Thursday, 29 December 2011

Ones to Watch in 2012

thedrinksbusiness.com brings you a quintet of rising stars set to impact upon consumer luxury wine and spirits spend in 2012.

Peter Sisseck, Age: 49

Danish-born Sisseck is the creator and owner of cult Spanish wine Pingus (from Ribera del Duero), which has been ranked as the highest scoring wine by Robert Parker for the last five years according to the Liv-ex Power 100. Parker declared Pingus’ first vintage (1995) “one of the greatest and most exciting wines I have ever tasted.” No more than 8,500 bottles of are produced each year, which sell for more than £400 a piece. Sisseck’s second wine, Flor de Pingus, is also proving popular with Parkerites. The great Dane’s uncle, Peter Vinding-Diers, transformed the quality of white Graves in the ‘80s, perhaps explaining why Sisseck has branched out to St Emilion, where he runs the biodynamic estate Château de Rocheyron.

Lady Gaga, Age: 25

The eccentric singer topped this year’s Forbes celebrity list, with an estimated net worth of US$90m. Representing the power of celebrity endorsement in the luxury wine and spirits sphere, I could have chosen a number of world-famous stars, but Gaga made the cut for being the most talked about and photographed celebrity of the moment. Often tweeting about her love of wine to her 16m Twitter followers, the Italian American songstress could start a luxury drinks trend at the drop of one of her Philip Tracey hats. She hasn’t yet, but she could.

Yao Ming, Age: 31

Last month, the Chinese NBA basketball star announced plans to release “Yao Ming” wine in China at £384 a bottle. The Shanghai-born sports star, worth more than US$65 million, has ventured into wine just months after retiring from basketball to meet a growing thirst for wine in his home country. Yao Family Wines use grapes from six vineyards in the Napa Valley, though Ming also owns a winery in Napa. The first batch of “Yao Ming” is a 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Magnums of the wine are expected to sell for £6,000 at an upcoming charity auction in China.

Erik Lorincz, Age: 31

Last year, the Slovakian-born head bartender at the newly reopened American Bar at The Savoy, out-mixed, out-stirred and out-shook 9,000 bartenders to win the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year competition, leading him to be dubbed “the best bartender in the world” by the Wall Street Journal. This year he was crowned International Bartender of the Year at the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail 5th Annual Spirits Awards in New Orleans. Before The American Bar, Lorincz was working his shaker at The Connaught Bar. Catch him in the capital while you still can...

Wu Fei, Age: 41

The general manager of the wine and spirits branch of COFCO, China’s largest oils and food trader, plans to aggressively expand the company’s vineyard ownership overseas on the heels of two recent purchases, with sights set on Australia and the United States. COFCO has been expanding internationally to diversify its portfolio and compete with international brands. It purchased Château Viaud in Lalande de Pomerol for US$15m in February. Fei is in charge of umbrella brand The Great Wall, China’s most famous wine brand worth €1.4 billion, which sells 120m bottles a year.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Wine on tap thriving in US

A growing number of US restaurants are starting to serve wine on tap from kegs. As reported on thedrinksbusiness.com, daring venues in San Francisco, LA, Las Vegas, Atlanta, New York and Detroit are all in on the act. The reusable, five-gallon kegs, holding the equivalent of 25 bottles of wine, store the product for more than five months, keeping by-the-glass wines fresher for longer. Pumped out from the keg, the wine is never exposed to oxygen, making the last glass as fresh as the first, thus creating zero waste.

Leading the wine by the keg charge in New York are Charles Bieler (pictured) and Bruce Schneider, founders of The Gotham Project, which makes a Riesling in keg from the east side of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes. Supplying to the Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City’s Grand Central Station, the Red Rooster in Harlam and Terroir Tribeca in Manhattan, the dynamic duo are dedicated to changing the way Americans drink wine.

“We’re not just selling a concept, we’re selling a better glass of wine,” Bieler tells me. I wanted to do something locally. I was always amazed by the trend of eating local, but when it came to drinking local, people sort of ignored it.” Now 25 New York restaurants carry Gotham Project Riesling and an equal number outside the state have taken it on.

“We chose Riesling because I love it, but more importantly because it’s the wine New York State does best,” admits Bieler, who is working on putting a sparkling wine in keg. We want to offer wines that can compete with the best in the world at their price point.”

The flamboyant winemaker, who once traversed the US in a pink Cadillac wearing a pink tuxedo to promote his father’s Provence rosé, thinks Stateside wineries and retailers will jump on the keg bandwagon once they see it working in the on-trade. Bieler is toying with the idea of bringing the wine in keg concept to London. I could see wine on tap working in laid back wine-focused venues with extensive by-the-glass offerings, like Brawn, Terroirs, Vinoteca, Artisan & Vine and 28-50. Perhaps we’ll be drinking English sparkling on tap by the end of 2012?

Charles Bieler photo (c) James Estrin – The New York Times/Redux

Friday, 23 December 2011

Wine in cans selling out Stateside

Young Americans are developing a thirst for wine in cans, according to Ben Parsons, owner of hip Denver-based urban winery The Infinite Monkey Theorem. Local retailers have been selling out of Parsons’ US$6.99 Sparkling Black Muscat in a 250ml can, emblazoned with the brand’s eye-catching monkey logo. The British-born winemaker launched the can last July with a reworking of the iconic Barack Obama blue-and-red “Hope” poster, with the tag line: “Yes, we canned.”

“I’ve always wanted to put wine in a can,” Parsons told thedrinksbusiness.com. “They’re user-friendly, recyclable, and cut through the pretension of wine. It’s a perfect fit for the brand.” Targeting the can at Millennial drinkers and generation X’s aged 21 to 40 has paid off. “It’s ideal for music venues, and I’m in talks with Virgin Atlantic to try and get it onto their in-flight wine list,” says Parsons, who admits the wine won’t age: “It’s got a one-year shelf life like any other can.”

The entrepreneurial winemaker is planning on going national and would like to take the can internationally in the near future, saying: “I’d love to see it in London nightclubs and vending machines in Tokyo, why not?” The stumbling block is its 250ml size, which is an illegal size for selling alcohol in some US states. “I’m petitioning to allow 250ml cans in all US states, it’s a crazy law,” says Parsons, who is about to unleash a canned sparking Syrah and Pinot Gris onto the market.

Surprisingly, given its peony pink colour and sweet flavour, Parsons has found the wine to be a huge hit with men, much to his delight. “I want to change people’s perception of wine and make them see it as an everyday drink. I’d like to see more producers put their wines in cans so it becomes more acceptable,” he says. The first US winemaker to offer wine in cans was forward thinking film director Francis Ford Coppola, who started selling sparkling wine Sophia Blanc de Blancs (named after his daughter), in hot pink 187ml cans in 2004.

Having enjoyed success in the US, Parsons is considering upping sticks and heading back to London to set up an urban winery somewhere suitably hip like Hackney or Shoreditch. “I could source top quality fruit from all over Europe and make a bunch of different wines. I’d like to open a casual dining restaurant beside the winery selling my wine on tap from kegs,” Parsons enthuses. If anyone can get Londoners drinking wine from a tap, he can.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Dom Pérignon 2003 launched in five cities

Last week, as reported on thedrinksbusiness.com, Champagne giant Dom Pérignon hosted five simultaneous international events in London, Hong Kong, Paris, New York and Tokyo, to launch its 2003 vintage – a controversial release due to the extreme heat of the year. With each event linked by satellite, chef de cave Richard Geoffroy introduced the wine Star Wars-style via hologram, appearing as an electric blue spectral figure and answering questions on the vintage from the five cities in turn.

“Everyone was expecting a very powerful, sun-filled and rapidly maturing wine – a real challenge for the creation of Dom Pérignon,” Geoffroy told us. “It was a risk, which may be rewarded now. It’s at the heart of the house’s values – we’re committed to vintage Champagne. My wish is for Dom Pérignon 2003 to remain one of the greatest examples of the vintage in the history of Champagne.”

Guests in London gathered at the über swish Phillips de Pury auction house in St James’s, where black-and-white stills of the Dom Pérignon vineyards in Hautvilliers were projected onto the whitewashed walls, along with an up-to-the-second Twitter feed from invitees across the five cities. In between sips of the freshly released ’03, we were treated to whipped truffled egg, caviar on beetroot jelly, and seared foie gras.

The 2003 vintage left an indelible mark on the region. After a cold, harsh winter, the initial warmth of spring proved deceptive. On 11 April a severe frost destroyed up to 75% of the Côte des Blancs Chardonnay crop. The unseasonal spring was followed by a heat wave as the region experienced its hottest summer for 53 years, resulting in the earliest Champagne harvest since 1822.

Undeterred, Geoffroy embraced the challenge: “At no moment in time was there any question of giving up. Instead, we seized the opportunity to create the 2003 vintage,” he said, adding, “Intensity is the signature 2003. It’s unique and paradoxical, hovering between austerity and generosity. It has tremendous ageing potential, but is also very enjoyable now as it’s so expressive.” Commenting on the 2011 vintage, Geoffroy was less upbeat: “2011 was less spectacular than 2003, it will be hard to predict how it will mature.” Dom Pérignon 2003 will be available in the UK from February 2012 with an RRP of £120.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Moët 1911 on sale in Harrods for £65,000

Stuck what to buy the man who has everything for Christmas? As reported on thedrinksbusiness.com, a six-bottle case of Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Collection 1911 has gone on sale in luxury London department store Harrods for £65,000 – just under £11,000 per bottle. The famed Champagne house has released 11 six-bottle cases of the 100-year-old wine – disgorged last January – with each being offered to a different market around the world. One of the cases was auctioned at a gala dinner in Shanghai in September, raising US$100,000 for charity.

Noted by the then Moët cellar master as a “memorable” year, 1911’s conditions were near perfect. As the vintage matured, it soon took its place as one of the house’s most distinguished Champagnes. Describing the wine, Moët & Chandon chef de cave Benoît Gouez gushed: “It’s a stunning Champagne – an inspiration. “I’m astounded by the fact that, after a hundred years, it overflows with vitality and energy, and boasts both impressive depth and amazing freshness.”

According to Gouez, the nose contains: “notes of brioche, candied fruits and panettone, with intense middle notes of mocha, crème brûlée and honey, and hints of leather and tobacco,” while the body is “supple, velvety and perfectly balanced.” Champagne authority Tom Stevenson said of the wine: “The nose is still floral and fruity and after a century, it’s still bubbly on the palate. It’s a superb vintage Champagne, both elegantly mature and deliciously lively.”

The £65,000 case, housed in a chic black holdall, has gone on display in one of Harrods’ Christmas windows. Far from the optimum storage conditions for such precious bottles of liquid history, at least we can all be afforded a glimpse of the 100-year-old treasure before it’s stashed away in a billionaire’s cellar, or, even worse, cracked open by a hedge funder on New Year’s Eve.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Wine Academy of Spain denies accusations against Campo and Miller

As reported on thedrinksbusiness.com, The Wine Academy of Spain (TWAS) has issued a statement categorically denying the accusations against Pancho Campo MW (pictured) and Jay Miller that Spanish wineries were being charged up to €40,000 by Campo for a visit from Miller. “The Wine Academy of Spain never requested from any wineries monies for the visits of Jay Miller or for tasting their wines,” reads the statement, signed by Campo, president and founder of the academy. “All the expenses for Jay Miller to travel to Spanish wine regions to taste and review wines were covered by The Wine Advocate, including his transportation, accommodation, meals and any other related expenses,” the statement continues.

According to Campo, the only occasion when fees had been charged were for “the organisation, setup and management of events that included seminars, conferences, masterclasses and guided tastings, which were open to the public,” but that “None of these fees were ever paid to The Wine Advocate.” Campo asserts that it was made clear to all Wine Academy of Spain staff that wineries could not pay fees for Jay Miller to taste their wines on behalf of The Wine Advocate, and that Miller was not allowed to accept hospitality at restaurants or gifts.

Earlier this year, TWAS organised a wine show in Jumilla with the Association of Wine from the Region of Murcia (Asevin) featuring a masterclass by Miller. Before contracts were signed, Asevin sent out an email trying to raise money from the wineries, contrary to the stipulations in the proposed agreement. According to Campo, “At that point, TWAS put the event on hold until the wineries were informed that they could not be asked for any kind of payment for possible visits and for submitting samples.” Campo is preparing to take legal action “in order to obtain the necessary measures against persons and publications having published information potentially damaging the reputation and the honour of The Wine Academy of Spain.”

Jay Miller resigned from Robert Parker’s bi-monthly publication The Wine Advocate last week to return to wine consulting, lecturing and wine retail. Miller denied his stepping down had anything to do with the Spain debacle. “Some may believe my stepping down is in response to my critics, nothing could be further from the truth. I have never accepted (or request) fees for visiting wine regions or wineries,” he said.

Both Miller and Parker indicated this was a voluntary departure on Miller's part, with Parker referencing the tediousness of tasting mediocre wines that can "burn out the best of us,” adding, "change is never easy, but often essential.” Miller's Spain, Chile, and Argentina responsibilities will be taken over by UK-based Neal Martin, while coverage of Oregon wines will go to David Schildnecht.

English fizz & oysters at Wright Brothers

Wine and the City and American wine writer Panos Kakaviatos taste English sparkler Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2006, made in Kent, with a platter of Duchy of Cornwall oysters at Wright Brothers in Borough Market on a buzzing Saturday morning before Christmas.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Hawksmoor Guildhall

As the home of the City of London, Guildhall has been the centre of City government since the 12th century, and still serves as the City’s ceremonial centre. Recently discovered remains of a Roman amphitheatre indicate that the site was significant as far back as Roman times. Having survived the Great Fire of London, it is the only pre-1666 secular stone structure still standing in the City. The gothic building served as a base for the Lord Mayor in an era when mayor rivaled the monarch for influence and prestige. Trials in the hall have included those of Thomas Cranmer, Lady Jane Grey and Henry Garnet (in connection to the Gunpowder Plot). Fast forward to late 2011, and the team behind Hawksmoor Spitalfields and Seven Dials have cleverly chosen to open their third steakhouse in the suit-filled, BMW-lined, cash-rich City of London, housing Hawksmoor Guildhall in a Grade II listed building inches away from the Guildhall’s soaring ceilings.

The latest addition to the Hawksmoor family is the largest of the trio, able to accommodate 170 covers. A circular sapphire stained glass window prettifies the main entrance, where a sweeping staircase leads you down into the expansive space furnished with chocolate brown leather seats, polished wooden floors and walls lined with wood panelling, which give the impression you’re aboard a vintage sea liner. Reinforcing the nautical theme are porthole lights, a low ceiling and art deco light fittings modelled on the ones used in the Titanic. Specimen cabinets from the Natural History Museum populate the room, while tables have been pilfered from school science departments.

Beef dominates proceedings, with a six-course tasting menu the star attraction. The affable waiting staff sport rolled up checked shirts, fitted jeans and goofy grins. It’s a Tuesday night and the room is abuzz with animated chatter. To my left, a table of sharp-suited businessmen who look like they’ve even nothing but T-bone steak their entire lives, gesticulate wildly with their meaty hands. I kick off my meat feast with a duo of aged whites by the glass, impressed to see both Rioja stalwart López de Heredia Viña Gravonia Crianza Blanco 2001 and Lebanon’s finest, Château Musar 2003 on the list. Two generous glasses of liquid gold are brought to the table, the López de Heredia showing the signature nuttiness of aged white Rioja, while the Musar has a perfumed nose of dried quince and exotic fruits, which pairs perfectly with a sextet of saline Dorset native oysters. Clean and direct, they cleanse the palate in preparation for the pleasures of the flesh.

As inseparable on a 2011 menu as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, a second starter of woody salt-baked beetroot and crumbly Childwickbury goat’s cheese dances across the palate. For the main event, I default to the waiter, who, displaying an encyclopedic knowledge of each cut, talks me through the flavour nuances of each. I settle on a 600g sirloin, and, feeling primeval, ask for it rare. The Flintstones-sized steak is the largest piece of meat I’ve ever encountered. So huge as to be rendered cartoon-like, it could have fed a family of five. Determined to do it justice, I grab my knife and fork and venture into its soft interior.

There’s something about eating a steak that unleashes the inner caveman (or woman). A thick, bloodied slab of meat brings you face-to-face with your carnivorous nature. Attacking the cut and devouring the rare meat links you to your Neanderthal ancestors who hunted to survive. It’s inherently masculine; the ultimate Alpha Male meal, and the polar opposite of a pretentious organic salad filled with frippery. There is something honest and pure about enjoying a steak; a reaffirmation of our status at the top of the food chain.

Aside from its arresting size, the sirloin is moist, tender, juicy (from the fat), and well seasoned. Perfectly pink inside, it has a smoky edge and is so supremely cooked, and such a pure expression of itself, that the accompanying béarnaise and bone marrow sauces hinder rather than enhance the flavour. A side of piping hot triple cooked chips held the crown of the best in London for all of a week, until a visit to Dinner by Heston Blumenthal knocked them from their perch. Hawksmoor’s homemade tomato sauce, served in a retro glass bottle, is given a playful twist by the addition of fennel.

Excited to see Pulenta Malbec 2008 on the wine list, on asking for a bottle, I am told they have run out, so opt instead for Luigi Bosca Gala 1 Malbec 2008, which charms with its fragrant nose of raspberries and plums. Voluptous, and with an alluring sweetness, the fine-grained tannins cut through the fat in the steak, while searing acidity adds wonderful freshness. Dessert presents an array of enticing options, from sticky toffee pudding to an old school popcorn sundae. I go for the peanut butter shortbread with salted caramel ice cream. A dynamic and decadent duo, the shortbread arrives as a parcel, its interior revealing molten peanut butter sauce.

The Hawksmoor team have struck gold with Guildhall, the word fittingly deriving from the Anglo-Saxon “gild”, meaning payment. Building on the success of its older siblings, the new kid on the chopping block has an electric atmosphere, refreshingly unstuffy staff, and fleshy food that satiates even the strongest of carnal desires.

Hawksmoor Guildhall, 10-12 Basinghall Street, London EC2V 5BQ; Tel: +44 (0)20 7397 8120. A meal for two with wine costs around £130.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Monty Waldin and Dr Richard Smart

Biodynamic winemaker and writer Monty Waldin and global consultant on viticultural methods Dr Richard Smart talk to Wine and the City about the pros and cons of organics and biodynamics before a debate on the subject at the WSET headquarters in London. Waldin argues for the motion, with Smart speaking against the promotion of organics and biodynamics in the UK wine trade.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Casa Batavia

“Italians are particularly prone to the comfort and reassuring nostalgia of food. They eat with a childish verve and enthusiasm, and exuberant remembrance of their homes, their mothers, their lovers and their Vespas,” so says AA Gill in his review of Casa Batavia in last Sunday’s Style magazine in The Sunday Times. The Vespa reference is a national stereotype too far, but I get what Gill means. Italians have a love of food unequalled throughout the world. They worship at the altar of food, the architecture of their day built around what they are going to eat.

Nicola Batavia is a self-confessed “eggspert”. I met the chef a month ago at a Castello Banfi dinner at Camden curio Gilgamesh. His arrival at the table was met with much fanfare and clapping of hands, like the returning of the prodigal son. Unfamiliar with his oeuvre, I felt in the presence of a world-famous celebrity that had somehow got through my net. Peering through a pair of neon orange specs, he tells me, in a Dalínian fashion, of his beatific reverence for eggs – of their mystic duality: the hard and the soft, the white and the yolk; the eternal conundrum. Mention is made of a truffled egg dish, which recalls treasured memories of Spuntino’s truffled egg on toast. Noting my enthusiasm, Batavia invites me to try the dish when he’s next in town.

The Michelin-starred chef found fame in Italy with his Ristorante Birichin in Turin. He now has a regular spot on Italian TV, a book, wine line and olive oil to his name. This summer, he teamed up with seasoned London restaurateur Paolo Boschi to launch Casa Batavia on Kensington Church Street. White walls, black leather chairs and polished wooden floors lend an air of austerity to the space, which is softened by playful graphic prints by Italian cartoonist Osvaldo Cavandoli. The interiors are so pared down they border on corporate, but a glass-domed roof lends much-needed light to the proceedings. Tablecloths are a tasteful beige, mirroring the hues of the ladies who lunch that populate the room.

Boschi is so old school you couldn’t invent him. He takes my (beige) coat and sits me at the window table, in full view of the Notting Hillbillies passing by. Our feast gets off to a good start with a cupful of crunchy, lithe grissini sticks served with Batavia’s bright green, grassy, Umbrian olive oil. With it we’re served a generous-sized Riedel glass of Gancia Alta Langa Brut 2007. Aged for three years in oak, the northern Italian sparkler glints gold in the glass, offering a rich and toasty nose of honey and hazelnuts that could give Bollinger a run for its money.

We’re then presented with a silver slither of skate wing served with capers, tomatoes and olives. Soft as swan’s-down, the fish is tremendously tender, and enhanced by the autumnal accoutrements. The embodiment of Batavia’s “modern Italian” cooking philosophy, there are no foams or temperature tricks, just simple, seasonal ingredients. Then it arrives. I can smell it coming. The famous truffled egg. Hopes are high. Poached, it looks beautiful in the dish, nestled in a pond of potato fondu, a solitary sage leaf balancing on top like a fallen feather. The egg is expertly cooked, its orange yolk oozing into the cheese pool below. Rich from the truffle oil, it’s decadent, delightful and comforting beyond belief – what baby food would taste like in heaven.

To follow is a trio of oxtail ravioli blanketed with a snowflake-shaped shaving of Parmesan. Packing a flavour punch, the Parmesan has the intensity of a fresh cheese straw and works well with the tender ox meat. Astutely autumnal, Batavia is spookily in tune with the seasons, like a culinary weather vane. To match, the sommelier suggests Andrea Oberto Giada Barbera d’Alba 2005. An attractive bright ruby, the nose bursts with black cherry, plum and forest fruits. Growing in intensity on the palate, blackcurrant notes give way to a liquorice finish.

Mid-pour, the affable young wine waiter tells us he’s from Narni in Umbria, explaining that C.S. Lewis named his imaginary land of Narnia after the Umbrian hilltown, having stumbled across it in an atlas as a child. The final flourish before dessert is Batavia’s signature dish: pork tonnato in a rustic tuna sauce, latticed with courgette and carrot. Usually made with cold cuts of veal, the juicy medallion of hot roast pork loin is textbook. Dessert doesn’t reach the highs of the main event, though a bowl of molten chili chocolate doused in Amaretto lifts the spirits, while a Lavazza espresso from a bespoke machine imported from Italy delivers an invigorating and smooth caffeine kick. Judging from earlier reviews, the Haribo fried egg sweets presented with the bill have been wisely replaced with almond-filled biscotti.

Though heaving on my visit, Batavia made the effort to talk to each customer, gauging their needs and tweaking their order accordingly. You’d never get that level of service in Soho or Mayfair. My only criticism is that dishes are delivered at warp speed – we were served five in under an hour, giving us little time to luxuriate in the memory of what we’d eaten before we were onto the next course. With the pace of life accelerating, it’s more important than ever to be able to take your time over a meal and let the memory of each dish solidify in the mind before moving on, otherwise we’re just refueling.

Monday, 28 November 2011

World's first paper wine bottle

Wine and the City talks to entrepreneur Martin Myerscough, inventor of the world's first paper wine bottle (set to launch in a UK supermarket early next year), about where the idea came from, how the bottle works, its green credentials, and why he thinks he'll win wine snobs round.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Suka at Sanderson

Much has been made of the pop-up restaurant craze blazing an untraceable trail through London, piquing the curiosity of gung-ho diners with its catch me if you can playfulness. So I was keen to check out Suka’s pop-up effort at its Sanderson outpost. I remember the restaurant’s former incarnation, Spoon, fondly. It was there where, as a food novice, I was first introduced to the delights of foie gras, which arrived in its seared guise atop a perfectly pink fillet steak. Perhaps loyal to that life changing experience and introduction to fine dining, I never returned once it became Suka.

Embracing the trend for fleeting eateries, Suka has flown in Malaysian chef Ahmad Shuib for three months in a bid to usher the restaurant back to its street food roots. Priced lower than the standard Suka menu, the street food offering (available until late January) is based around small sharing plates. Bypassing the Long Bar, with its curious one-eyed stalls, my friend and I are seated outside in the covered courtyard, which, with heaters blaring and dance music pumping, feels more like an Ibizan chill-out lounge than a Mayfair restaurant midwinter.

We begin with two tiny cups of traditional lemongrass tea served cold with brown sugar, inspired by the infusions Shuib’s mother used to make, which both cleanses and invigorates the palate. Moving on to something with more bite, I order a thirst-quenching cinnamon and apple Martini from the Malaysian Classics menu, which is the perfect marriage of sharp and sweet. The almost uncomfortably helpful waitress suggests we order three dishes each to share, kicking off with juicy jumbo Satay prawns marinated in lemongrass and turmeric. Slightly charred from the grill, their smokiness works well with the turbocharged peanut sauce.

Next to arrive is the Sotong Goreng crispy squid with coriander, ginger and green peppercorns that explode unapologetically on the tongue. The crispy shells reveal butter soft squid, so moreish, we devour the entire bowl in under a minute. Though there is little time to mourn the loss, as a steaming bowl of Laska Johor expectantly awaits our spoons. Its fresh crab and creamy coconut contents warms my insides, but the accompanying noodles look suspiciously like spaghetti from a packet. One of the most impressive dishes is Kai Lan – a modest side order of Shrek-green steamed broccoli with shitake mushrooms and sesame. The pleasingly crunchy broccoli pair well with the unctuous mushrooms and nutty sesame.

Taking a breather from the culinary marathon, I refresh my tastebuds with a Sweet Thing cocktail, muddled with strawberries, vanilla and apple. Bright pink and tooth-tinglingly sweet, it’s soothing and nostalgic – like something Shirley Temple would sip in a Sunday, the alcohol all but hidden behind the strawberries and cream. Born to be mild, the main event – Kapitan Kambing lamb and coconut curry is too hot for me to handle, but we were forewarned of its fiery nature. Much more appealing is Char Kway Teow, wok fried flat rice noodles with my faithful friends, king prawns. Silky smooth, gently spiced and satisfyingly savoury, it disappears quickly from its dish.

I somehow manage to find space before dessert for some seriously sexy slithers of barbequed pork belly slathered in soy, honey and hoisin. A standout dish, the comforting morsels are baby soft and packed with flavour, the sweetness of the sauce never cloying. Though decidedly un-Malaysian, I opt for the apple tart for dessert. The size of a small planet, it arrives drenched in caramel sauce and orbited by an accompanying ball of vanilla ice cream. Replete, I penetrate the tart’s epicentre but am unable to demolish it entirely. At two courses for £19 and three for £23, Suka’s street food lunch menu offers impressive value, and a glimpse into an exotic, spice-filled world.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Cheval des Andes at Villa d'Este

Wine and the City tastes two Argentinian gems: Terrazas de los Andes Afincado Single Vineyard Malbec 2007 and Cheval des Andes 2007 with estate manager Hervé Bernie-Scott at Villa d'Este on Lake Como during the World Wine Symposium 2011.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Foraging with Mark Hix

I’m in a tiny dolls house of a hotel with an ice pink façade, built on a slope by the roadside in Lyme Regis. Barely mid-afternoon, it’s already dark, and the wind is howling outside like an untamed beast, causing my window to crash against itself, as if out of sympathy for the giant waves in the distance, cascading up the harbour. Rain lashes relentlessly, the cool air from the drafty window filling my room with a ghostly chill. I feel like Emily St. Aubert in The Mysteries of Udolpho, scared to open my wardrobe for fear of what I might find.

Earlier that day I’d braved the wind-swept beach in search of sea creatures to cook. A group of us had taken the train from London, leaving behind bright blue skies for a tempestuous Jurassic Coast, shrouded in gray. We’d descended upon the “Pearl of Dorset” to forage with Bridport-born celebrity chef Mark Hix, who splits his time between London and Lyme Regis, home to his Hix Oyster & Fish House. Stepping off the train into the rain, we dump our bags at the Mariners hotel, don Wellington boots, and weave our way down to the beach.

The unrelenting wind makes it impossible to get near the sea, which would have gobbled us up without spitting us out, so we have to make do with what’s growing between the pebbles, which includes sea spinach, sea kale, sea cabbage, sea purslane, and my favourite, the spicy, celery-like rock samphire. Shakespeare referred to the dangerous practice of collecting rock samphire from cliffs in King Lear: "Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!" Munching on a sprig, I begin my ascent to Hix’s hilltop restaurant, prodded up the hill in my soporific state by fellow hack Ben Norum’s umbrella.

Safely ensconced in Hix’s hideaway, we refuel on Talisker-laced hot toddies, dispensed into copper cups by master mixologist Nick Strangeway. Hix launches into a pep talk about the joys of foraging, handing round mushrooms he’d picked before the rain hit, including the ominously titled “Trumpets of Death”. We then dine like kings on deliciously fresh seafood platters dotted with lobsters, oysters, razor clams, muscles and jumbo prawns, followed by a meaty fillet of Torbay silver mullet accessorised with cockles in their shells and a forest of foraged seashore vegetables. Dessert reaches a decadent crescendo with a Talisker-drenched walnut tart with Dorset clotted cream, which matches wonderfully with accompanying drams of Talisker 10-year-old and 18-year-old. Glinting gold in their glasses, both have a powerful nose of peat-smoke, pepper, citrus and toffee, lifted by salty, sea air notes.

The next morning, the landscape had transformed. I awoke to the sound of birds chirping, and a view of a calm coastline welcoming the rising sun, piercing through the clouds. The sky was blue, the sea unmoving. It felt like a different place. I sat on the window ledge taking in its beauty for a minute or two, transfixed by the tranquility. How much my horizon had changed in a day. At breakfast, I learnt that Beatrix Potter had stayed in the hotel aged 17, during a visit that served as the inspiration for The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, which, though her last published book, was one of the first to have been written. Having never heard of the book, I chanced upon a copy at an antiques fair a week later. Dipping into it, the pages were interspersed with illustrations of the Lyme Regis coastline, bobbing with boats.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Derenoncourt California at Villa d'Este

Having motored past George Clooney's villa (he wasn't in), Wine and the City and James Lawrence of The Wine Remedy taste Derenoncourt California Cabernet Franc 2007 – Bordeaux go-to consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt's Napa Valley project, on a speedboat during the World Wine Symposium at Villa d'Este on Lake Como.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Albiera Antinori

Wine and the City talks to Albiera Antinori during the World Wine Symposium at Villa d'Este on Lake Como about the newfound Chinese love for Italian wine, Antinori's experimental vineyard in Romania, opening their doors to the public for the first time in 600 years, and whether her father, Marchese Piero, has any plans to retire.

Monday, 14 November 2011

James Martin

Wine and the City talks to celebrity chef James Martin at the London School of Hospitality and Tourism about food and beer matching, working at Château Cheval Blanc as a teenager, his passion for Gaja and Montrachet, and why molecular gastronomy does his head in.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Castillo Perelada flight @ Iberica

If you haven’t already seen Woody Allen’s latest flick, Midnight In Paris, I urge you to do so, if only for Adrian Brody’s spectacular cameo as Salvador Dalí. In the film, a nostalgic Owen Wilson is ushered into a vintage car at the stroke of midnight and taken to a party where he meets the literati of ‘20s Paris, including a brooding Hemingway, ebullient F. Scott Fitzgerald, and his unstable but enchanting girlfriend Zelda. A chance encounter in a café offers Wilson a glimpse into the hyperactive mind of a young Salvador Dalí. Brody’s imitation of the Catalan painter is so pitch-perfect, it feels like you’re encountering the real thing. So what better way to toast Movember, than with a glass of the mustachioed maestro’s favourite Cava, Castillo Perelada. For the next two weeks, Spanish gastronomic pleasure dome Iberica in Marylebone is offering customers the chance to take flight with a trio Castillo Perelada Cavas; the jewel in DO Empordà's crown.

While Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat are well-respected wine regions, Empordà is still a young pretender striving for global recognition. Situated on the northeastern corner of Catalonia at the foot of the Pyrenees, Empordà benefits from a mild Mediterranean climate and has mixture of soils, from slate slopes and red clay to sandy valleys, which make for complex wines. Originally known for its sweet wines, the region is now more famous for its rosés, with Macabeu and Garnacha Blanca making up 80% of plantings. A local of Empordà, Dalí was a close friend of Perelada's founder Miguel Mateu, and was known to welcome guests at his house in Port Lligat, which he shared with his wife and muse Gala, with a glass of Perelada Brut Rosé.

Safely stowed from the bracing autumn night in Iberica’s warm bosom, my flight took off with the Brut Reserva NV, matched with a raspberry-coloured beetroot gazpacho. Dotted with olive oil, the ice-cold soup was punchy, playful and utterly delicious, while the Brut NV was bone dry and bursting with green fruit – tart apples and juicy pears. A severe Cava, I looked on lustfully to Dalí’s favourite, the Brut Rosé, a painterly pale ruby. The nose was equally pretty, displaying attractive summer fruits – squashed strawberries, ripe raspberries and red currants. The palate was generous, cassis liqueur-like almost. To match was a bowl of curious, childlike, chorizo lollipops served swimming in a sea of pear aioli. Devourable in one bite, hidden beneath the battered shell lay a juicy chorizo coin, lifted by the pear kick in the aioli.

My landing was smooth – Gran Claustro 2007, a blend of Macabeu and Chardonnay aged for two years in barrel, which scooped the best Cava award at this year’s New Wave Spanish Wine Awards. The most interesting of the trio, a toasty nose gave way to a stewed apple palate. Smooth and full, and at the same time direct and deliberate, the complex Cava was matched with moreish squares of crunchy calamari that disappeared disappointingly quickly from their dish. Still hungry, and with Dalí on my mind, I was tempted to order the lobster telephone, but the waiter was otherwise engaged.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Duncan Murray

Wine and the City meets Duncan Murray of Duncan Murray Wines in Market Harborough, and finds out how he got into wine, where his passion for the Languedoc came from, and why he can't get enough of quirky indigenous Portuguese grapes Bastardo and Dog Strangler.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Patrón dinner @ the Rebel Dining Society

It was with trepidation that I hoofed it to deepest, darkest Hackney last week in search of the clandestine Rebel Dining Society. Donning a pair of scandalously tight red jeans and scuffed brown suede boots in a bit to look suitably hip, having located Vyner Street and traversed it twice, number 30 eludes me. Spotting a pair of glamour pusses in fur coats and pearls looking equally lost, I join the duo and we eventually strike upon the white quilted door.

I'd been invited to a secret supper in a converted chapel by ultra-premium Tequila, Patrón, namechecked in songs by the likes of Bruno Mars and P Diddy and made famous by Tom Cruise when he orders it post car crash in the club scene in Vanilla Sky. Flirting with the stars and securing the celebrity seal of approval has helped take the brand from profits of $US75m to $US450m in a mere six years. Patrón is currently the world's number one ultra-premium Tequila, accounting for 70% of sales in the category and outselling its nearest competitor in the US by eight to one. The brand's luxury offering has done much to haul the white spirit out of the dark ages and shake off Tequila's less-than-favourable associations with cowboys and bandits, replacing it with cool, well-connected club goers.

The dinner had been put on for Patrón Social Club members – an online community of Patrón fans stretching to over 100,000, made up predominantly of affluent young professionals. Surveying my surroundings while perching on a tall black stall on a table full of fellow hacks, the rest of the room seems suitably Patrón – slick suits, expensive haircuts and shiny shoes abound. In front of us are four unopened bottles of Tequila, teasing us with their proximity. If this is some sort of willpower test, we fail spectacularly, opening the first within minutes of sitting down.

A besuited JJ Goodman, of London Cocktail Club fame, emerges and delivers an ebullient speech about the joys of mixology, whizzing through how to make the first concoction of the night: the Honey Bee Ceviche, which went wonderfully well with our scallop ceviche starters, the former bursting with citrus, the latter tasting pleasingly of the sea and resting on a textured bed of hazelnuts and fennel, much to the delight of Sadie Whitelocks and Stylist's Amy Grier (below).


Our second mixology session results in the Tamarind Sliver Fizz, made with the golden, delicious Patrón Añejo, a blend of uniquely aged Tequilas imbued with sweet honey notes and a long butterscotch finish, served with a perfectly pink but disappointingly cold loin of lamb. The third and final round has me on the shaker, mixing a super smooth Tira-Patrón Martini made with the company's latest baby: Patrón XO Cafe, a Tequila coffee-liqueur accompanied by a devilish dessert of caramelised figs, cherries and mascarpone. Before leaving the chapel, I pay a visit to the ramshackle loo, floor-to-ceiling with artwork. The featured image piqued my interest – Kate Moss through the eyes of Gauguin (after a glass or two of Absinthe) perhaps.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Cortina at Cantina

The clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in. With winter upon us, it may feel tempting to hibernate under your duvet until spring, but the thoughtful people at Cantina del Ponte are determined to keep us partying through the chilly season by bringing the glamour and fun of Italy's chicest ski resort – Cortina d'Ampezzo, to London.

Nicknamed the celebrities living room, the Queen of the Dolomites has long been popular with the Italian glitterati, and became something of a celeb hangout in the '60s, with Hollywood starlets Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and Brigitte Bardot all taking to the slopes. Riverside restaurant Cantina del Ponte has built its own wooden ski shack (minus the chalet girls) – Cortina at Cantina, serving up hot chocolate, warm Mojitos and hazelnut Martinis. For those fond of fondu, try the Bagna Cauda, a traditional Piedmontese dish of seasonal vegetables dipped into a deliciously moreish hot anchovy and garlic sauce.

If the biting breeze becomes unbearable, you can always nip inside for a nibble in the main restaurant, which serves up authentic Italian fare. Highlights include beef carpaccio, wild boar ragu and an Italian cheese plate with a side of heavenly white truffle honey. You may not be able to hit the slopes, but for that après ski feeling without having to leave the city, Cortina is a must.

Cortina at Cantina is open until 17 November. Moon boots optional.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Roda

Wine and the City tries two sensational wines at Roda in Rioja – Roda I Reserva 2006 and the near-mythical Cirsion 2007, made from 100% old vine Tempranillo, with Lottie West from Wines From Rioja. Roda also makes a pair of delicious extra virgin olive oils and recently released two wines from Ribera del Duero under the Corimbo label.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Marqués de Murrieta

Wine and the City tastes two stunning wines at historic bodega Marqués de Murrieta in Rioja – Capellanía Reserva 2006, a complex old vine Viura with immense ageing potential, and Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva 2004, a classic Rioja combining red fruit with cedar aromas.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Roganic

I’m running late for Ben Spalding – literally, running down Blandford Street in Marylebone hoping to catch the head chef before service. It’s 6.15 on a Tuesday evening and a pair of hungry Americans are already perched in Roganic’s compact, 25-seater space lined with lugubrious abstract expressionist paintings, waiting to be fed. Spotting Spalding on entry, I corner the charismatic 24-year-old before he disappears downstairs. Decked out in chef whites, his rolled up sleeves reveal arms heavily inked with tattoos. Musical notes and red and blue jigsaw pieces climb up each limb, alongside the name Tilda (his baby daughter), and the phrase ‘keep your feet on earth but your head in the clouds,’ – “As a chef, you spend so many hours in the kitchen, it’s important to be able to dream a little bit, otherwise you go crazy,” Spalding tells me. His speech is fast and furious, his words spat out like bullets. The world it seems, doesn’t move fast enough for him.

While most pop-ups have the lifespan of a dragonfly, Roganic is stretching the definition with a two-year venture. The brainchild of Simon Rogan, of Michelin-starred L’Enclume in Cumbria, Roganic (a hybrid of Rogan and organic), prides itself on locally sourced (preferably foraged), seasonal organic ingredients. Manning the mothership in Cumbria, Rogan has handed over the reins to the energetic and fiercely creative Spalding. In the absence of an à la carte, diners can opt for a six- or 10-course tasting menu, with a vegetarian option available in both formats. The championing of British produce begins as soon as I sit down, when a glass of salmon pink Chapel Down Brut Rosé NV is opened and poured by the restaurant’s affable 23-year-old manager Jonathon Cannon. Team Roganic is scandalously young and ridiculously clued-up about the minutiae of the courses. With the theatrical arrival of each new dish comes an exhaustive explanation of the origins of every last ingredient.

In front of me lies a solitary black pebble, foraged by Spalding from a beach in Folkstone. Pondering the philosophical significance of the stone, I become privy to its purpose when a waiter arrives wielding a knife and slathers it in sea salt-flecked, well-whipped butter to be spread on an array of freshly baked spherical bread, including buttermilk, spelt and pumpernickel, all with warm, fluffy interiors. The first step of our edible journey begins with an amuse-bouche of squid ink paper with lind seeds, aioli and cucumber foam, accessorised with an edible purple pansy. It is a thing of beauty, and too pretty to put in my mouth, but when I do I’m rewarded with an explosion of flavour and texture, from the crunchy black paper, to the creamy foam and silky flower. This is the laying down of the gauntlet; a glimpse of the culinary peacockery Spalding is capable of, which perfectly sets the tone for the dishes ahead.

To describe all 10, (15 if you account for amuse-bouches and palate cleansers), would be to fill a book, so I’ll stick to the highlights. Our first dish: heirloom tomato, poached lamb tongue and dill custard is as curious as it is delicious. The playful preoccupation with texture is a thread weaved throughout each course. Multi-layered and deconstructed, the dish is of such complexity, it feels like the culinary equivalent of Inception. Strangely, the overriding flavour is of the warm, salty gherkins you encounter in a McDonald’s cheeseburger, despite the dish being gherkin free. It’s a very specific and nostalgic taste; the taste of childhood. Dish three: smoked Cornish ling, arrives dramatically in a Plath-esque bell jar billowing with smoke. Protected by a crab apple shield, the ling is nestled in a bed of crispy onion slithers that lend the ensemble an enticing smoky edge.

Mention must be made of the wine. Throughout the five-hour epic, we are offered seven glasses from any array of regions, including Washington, Santorini, Campania and Wagram. To my disappointment, my glass remained empty on a number of occasions, our switched-on sommelier Sandia Chang (previously of Per Se) pouring frugal measures rather than full glasses. With a £50 supplement for wine, I was hoping my cup would runneth over. And we didn’t see red until dish nine – a haunting Alto Adige Lagrein brimming with cherries, rose petals and tealeaves – having been inundated with cool climate whites. Food is very much the star of the show at Rognic, with wine happy to play a reliable if uninspiring supporting role.

Back to the main event – dish five: pig and smoked eel comprises two square croquettes amid a tweezer-shaped swoosh of canary yellow pickled corn dotted with mustard seeds that detonate gently on the palate. The sugar cube-shaped squares burst with flavour on biting, displaying the smoky bacon character of Frazzles. Has Spalding been let loose with the monosodium glutamate? Mixing the forest and the sea in dish six: grilled langoustine, purple sprouting broccoli and loganberry oil, is the only miss of the evening – the subtle flavour of the crustacean overpowered by the sweet berries. But the broccoli is the best I’ve ever tasted, expertly timed to give it a satisfying crunch.

Meat makes a cameo appearance in dish nine, in the form of a perfectly pink cut of Cumbrian veal cooked in buttermilk. Soft as a pillow, it melts in the mouth. We are then treated to a septet of British cheeses, lovingly cut by our a walking encyclopedia of a waiter, including the nettle-wrapped Cornish Yarg and intensely tangy Harbourne Blue, enhanced by miniature poached pears. In preparation for the final furlong; a trio of desserts, our palates are cleansed with a vivifying ginger beer granita. Soldiering on, we munch our way through the textured trilogy, the highlight being a scoop of frozen natural yoghurt set beneath a dried caramel roof. Completing the homage to childhood flavours, the bilberries recall blackcurrant Fruit Pastilles.

At £80 for 10 courses, with a £50 supplement for wine, Roganic isn’t cheap, but it’s a destination restaurant. A night in its clutches is as entertaining, awe-inspiring and surprising as a night at the opera. Dish after dish, Spalding delights with his exquisite presentation, playful flavour combinations and deftly cooked ingredients. To send out hundreds of equally beautiful plates a night is testament to his exacting standards. These are more than dishes; they’re edible works of art to be deliberated over then devoured. It will be fascinating to see what this wild child does next.

Roganic, 19, Blandford St, London W1U 3DH

Tel: +44(0)20 7486 0380