With the carafe set to surge in popularity this year, in keeping with the casual dining and sharing plates trends currently sweeping the capital, I ventured out with my wine-obsessed flatmate one frosty night late last year to try a selection of wines by the glass at Lutyens’ newly relaunched wine bar. Owned by wine loving restaurateur and soft furnishings expert Sir Terence Conran, Lutyens is housed in the former Reuters building on Fleet Street, next to a church built by Sir Christopher Wren a tuppence’s throw from his magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral.
The often stuffy sphere of wine is being forced to keep up with our ever-changing, increasingly impatient times. Ordering a 75cl bottle of wine in a restaurant specialising in small plates seems old fashioned – anachronistic even. Londoners now expect their wine choices to be as varied and flexible as their food options. Enter Lutyens… Boasting over 40 wines by the glass – impressive even by London standards – each wine comes in five different measures: a 75ml or 125ml glass, a 250ml carafe, half bottle or bottle, encouraging experimentation and variety rather than having to commit to a whole bottle.
Ordered by grape variety and split into two key categories: “Young & Exciting” and “Fine & Rare”, the former gives charming and immaculately turned out French sommelier Romain Audrerie the opportunity to showcase expressive, fruit forward, young wines from emerging winemakers and up-and-coming regions that might not get a look-in on a conventional list. The latter meanwhile, is all about the great estates, and the chance to try high-end wines, from Chassagne-Montrachet to Barolo, without having to splash out on a bank-breaking bottle. Audrerie, formerly of the Hotel du Vin group, the Savoy Grill and Brasserie Roux, also offers thematic wine flights for curious imbibers, including one showcasing Old World icons and another rare European grape varieties, along with tutored tastings from 5.30-6.30pm daily.
But man cannot live on wine alone. Playing an important supporting role is a selection of dishes from young Swedish head chef, Henrik Ritzen, who has a penchant for smoking and pickling. Sharing menu space are the likes of charcuterie and cheese platters, oysters, tartines, and small plates such as venison carpaccio, steak tartare, grilled squid and cauliflower soup. Settling into a chocolate brown banquette, I order a glass of 2011 Louro Do Bolo Godello from Valdeorras rising star, Rafael Palacios, brother of Priorat pioneer Alvaro Palacios. Imported into the UK via Spanish wine trumpet blowers Indigo Wines, the subtly oaked wine was delightful in both flavour and texture, with notes of apple and peach wrapped around a mineral core given further complexity by the 70-year-old Godello vines from which it was made.
Our second white, suggested by Audrerie, was a 2010 Pegasus Bay Riesling from New Zealand’s Waipara region in north Canterbury; a heady cocktail of petrol, squeezed lime, pineapple, lemon balm and herbal hints that hid the 14.5% alcohol deviously, and paired well with a Stichelton, pear and walnut salad.
Moving on to the meat of the matter, we devoured a charcuterie sharing board loaded with earthy venison and pistachio terrine, creamy duck rillettes, salty ham hock and saucisson, washed down with a glass of 2010 Graci Nerello Mascalese from Etna, bright with notes of sour cherry and peonies. For the main event – a rich, comforting dish of crab gnocchi served in an orange Le Creuset dish, Audrerie served us an off-the-menu modern style Barolo redolent with cherries, garriguey herbs and black truffle.
Keeping us sweet, our feast ended with an indulgent spiced apple tart with caramel ice cream, the warm, textured tart contrasting pleasingly with the sweet, cold caramel. Our final wine, 2007 Bentomiz Moscatel de Alejandria from Malaga, charmed with notes of Turkish delight, nectarine and white flowers, offering a sweet, floral and refreshing mouthful. For the urban wine lover, Lutyens’ shiny new wine bar is a must, offering simple, flavour-rich food, enthusiastic and informative service, and an ever-changing by-the-glass selection. Be sure to rock up early though to secure a table, as it’s forever full.