Last night the effortlessly stylish surrounds of the Honorary Artillery Company in the heart of the City rocked to the contented hum of SquareMeal readers trying all manner of superb victuals prepared by some of the leading lights of London’s restaurant scene. From Bluebird’s super-moreish Nduja-crusted tuna to Brigadiers’ smoked aubergine missi rotis, the food was presented alongside fine wines, beers and cocktails served by a passel of top producers from around the world.
Champagne glasses at the ready
While Champagne may still have the cachet, the quality, image and variety of other types of fizz has been rising immeasurably in the past decade and this was reflected in a wonderful array of sparkling wines that were a lesson in finesse and elegance. Highlights included the laudable Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs from near Rye in Sussex, which perfectly epitomized a pure expression of Chardonnay. The Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut NV was as elegantly classy as you’d expect, while Ruggeri’s top wine, the Extra Dry Giustino B caused visitor after visitor to rethink what they thought they knew about prosecco. Visitors to the Graham Beck table received a masterclass in the art of Methode Cape Classique sparklers from South Africa’s most famous sparkling wine maker, Pieter Ferreira.
As the price of classic European wines has risen in recent years, delving into the cellar of less well-known regions and varietals has reaped handsome reward – step forward dry Furmint from Hungary (Royal Tokaji’s The Oddity), off-dry Riesling from Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington and the Yealands Estate NZ Pinot Gris - all showing bundles of flavour, balance and character – and great matchability with the spicier foods on offer.
A guest gets to know his wine
Yet arguably Argentine Malbec was the grape of the evening – big enough to stand up to bold-flavoured steak but approachable enough to drink on its own. We loved the intensity of a smooth plummy Vinalba Malbec, mixing fruit from the high altitude Uco Valley with old vine fruit from around Mendoza and, for something a bit more hedonistic, the Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2015 and the Vicentin Colosso were both generous to a tee, showing bags of spicy, juicy mulberry fruit.
People looking for treat wines for Christmas were not disappointed. At £130 a bottle, the Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio all' Oro 2012 certainly ticked that box, while the more affordable Fontanafredda Barolo di Serralunga d'Alba (£37.50) showed off a wonderful palate of crisp red fruit and seductive violets. The Lucente Luce della Vite 2015 (£35), mixing Sangiovese and Merlot, was modern Tuscany at its best – all blueberries, cherries and plums with a hint of green pepper. From Sonoma Valley Louis M Martini Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (£80) was an iron fist in a velvet glove and pretty special, too.
Yauatcha captured the spirit of the evening with both new recipes and classics, but we fell for its ever-wonderful signature venison puff with its sweet crumbly pastry and tangy but warm filling. We were less decided on what to pair with it – perhaps the Chateau Ste Michelle The Pundit Syrah (£29) from Washington, or the Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz with its rich and layered black and red fruit?
One of Iberica's delicious offerings
The spicy delights of Indian favourites Cinnamon Club and Brigadiers won a huge base of fans. Brigadiers warmed hearts with its masala chicken skins - perfect with Charles Smith’s Kungfu Girl Riesling – while Cinnamon Club upped the ante with its signature lamb seekh kebab, as well as grilled aubergine overlaid with a sesame peanut crumble.
Neptune’s crab rolls and Bluebird Café’s crab canapé both hit the spot, particularly when washed down by the Frei Brothers Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2016, available at Waitrose, or the Voyager Estate 2014 Chardonnay from category-defining Margaret River – all pineapple and pear notes allied to creamy, nutty Burgundian poise.
Noura pulled crowds with its signature lamb keebeh and the classic Lebanese staple that is spinach fatayer with its crisp but nutty flavours, which we loved with both the sharp acidity of a good Riesling or the purity and freshness of the Marques de Caceres white Rioja.
Paladar turned heads with its Latin American delights, and the food matched particularly well with the wines from Uruguayan pace-setters Bodegas Garzon. Matsya’s dishes were fun, inventive and spicy, while Cocochan won friends with not only its food but goodie bags, too. Iberica came with a series of classic Spanish dishes including a gold star black label Jamon Iberico that had fans queuing three-deep.
Guests enjoying their canapés
We enjoyed an almond-based pudding from new Portuguese hotshot Londrino with the nutty, spicy, Christmas flavours of Taylor's 10yo Tawny Port, which also went superbly with the creamy saltiness of Grana Padano’s aged cheese. Chocolate and raspberry pavlova from Bluebird Café had those with a sweet tooth coming back for more, and they would have done well to pair it with the honey notes of a Late Harvest Royal Tokaji or its more concentrated Blue Label 5 Puttonyos Aszú 2013.
The current craze for gin was in evidence – with Edinburgh Gin, No 3 and Gin Mare all vying to be people’s chosen Christmas tipple. The Berry Bros Bar laid on a show all evening (including its classy No 3 gin) with a variety of drinks and cocktails, and while we ended the evening with a wonderful glass of Glenrothes 12 year old chased down with a cup of delicious Jura coffee, others rounded things off with a totally refreshing Alhambra beer – all herbal character and delicate bitterness.
The annual raffle was another cause for celebration for quite a few who won bottles of wines, spirits and restaurant meals. And congratulations to our top prize winners who took away vouchers for luxury stays at both the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi and the Park Hyatt Mallorca, kindly donated by Eden Luxury Travel.
One of our lucky raffle winners
Thanks to all those who came. We loved seeing you. Keep an eye on squaremeal.co.uk for restaurant news and recommendations. Otherwise, we hope to see you all again next year…