordeaux First Growths: Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion for their first ever public tasting in the UK - and their second ever in history.

All 90 tickets for the masterclass, spanning 20 years from 2008 to 1988, sold out within minutes of going on sale back in August.

Working at the masterclass, I was lucky enough to taste a sip of each wine at the end, after each measure had been poured. For me, the classic vintages – Margaux 2005 and Lafite 2000, really stood out.

Tasting notes:

Latour 2008
Dense blackcurrant, rich, opulent, perfumed, young but approachable, sleek, fine grain tannins, restrained and stylish, with a licorice and mint finish.

Mouton 2006
Rich blackcurrant nose, oak dominant, fleshy and voluptuous on the palate with big tannins to balance the bold fruit.

Margaux 2005
Rich, opulent, concentrated, delicious on the palate, elegant but voluptuous, velvety, powerful and rounded. Intense and pure – an iron first in a velvet glove. A wonderfully complete wine.

Haut-Brion 2004
Earthy, terroir-driven, fruiter on the palate, blackcurrant, black cherry, spice, chocolate and mint. Textured if a touch lean.

Latour 2003
Can taste the heat, fruit forward – plums, cloves, spices, developed but will go on, smooth, soft, very approachable, drinking fantastically now, upfront, baked fruit with an exotic finish.

Lafite 2000
Lovely development, sumptuous secondary aromas of game, leather and pencil shavings – classic, classy Bordeaux, silky, suave and textured on the palate, drinking perfectly now.

Haut-Brion 1998
Still youthful, fruit forward - black cherry nose, smooth, elegant, broody, grippy tannins, tight, concentrated and virile, with a licorice finish.

Margaux 1996
Oaky nose with vegetal, developed, savoury notes of game, leather, spice and smoke. Graceful with sleek, stylish tannins.

Mouton 1989
Autumnal, classy, forest floor aromas, sweet fruit, toasty blackcurrant, fennel, mint, full bodied, elegant and suave.

Lafite 1988
Still surprisingly fruit driven, blackcurrant, black cherry, mint, secondary aromas starting to come through, elegant, soft, supple, rounded, smooth and velvety - typical Lafite finesse.

First Growths masterclass

Wine and the City goes behind the scenes at the Decanter First Growths masterclass on Saturday at The Landmark hotel. A first for Decanter (and for the UK), this was only the second time in history that directors from all five Bordeaux First Growths: Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion, have gathered together to taste their iconic wines in public. Find out what vintages the lucky ticket holders tasted here...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Grover wine dinner at Moti Mahal

'It's time Brits drank Indian food with Indian wine, instead of a beer named after a snake', begins Amber Vaidya, brand ambassador for Indian winery Grover Vineyards, in an impassioned speech at gourmet Indian restaurant Moti Mahal in Holborn.

He'd gathered a group of journalists to celebrate Grover's entry to the UK, which was signed and sealed this summer through an exclusive partnership with Bibendum, who've taken on three wines in the Grover range: the Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Shiraz and La Reserve, voted best new world red last year by Steven Spurrier in his Decanter column.

Situated in the Nandi Hills, 40km from Bangalore, Grover Vineyards was founded in 1988 by defense equipment tycoon Kanwal Grover after seven years of research into the best grape growing areas in India. The 410-acre estate is planted with international varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.

Buffered by the mountains, the vines are protected from monsoon winds and enjoy a long growing season, while the limestone rich soils imbue the wines with a mineral core. Keen to produce terroir-driven wines in the French style, Grover enlisted the help of Bordeaux-based super consultant Michel Rolland, who counts Angélus, Lascomes, Léoville Poyferré, Robert Mondavi and Casa Lapostolle among his high profile clients. Winemaking methods therefore, are distinctly French – La Reserve is hand picked and spends six months in French oak.

But what of the food? Moti Mahal's head chef Anirudh Arora has created a menu inspired by his childhood travels along the Grand Trunk Road, a 2500km stretch built in the 16th century that navigates the breadth of the country, pumping life through it. The five course menu begins with a Punjab dish: masala paneer with tomatoes and bell peppers, followed by succulent monkfish simmered in a tamarind, ripe tomato and ginger sauce – a dish made popular in Lahore, paired with the grassy, fresh, grapefruit-driven 2009 Sauvignon Blanc.

Next up is the culinary highlight of the night: butterflied leg of lamb seasoned with cinnamon and green chillies. The small, juicy morsels of lamb are the softest I've ever eaten - almost like lamb clouds, with an etherial tenderness, matched with the young, fruit forward, spicy 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz. The final main is chicken tossed in basmati rice, crushed fennel and saffron from the food capital of India – Lucknow, paired with the jewel in Grover's crown; La Reserve 2009.

Closed on first sniff, the wine soon opens up to reveal a bouquet of ripe red and black fruits, with hints of spice. On the palate it shows black currant, mocha, chocolate, vanilla and licorice, which fuse together into a long, pleasing finish. The feast is rounded off with an exquisite bread pudding made in reduced saffron milk served with cardamom ice cream. Having had my first sip of Indian wine at the London International Wine Fair this year, I was excited by the wines on show at the dinner. Displaying elegance, character, and a sense of place, they suggest a promising future for Indian wine. The Cobra days are over...

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Basque gastronomy evening

No one does culinary theatre better than the Spanish. And so it was that I was invited to go down the rabbit hole into an edible Basque Wonderland.

Held at the Wallace Collection in London's Manchester Square, the evening aimed to flaunt the culinary skills of three of Spain's most prestigious chefs: Andoni Luis Aduriz from Mugaritz, Martin Berasategi, and Pedro Subijana from Akellare.

Flaming torches light the way to the stately entrance of the Wallace Collection. On arrival, I'm lead through a round room full of Louis XVI furniture and a sculpture of Venus chastising Cupid, to a courtyard buzzing with hungry food hacks. Three wines are on offer, a Rioja Reserva and a pair of Txakolis; my poison of choice for the evening.

Showcasing the latest in new-wave Basque tapas, or 'pintxos', as they're known in the region, my culinary adventure begins with a passion fruit half topped with foie gras mousse – the epitome of a sensual food experience. The passion fruit, with its exoticism, edible pips and juicy centre, paired with the rich, creamy, foie gras, makes for an incredibly sexy match. Foodie hedonism at its best.

I'm then handed a medicine bottle full of blood red gazpacho, which I'm advised to shake before imbibing. Alas, nowhere on the bottle does it say 'Drink Me'. The three chefs are stationed in different corners of the room. Where they cook, a snaking queue follows. Subijana is surrounded by frying pans filled with large black stones. He places a solitary prawn on each and dramatically sets fire to the lot. The flames lick the crowd, and I have to check if I still have eyebrows left.

In another corner, Berasategi is indulging his inner pyromaniac, setting fire his millefeuille of foie gras, smoked eel and apple with a tiny blow torch. The result is an explosion of flavour and texture – creamy, crunchy, smoky, smooth, sweet and savoury, it's an inspired match in a league of its own. I have to be forcibly dragged from the stand.

The most intriguing dish of the night comes from Adoni Luis Aduriz, who plays with our perceptions of vision and taste with his trompe l'oeil edible pebbles on a bed of sand. The gray rocks are in fact clay-baked potatoes, and the sand bread crumbs. The drying sensation caused by the breadcrumbs feels like munching on a mouthful of sand, but when paired with the free range egg yolk dip, the rocks are rendered edible.

A plethora of puddings follow, the standout being Cinderella apples dusted in gold, with a pureed apple centre. Without thinking I pop the green stalk in my mouth, and am horrified to find it's chive - a culinary trick too far. And wasn't it Snow White who ate the poisoned apple?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Dining at Kayashii is an extraordinary experience. From the burly bouncer on the door to the blinding white decor, neon lighting and house music on rotation, it feels more like a club than a restaurant. Or, at the very least, a fusion of the two: a clubaurant.

Kyashii's club credentials are no coincidence. Having started life in the basement of the über bling Kingly Club, which opened (and closed) during the recession, the restaurant has taken over the entire site in a bid to make the venue more food-focused.

Its former life as a club is still evident. The bright white tables, plush leather seats and shiny white floor tiles are very Supperclub, or Bond by way of Marbella. It may have lost its disco balls, but Kyashii is very much a place to see and be seen. There's something very mid '90s hip-hop about the place. I can imaging P Diddy and Jay-Z cracking open the Cristal (pre Frederic Rouzaud dispute) and nibbling on sashimi here, shooting club scenes for their latest video.

The space is divided into four dining areas: a ground floor bar with a polished granite sushi counter for casual diners, the 'white room' - with white leather seating and Italian tiled flooring, a bespoke mezzanine level where you can spy on the chefs, and the 'blue room', where I dined, complete with a panoramic electric blue-lit fish tank teeming with tropical fish. Enveloped by the tank, it reminded me of the scene in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet when the star-crossed lovers first set eyes on one another through the glass.

Admiring the neon fish as they dart about in the tank, I feel pangs of guilt that I'm about to eat a shoal of their brothers and sisters. It's like having a cattle pen in a steak house. But what of the food? Head chef Jacky Yu (ex-Zuma) is clearly an incredible talent. The menu mixes traditional Japanese fare: sashimi salad with yuzu, black cod tempura, dragon rolls, with more unusual dishes: exquisite yellowtail ponzu with truffle oil, a foie gras sushi set including the standout foie gras beef tataki with nonomi-miso, and pan-fried beef fillet with dynamite mustard sauce.

The food is painstakingly cooked and artfully presented – the sashimi gleams it's so fresh. The dishes seem to mirror the surroundings – flashy and polished; almost too perfect. For those looking to flash the cash at a sleek and stylish sushi venue, Kyashii ticks all the boxes. But there's more to it that mere gloss – it delivers on both the aesthetic and flavour front. Don't let the ostentatious surroundings put you off – Kyashii couldn't be more serious about food.

Kyashii, 4a Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2H 9NY, www.kyashii.co.uk, around £50pp.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Colman Andrews interview

Wine and the City catches up with American food writer Colman Andrews on a recent trip to London, to find out about his new book; Ferran Adrià: The Man Who Changed The Way We Eat, that traces the journey of the renowned El Bulli chef from dishwasher to culinary demigod. So was there a eureka moment for Adrià? Watch the video and find out...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Bompas & Parr Chewing Gum Factory

Wine and the City catches up with Sam Bompas, one half of Bompas & Parr, at Bompas & Parr's Artisanal Chewing Gum Factory at Whiteleys, to find out how the factory works and ask what madcap plans the boys are cooking up next...