Lunching at Malmaison

It is now midnight as I write this and I am still full. There used to be this commercial that ran on American TV for Alka-Seltzer, the tagline was, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”. Despite the fact we didn’t “eat the whole thing”  as a matter of fact, we both took doggy bags home, we did stuff ourselves silly. We had 4 courses, which is not unreasonable, but there were some generous portions at the Brasserie of Malmaison. Malmaison is a boutique luxury hotel smack dab in the middle of Clerkenwell and their brasserie serves up tasty local produce all presented quite beautifully. The main draw for me and the reason I was there, were the bespoke wine flights that the restaurant sommelier, Stuart Fife matches with your dining choices. Stuart is new to Malmaison but he comes from Hotel du Vin in Glasgow and his matches were very well done indeed. While I was waiting for my lunching partner, Vintage Macaroon to arrive, I had a browse round the wine cellar and found some familiar labels, Spy Valley, Springfield Estate, Dinastia Vivanco, d’Arenberg Stump Jump, and Chapel Down, to name a few.  As I suspected, Bibendum Wines is the main supplier for Malmaison and they had some of their best on the list. We left ourselves in Stuart’s capable hands and didn’t regret it one bit. I had a very elderflowery, light and refreshing 2007 Bacchus from Chapel Down. I often find English wines to be a bit thin but Chapel Down make an excellent bacchus and it had enough body and elderflower/citrus flavours to match the trio of smoked blinis (haddock, salmon and mackerel pate) I had to start. The smoked fish was very tasty but I thought the blinis were a bit too soft for me, maybe blinis made of buckwheat would be better? I like the slight chewiness of them. I almost forgot to mention the pre-entree amuse bouche of intensely flavoured crab bisque, which would have...

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Cafe Luc, wine on tap

Wine on tap. Can I have one of those for my flat, please? While it might be unreasonable to have a 10 litre keg of wine in my flat, it’s a very good idea for restaurant house wines. Think of it, minimal wastage, stays fresh for at least a week and is very economical as the wine comes in a wine cask that can be easily and quickly refilled. The owner of Cafe Luc, Luc van Oostende is originally from Belgium and founded the original Cafe Luc in Ghent 13 years ago. His aim was to have a modern European brasserie, serving quality food and wine. So where does wine on tap come into the equation if it’s supposed to be “quality” wine? Well, I’ll tell  you. Cafe Luc have a long standing relationship with their very own supplier, Charles Grisar, who has managed to source some very good house wines that are technically speaking, “bag in box.”  Bag in box does have a rather harsh reputation but I see no problem with them if the wine itself is well made. We’re not talking premier cru but entry level French wines are in general quite drinkable. There have 7 wines on tap. 4 whites and 3 reds. Cafe Luc uses only one supplier and his wines are all French. The 4 whites are a Cote de Duras s. blanc,  a Macon, a Sancerre and a Chablis. Unfortunately, on our visit the coolers were not working properly and the wines were a bit warm but the Sancerre and Chablis still exhibited the typical characteristics you would expect from those wines. The Chablis was actually a bit cooler the rest and was quite good with my Crab Tian, crisp and minerally with a nice lemon finish. Of the three reds, the St. Estephe (£7.50/125 ml glass) was the best choice for my duck confit although the Chinon came in a close second. The other red, a Cotes de Thongue Syrah/Cab blend (£3.80 /125 ml) was not...

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Mint Leaf Lounge – winelist and a Conundrum

“I’ve seen it all, from Blue Nun to now.” So said my charming host, Gerrard McCann, GM of the Mint Leaf Lounge, situated smack in the heart of the City, referring to the changing wine tastes of British consumers. Gerrard had invited me to check out Mint Leaf’s wine list and do a bit of food and wine matching. Gerrard’s philosophy regarding wine lists is to try and list wines that you won’t find on any other wine lists. To that end, Mint Leaf only sources their wines from small boutique distributors and look for rare and unusual wines to offer on the wine list. The list is divided (mostly) not by region or country but by the type or characteristics of  the wine. Hence, they have headings such as “crisp, refreshing & fruity”, “full & creamy”, “fine wines & rarieties” (for the reds), “soft & fruity”, “round & spicy” and “curiosities & fine wines” (for the whites) as well as the more traditional Bordeaux and Burgundy, to help their guests choose the appropriate wine to enjoy with their meal. I found an eclectic mix of wines on the list: Duck Pond Chardonnay from Washington state, Petit Mansang sec from France to a Fiano Mandrossa and everything in between. There was a smattering of Sancerres and Pouilly Fumes as well as white Burgundies to round out the list. A fine balance between Old World and New World, not too many choices but not too few, there seemed to be something for everyone. The reds were the same, with some fabulous choices, Amalaya Malbec by Colome, one you don’t see often on lists but such a winner, Joseph Phelps ’06 Le Mistral and a not too extensive collection of Grand Cru and 1er Cru classe Bordeaux. I could go on and on but if you really want to know more, have a look at the list here. Since we were in the City, they also have an extensive selection of champagnes, from Jacquart to Krug...

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Penfolds – Peter Gago,the most laid back winemaker I’ve met so far…

The most laid back winemaker I’ve met so far has to be Australian Peter Gago, Chief Winemaker of Penfolds Wines. I was at the launch of Penfold’s Luxury Icon wines recently and  sat down with Peter for a brief chat about his Kalimna 1998 Shiraz Bin 28 and what he thought were it’s finest qualities. We tasted through the range which included icon wines 2005 Penfolds Grange and 2007 Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay as well as the Luxury range which included 2006 St. Henri Shiraz, 2007 Bin 707 Cab Sauv., 2007 RWT Shiraz, 2007 Magill Estate Shiraz and the 2008 Reserve Bin 08A Chardonnay. All just babies but showing their potential.  After tasting the young’uns, we went on to the oldsters and what a pleasure they were. The winemakers of Penfolds have definitely mastered the art of making wines that will age. But don’t take my word for it, watch the video and see what me and Peter thought of the ’98 Kalmina Shiraz. … Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInPocketRedditGoogleTumblrEmailPrintPinterestLike this:Like...

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Who doesn’t like a Chablis?

Chablis. The word just rolls off the tongue. Chablis/Rhymes with glee/makes me hap-py… Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit silly as I write this (and yes, I am sober although a bit hopped up on my third cup of coffee this morning) but I do honestly enjoy a good Chablis. I’ve written about Chablis before, how people are often confused by this wine, not realizing that it is made from 100% chardonnay from the great land of Burgundy. Although Chablis is from Burgundy, unlike it’s cousins to the south, it is a pure expression of the minerality of the soil. Oak is not used as extensively as in southern Burgundy in order to preserve the fresh, lean qualities of  the wine. If oak is used, it’s usually big oak barrels and not the smaller barriques as is common elsewhere. The soil is an old sea bed that has been pushed up over time by the earth’s movements to form the Kimmeridgian ridge. Composed of the shells of tiny sea creatures, most notably the small oysters called Exogyra Virgula, this gives it its distinctive mineral overtones that is the hallmark of Chablis. Chablis is made up of 4 appellations – petit chablis, chablis, chablie premier cru and chablis grand cru. Each having their own specific production areas and conditions. I popped down to Central London for a short tasting of the nominees for the 24th annual Chablis Wine contest that the Burgundy Wine Board run every year. The wines were all from the Chablis appellation. Chablis is the biggest of the 4 appellations, producing wines that are best suited to age due to their structure, persistent flavour and volume on the palate. I had the pleasure to taste through a series of 13 2008 Chablis from the Chablis appellation and pick one that I thought was the best representation of the Chablis on tasting. I knew that the top Chablis was in there, as the winners had already been announced, but didn’t know which...

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