When dining out, for me the wine list is just as important a factor in picking a restaurant as the menu. A good wine list for me doesn’t just have good wines on the list. There are lots of those about.
The key is the pricing. A great wine list is one that allows you to drink very well at sensible prices. A mark-up sure, but not multiplying the retail price by a factor of three, four or more.
Recent trips to San Sebastian and Paris suggest that things have got a bit silly in London. Smart restaurants I visited over there generally mark-up retail price by about 10-20%, compared to the standard 300%+ in London.
With wine becoming almost cool again, in London at least, fortunately some restaurateurs have realised this mismatch. More and more restaurants are making their wine lists as much a focal point as the food menus. They are listing great and interesting wines at prices that encourage diners to drink the good stuff.
Myself and a few wine-loving ex-colleagues have recently started a bit of an informal wine supper club where we go out for dinner about once every 3 months or so to catch up. I think in business speak its called networking, but that’s really just an excuse to charge the bill to someone’s business development code.
For us, the choice of restaurant is all about the wine list. Fortunately restaurateurs who have a passion for wine generally serve good food too, so one tends to follow the other.
Our last outing was to Noble Rot, a fine establishment where the wine takes centre stage. As that night progressed, the conversation moved on to where we would go next.
Mr Ethereal Red Burgundy (see Noble Rot article for explanation) proposed Andrew Edmunds in Lexingon Street, Soho. This suggestion landed as he shamelessly name dropped that he had sat next to Alain Ducasse’s head sommelier from the Dorchester at a recent wine tasting.
On enquiring where sommeliers dined when off duty, he was informed that Andrew Edmunds was the “hidden gem” of London’s wine community. Certainly none of us had heard of it. But if it is good enough for Alain Ducasse’s head sommelier, it was good enough for us.
I tried to book a few weeks before the date, but was cheerily informed that it was too far in advance for them and that I should phone a week before the date to book. Eh? What?
This is my idea of hell. I am a complete control freak. Take away control and I am just a freak. I am notorious for arranging things ridiculously far in advance. In the ensuing few weeks, as I counted down the days, I developed a nervous twitch, spending my nights lying awake thinking how shit my life would be after I called and there was no availability.
It was fine, we got a table.
I’ve still got the twitch though. Bastards.
So was it worth all the fretting?
The wine list is a thing of beauty. Loads of brilliant wines at all price levels. Many wines with a good age to them too. The food was also superb and well-priced. The highlight by miles, and this could be the best dish I’ve had this year, was lamb chops with roast aubergine puree and harissa. The lamb was stupendously good and the garlicky puree and spicy harissa made for a bold and beautiful mouthful.
Back to the wines.
Two of us arrived on time, so got first dibs on ordering the first bottle. Mr Ethereal Red Burgundy was held up teaching young accountants how to appreciate good wine and Mr Lucky Bastard (see Noble Rot article for explanation) was just late. He’s from Lancashire…
Kicking off with some bubbles we initially ordered the Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvee but they’d run out so we settled for a Grower’s Champagne. It was a Blanc de Blancs from Veuve Fourny & Fils. Excellent value at £37, not much mark-up there.
Once the others finally arrived we collectively agree on a Chablis Premier Cru, the 2009 “La Forest” by Vincent Dauvissat. A very reputable producer and he didn’t let us down. Drinking perfectly at 7 years of age, but many years of life ahead. Lots of mineral and lemon flavours. This was £69 on the list and the 2012 vintage retails for £56 at the Sampler. Another sensitive mark-up.
There was a blip in service with the Chablis. On tasting it Mr Lucky Bastard thought it was corked. We all had a sniff and a slurp and confirmed his suspicion. A nose of wet dog and nothing much on the palate except damp wood. Definitely a dud.
But our sommelier challenged us and claimed it wasn’t corked, but rather “oxidized” and asked if we’d like to pick something else as the next bottle would probably taste the same. Bollocks to that mate. We insisted on another bottle of the same and it was like night and day, a lovely wine.
I found this a bit strange, it was quite obviously corked. Something to look out for. Back yourself and your palate.
Moving onto the main course, we picked a 2005 Hermitage from Domaine Du Colombier. Another benchmark producer and, for me, wine of the night. Spicy as hell, as a good Northern Rhone Syrah should be. It still felt quite young for its age suggesting there was more good stuff to come. Average price on winesearcher.com is £53 per bottle but the £58 we paid for it is less than retail in London. Fine & Rare have it for £48 in bond which equates to more than £60 on the table. Feckin’ bargain.
Mr Ethereal Red Burgundy finally got his way and we had a 2005 Chambolle Musigny from Michel Gros avec le fromage. Now I don’t really know what ethereal means but it was bloody good. 2005 was a top banana vintage in Burgundy and it showed. Elegance personified. Another steal at £56. Average winesearcher.com price £50.
Having not ventured as far South as Bordeaux to this point we couldn’t go anywhere but Sauternes for pudding could we? And at £28 for a half bottle of 1999 Chateau Rieussec who could blame us. Dark gold, this was like liquid marmalade. Mouth-coating sweetness with great acidity. A lovely end to the meal. And with an average winesearcher.com price of £43 for a full bottle, £28 for a half in a Soho restaurant is not be sniffed at.
So, I heartily recommend visiting Andrew Edmunds. I shall be treating Mrs Wineloon to dinner there at some point soon. The food, wine, service and setting are all excellent. The value on both the wine list and the food menu make for a pleasant change to other central London restaurants.
But how does it compare to Noble Rot?
I think the wine list at Noble Rot is a bit more off-piste and interesting, but they are both excellent. I enjoyed the food at Andrew Edmunds more than Noble Rot.
I think the main difference is the focus of the two places. Noble Rot is clearly all about the wine and that comes across in the passion and knowledge of the waiters/sommeliers. You don’t get that same feeling at Andrew Edmunds. Although the service is very friendly and professional I didn’t feel the passion for the wine that exists at Noble Rot.
So, where to next? I think we the plan is for one of us to host the next one and bring our own, so that should be fun. Other venues discussed was the Quality Chop House, which offers zero corkage on Monday nights and I have heard good things about 10 Greek Street’s list… ah decisions, decisions…