Words: Mark de Wesselow
On Wednesday night Artillery House, home of the Honorary Artillery Company, roared with the hum of SquareMeal readers indulging their taste buds. There were all manner of amazing drinks, from beer to Barolo and craft gin to Cabernet, washing down dishes prepared by some of the leading lights of the London restaurant scene.
All in all, it was an inspiring showcase for the food and drink talent that makes London such a global gastronomic capital. Whatever you wanted to eat and drink, the chances are that it was here. For many of the guests the event was the perfect way to find inspiration for Christmas. For others it was a chance to broaden horizons, try something new and, of course, have a bit of fun.
Guests looked for a glass of fizz to kick-start the evening were truly spoiled. As you might expect, Laurent Perrier was in demand with its iconic rosé complementing its handsome, multi-vintage prestige cuvée Grand Siècle. Others swooned over the creamy but crisp Palmer Blanc de Blancs, fresh from having been voted World Champion Classic Blanc de Blancs earlier in the week.
While Champagne may still have the cachet, in the 21st century it certainly doesn’t have the sparkling sector all to itself. As well as some high class prosecco from Ruggeri and Villa Sandi (while their peers Zonin proved that you can use it for cocktails too) the Brits also put in a strong showing. The toasty but elegant All Angels Classic Cuvée 2014 from Berkshire and Bolney Estate’s delicate and charming rosé from West Sussex were supported by the exciting and great-value new arrival Fitz.
While Champagne may still have the cachet, it certainly doesn’t have the sparkling sector all to itself, as proved by the British representation which included West Berkshire’s All Angels Classic Cuvée 2014 (toasty but elegant) and West Sussex’s Bolney Estate Rosé (delicate and charming).
Restaurants from the sub-continent showed why London’s love affair with high end Indian dining shows no sign of abating. Mayfair’s Indian Accent seduced guests with flavor-packed wild mushroom ‘bouches’ and humble sounding but heavenly potato chaat, and an equal number heaped praise on the smoked aubergine missi rotis of Brigadiers.
Bordeaux continues to steal the limelight as the default Christmas red, and this was born out by the crowds around the Cru Bourgeois Stand. These wines are a level below the top-tier Cru Classé but they showed here why they more than match their lofty neighbours when it comes to giving bang for your buck.
If bang for buck is what you want – and who doesn’t – this tasting made a strong case for Portugal. The indigenous grape varieties are packed with character and you’ll find ripe peppery fruit interwoven with fine tannins. The Douro’s Quinta Do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2016 was exactly this – ripe, juicy fruit and silky tannins, elegantly intergrated – while a luscious Cedro do Noval made a wonderful impression with its lifted, plummy aromatic nose and fresh cedary finish. And if it’s good enough for the Clove Club and the Connaught, it’ll just about do us too.
London’s Thai restaurant scene is on the rise and one of its chief flag-waivers is Som Saa, so it was great to have co-owner and Masterchef acolyte Andy Oliver on hand with a memorable dish of crispy noodles with spice-inflected Dorset crab and a street food snack that packed a punch with its crunchy freshness and spicy, bitter-sweet nuttiness.
These complex flavours called for something fruity and aromatic and there was no shortage of great offerings in this department. Particular favourites included Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2017, with its kaffir lime leaf, lemon and peach notes and a textured and pure Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier 2016, a silky glass of dried apricots, honey and white peaches.
There was plenty of meaty pleasure, too. Yauatcha spoilt us with its delightfully peppery venison puffs which we tried with both a silky Marimar Estate La Masia Pinot Noir and a Fontanafredda Barolo di Serralunga d'Alba, which seduced us with its sweet cherry fruit and savoury, forest floor character. Ceru’s unctuous, slow-roasted lamb shoulder was a stunning dish complemented wonderfully by the supple intensity of a Bertani Amarone della Valpantena, while Paladar’s chicken mile poblano accented the spicy juiciness of the Penfolds Max’s Shiraz/Cabernet 2018.
Meanwhile Kym’s three roasted meat dishes were melt-in-mouth highlights – we loved the crispy pork belly with honey mustard and the slow-poached soy chicken served with ginger relish, which we paired with the Mentors Orchestra Cabernet Sauvignon (from KWV), a wonderful mix of savoury minerality and dark fruit.
This year Iberica brought gold star black label jamon Iberico that can be hung for up to four years. The saltiness and complex intensity counterpointed beautifully with the cheerful cherry fruit and spicy flavours of an excellent value Marqués de Cáceres Excellens Cuvee Especial 2015 as well as the sweet fruit of Trapiche Terroir Series Finca Coletto Malbec 2015.
For us, we added one of Hispania’s electric crunchy cheese bites to a plate of the aforementioned jamon and sat down with a glass of Tio Pepe Fino for an umami hit fast-tracked from heaven, rounding it off with a cocktail that mixed red vermouth and Tio Pepe with bitters and an orange zestiness.
Lechevalier and Iberica both provided some wonderful cheeses but the star cheese of the evening was Galvin’s long-celebrated truffle brie which paired magnificently with the creamy citrus flavours of the epic Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2017 from Margaret River or, for that matter, any number of different wines or Ports.
With Christmas on the horizon, our heads were inevitably turned by drinks for both the early and late evenings. No 3 London Dry Gin delivered as only a cool and classy gin can while Edinburgh Gin was showcasing its new Rhubarb and Ginger gin alongside other exciting flavours in its range.
When it came to port, frankly we were spoilt for choice with some world class examples. The rich, layered and concentrated Taylor’s Vargellas 2004 and the superbly complex Kopke 10- and 20-year-old White ports would be perfect for any Christmas table.
The Glenfarclas range of whiskies and the De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2016 proved why both of these will be popular drinks this Christmas, too.
As the evening drew to a conclusion beer was in demand – a cleansing Alhambra with its herbal character and delicate bitterness or a Duvel for a stronger, richer finish.
We felt fortunate to host the restaurants and wine and drinks producers, all of whom are passionate about their brands and keen to tell their stories, and this gave the evening great soul.
Thanks also to all those who bought a ticket, and congratulations to prize winners in the raffle. We loved seeing you and hope to see you all again next year.
To find out more about all the restaurants featured at the tasting head to the SquareMeal website.
And to read the stories behind some of the amazing drinks brands, check out the digital magazine below.