On the table: The Barbary

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Photograph: Carol Sachs

Photograph: Carol Sachs

Continuing our search for London’s best eateries, this month we sent Jasper Drew to The Barbary in Neal’s Yard, the new sibling to Soho favourite, The Palomar.

Despite being educated to degree level in geography, I couldn’t quite place the location of the Barbary Coast. Perhaps the Regal Rogue Lively White Vermouth was working its magic rather too quickly? Ah, but what do geographers cherish more than colouring pencils? The answer lay beneath the other tasty Vermouth I ordered (Cocchi Americano Rosa – just to compare, obviously): a map of the coast in question. It showed the stretch where North Africa meets the Mediterranean; namely the shores of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

This long coastline has now been squeezed into a small, eponymous restaurant, not dissimilar to how the small yard of Neal’s has been squeezed into Covent Garden. This is the new opening from the team behind The Palomar; the packed, raucous bar and restaurant in the packed, raucous Leicester Square.

Upon entering, I was struck by the gleaming horseshoe bar, as gleaming as the smiles of the staff. Some people don’t like sitting kitchen-side (particularly taller types whose legs are penned-in), but – despite being six-foot – I love it, particularly here where I could watch various meats sizzling on the barbecue. If you go on a date with a foodie, prepare for little conversation and lots of drooling. But seriously, it’s a great space, and the moody-library feel is beautiful. It was also a relief to hear ethnic music without it sounding corny – an achievement for a piped playlist.

Whenever bread is cooked on the premises, it’s a no-brainer, so I ordered the crater-pocked Naan e Barbari with some Baba Ganoush and Ezra’s Tabouleh. I think I’m pretty good at making tabbouleh, but Ezra got one over me, thickening hers with the addition of tahini.

When I saw they had a grill (“A-la-esh”), I had to try the Chicken Msachen – chicken cooked over hot coals is a taste to behold. This was unbelievably juicy, having bathed in a yoghurt marinade overnight.

Photograph: Carol Sachs

Photograph: Carol Sachs

Pata Negra Neck is a favourite of mine at Jose Pizarro’s restaurants, so I was keen to see The Barbary’s take on it. This was the best dish of the evening – a prime cut of tender pig, which paired perfectly with the date syrup and lemon, much like bacon and maple syrup. The spicy Duck Hearts, meanwhile, were offset by a sweet, pickled radish.

We felt full and weren’t convinced by the dessert options, especially one featuring noodles and cheese, but Jen, our excellent waitress, told us to trust her and thank God we did. I love both cheese and dessert, so well done Chef Eyal Jagermann, for combining both these passions in one dish. Goats’ cheese and mozzarella were drizzled in honey before being fried in butter, and finished with a sprinkling of raspberries and pistachios from a great height; indeed all the way from “Heaven” (as the desserts are quite rightly labelled on the menu).

Much like at The Palomar, the staff make the experience – explaining the menu extremely well, they are friendly, chilled, funny; and chatty if you want them to be. Oh, and they even joined us for a farewell digestif (delicious homemade apple vodka).

What we drank:

  • Regal Rogue Lively White Vermouth: I made a new friend – he’s Australian and calls himself the Regal Rogue. My girlfriend also wants in on the action.
  • 2013 Pamhogna Weiss, Michael Andert, Burgenland, Austria: I rarely drink orange wine but I regularly drink Austrian wine, so I was curious to try this. It worked very well with the exotically spiced cuisine, with its intense, long-lasting flavour and supple tannins (from the extra skin contact).
  • 2013 Zweigelt, Josef Ehmoser, Wagram, Austria: Light, floral with red cherries and strawberries, from an unusual area in Austria. Good with chicken.
  • 2011 Pedra Basta, Sonho Lusitano, Quinta do Centro, Alentejo, Portugal: If you’re having Pata Negra Neck, you need something a bit bigger than Zweigelt: this had a perfect balance of black cherry, sweet spice and wood.

The Barbary, 16 Neal’s Yard, London, WC2H 9DP

Category: Miscellaneous

A taste of Bordeaux: entrecôte bordelaise

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Ch. Pavie. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Ch. Pavie. Photograph: Jason Lowe

In the wake of Bordeaux 2015, our Head Chef Stewart Turner provides another recipe from the region – this time it’s entrecôte bordelaise, a classic beef dish that’s grilled or barbecued to perfection. Demetri Walters MW suggests the bottles that would go best – and they’re not all from Bordeaux.

In the glass: While Claret would be an obvious match for this dish, there are various suitable red-wine alternatives on offer. Stewart’s dish presents a complex weave of fine flavours, as well as rich, mouth-filling textures. These elements demand a red wine with corresponding savoury notes, relatively firm tannins, and supporting freshness. The herbal qualities of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, or a southern French blend, would provide the perfect foil to the savoury elements of this meal. So too would almost anything with the peppery refreshment of a Syrah/Shiraz, though perhaps not at the fruitier end of the spectrum.

Tannin is an important component in any wine pairing here, as the oil, butter and bone marrow require a counterbalance on the palate. The aromatic qualities and garrigue flavours of many southern Italian and eastern Mediterranean wines would also provide an excellent match to this delicious recipe. I can’t wait to try it!

Entrecôte bordelaiseServes 4
  • 2 x sirloin steaks (about 500g each)
  • 300g shallots – finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Dried cèpes – powdered
  • Olive oil
  • 50g butter
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 150g beef bone marrow
  • 30ml red wine vinegar
  • 300ml red wine – Bordeaux
  • 200ml veal/beef stock
  • 30g diced butter
  • 3 tbsp parsley – roughly chopped
  • 1tbsp grain mustard
  • 30g brioche crumb

Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a sauce pan and sweat half the shallots until soft. Add the red wine vinegar and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Scrape the shallots into a bowl and set aside.

Return the pan to the heat and add another splash of oil. Sweat the remaining shallots and garlic until soft. Add a teaspoon of cèpe powder and cook for another minute. Add the red wine and bring to the boil. Reduce by half then add the thyme sprigs and veal stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until it is again reduced by about half, skimming as necessary. Once it’s a nice saucy consistency, set aside.

Poach the marrow in water with the juice of one lemon for two minutes. Drain and cool, then lightly crush the bone marrow in a bowl and mix with the red wine shallots, chopped parsley and grain mustard. Season to taste and set aside.

Brush the steaks with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook on the barbecue or in a griddle pan for about two to three minutes each side for rare or four to five minutes for medium. Allow to rest for about five minutes. While the steaks are resting, finish the sauce, return to the heat and fish out the thyme sprigs. Whisk in the diced butter, season to taste and keep warm.

Once rested, cut each steak into four diagonal slices and arrange on a warm serving platter. Spoon the bone marrow mix on top and sprinkle with some brioche crumbs. Finish under a hot grill until golden. Serve alongside some roasted Jersey Royals for the perfect Anglo-French partnership.

Category: Bordeaux Wine,Food & Wine

In pursuit of purity

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PhotoBergVogelsang-(2)

With a continuing eye on Riesling this month, we caught up with the doyen of Austrian wine, Willi Bründlmayer to talk favourite grapes and wine fads. Sophie Thorpe reports

At the turn of the millennium, Decanter magazine named Willi Bründlmayer as one of the 50 people most likely to change the face of the world of wine, while Jancis Robinson described him as “a beacon for Austrian wine”. He shrugs off such praise, saying: “I never tried to be a revolutionary. I just wanted to continue tradition”.

He took over his family’s Kamptal estate in 1980, specialising in Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, but also working with small plantings of Zweigelt, St Laurent and Pinot Noir. Given the remarkable soils of the region (some of which are 270 million years old), it is unsurprising that he is known best for a range of single-vineyard cuvées.

Willi believes that there are only three grapes capable of truly expressing terroir: Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Everything else, in his opinion, is defined by the work of a winemaker. Taking the classic example of Chardonnay, he explains how one grape can be crafted in such a way as to create both full, rich, fat whites and the finest sparkling wines in the world.

He feels that a sense of place can only be achieved through single varietals, which offer the purest expression. His dedication to translating an exact location is remarkable, using not only ambient yeasts but wood grown from local forests owned by his family. He tends to use oak for his Rieslings and acacia for his Grüner Veltliners, as it doesn’t impart the vanilla flavour that clashes with Grüner’s delicacy, but provides the tannin that allows the wines to age so beautifully.

“Austrians love Grüner Veltliner; they drink it night and day, for lunch, for dinner and in between.” It is for this reason that Willi believes Grüner is “the most important grape”, making up 70 percent of the estate’s production. It isn’t to follow fashion or demand though. Willi firmly believes it is foolish to do so, for producers will always be behind, only able to plant when the demand is present, and only able to first harvest three years later – by which point the fad has passed.

And what of Riesling? Possibly the wine trade’s favourite grape, Riesling stubbornly refuses to become popular. But why is it so hard to market? Why aren’t consumers as addicted as we are? Willi thinks that it is sheer confusion. There are so many styles, ranging from bone dry to lusciously sweet and still to fizzy; but “once you’re in,” Willi says, with a wistful twinkle in his eye, “you’re hooked. There are so many different expressions of a place from Riesling or Grüner Veltliner that you’ll never get bored.”

Browse our range of Riesling on bbr.com.

Category: Miscellaneous,Old World

Germany: the home of Riesling

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The slate soil helps the grapes to ripen by reflecting sun and heat onto them. Photograph: Jason Lowe

The slate soil helps the grapes to ripen by reflecting sun and heat onto them. Photograph: Jason Lowe

This month we’re talking about all things Riesling. Here we look at the grape’s native home, Germany, in an extract from our introductory book, Exploring & Tasting Wine.

Riesling’s identity was forged in the steep valleys of western Germany. On the terraces above the rivers Rhein and Mosel (‘Rhine’ and ‘Moselle’, as they were anglicised) the grape variety was prized as early as the Middle Ages. It was – and is – given the top sites: the sunniest slopes. Here, it makes the best wines Germany can offer: some of the finest white wines in the world.

These valleys are a long way north – Koblenz, where the two rivers meet, is at 50.30ºN, a hundred miles (160km) further north than chilly Champagne, and about the same latitude as the Isle of Wight on the south coast of England. In Germany, this means cool summers and harsh winters: sunlight to ripen the grapes is at a premium.

Successful German vintages – those where the Riesling ripens properly – used to happen once or twice a decade. Recently, the success-rate has shot up to perhaps seven years out of ten. Is this climate change? Or better viticulture and choice of vine clones? Only time will tell, but meanwhile there are many more fine Riesling bottles to enjoy.

The Mosel: The best spots for vines in these northern valleys are the south-facing slopes, tilted into the sun (much as a solar panel is aligned on a roof-top). As the Mosel meanders through the wooded hills of the Eifel, it has cut a deep valley. The curves shown on the map mean that sometimes the left bank, sometimes the right is best exposed to the south – so there is nothing as simple as a ‘right bank/left bank’ contrast in the wines.

There is more to the Mosel than slope and aspect, crucial as they are. The soil (see picture) makes a major contribution: slate is the best, and some of the top vineyards resemble nothing so much as a slate quarry: the vines poke out of a steep scree-slope of blue-grey fragments. This slate provides excellent drainage, plenty of reflected heat and (maybe it is just association of ideas?) a stony, steely, slaty note in the wine.

As well as Mosel, you will also see the names Saar and Ruwer – these are tributaries of the main river. The top wines come from the valleys of the Saar and the Mittel (middle) Mosel. The source of the grapes, the vineyard, will be on the label, along with (in bigger type, usually) the name of the estate or grower. The village is sometimes missing, as the vineyard is supposed to speak for itself.

The word ‘Riesling’ will be relegated to the back-label, if it is there at all. The assumption is that this is the grape that s grown. As in many fine-wine districts, getting to know the names of the best growers is the route to the finest bottles: some estates have track-records dating back eight centuries.

The Rheingau: The Rheingau was, historically, the region’s top wine district. Here, the great river makes a helpful jink in its mostly south-to-north flow, and runs east-west. The Taunus hills rise up on the north bank, providing a splendid sweep of gently-tilting vineyard sites, with Riesling predominant.

Look out here for names of the great, venerable estates: Schloss Johannisberg, Schloss Vollrads. The villages with the best reputations are Rüdesheim, Oestrich, Hallgarten, Erbach and, off to the east, Hochheim – which claims to be the source of the word ‘hock’: Victorian English for Rhine-wine (Queen Victoria was a fan).

The rest of Germany: Every German wine region grows Riesling: the Pfalz specialises in drier wines, rich and balanced. Rheinhessen, like the Pfalz seeing a revival in estate wines, has a growing name for long-lived, intense Rieslings; the Nahe is known for delicate wines from Mosel-like steep slopes.

Other German white grapes include Silvaner, the signature grape in Franken. The Pinots Gris and Blanc – Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder on the labels – do well in the Rheinhessen and in Baden in southern Germany, where the climate is akin to that of Alsace. And – as noted below – German red wines are increasingly common, and good.

Rhein can be red…

Riesling rules the Rhein – but not totally: the red wines from Rheingau village Assmannshausen, made from Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), are famously good, if scarce. Good reds also come from Pfalz, Ahr and Baden.

Category: Old World,Wine School