On the table: Noble Rot
Author: Sophie Thorpe
When I worked on a stall in Borough Market three years ago, I was shivering my way through a quiet midweek shift when someone thrust an A5 pamphlet into my hand and wandered off. ‘Noble Rot’, its jaunty cover read. It offered salvation on that rather gloomy day, the articles that covered both The Beastie Boys and DRC something entirely new to the wine-writing scene. That was only the beginning for Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew: their magazine seeped into wine bars and restaurants around London, its pages littered with pieces penned by the glitterati from the worlds of both music and wine. They were managing to make fine wine almost, well, cool.
Late last year they extended their edgy vinous empire, opening a wine bar and restaurant on Lamb’s Conduit Street, with a little help from the team behind The Sportsman. I popped in for a glass or two before Christmas, lingering far too long by the fire clutching a glass of Sadie’s Pofadder, but vowed to return after their January refurb. Thank goodness, the fireplace survived the building works (and health and safety). The restaurant has a deliciously Old World feel to it: entering through thick, luxurious curtains, the walls are the deepest shade of Burgundy, delightfully mismatched tables and chairs cluttering the floor, candles offering just enough light to read menus. (If this makes it sound a little too boudoir chic, I promise – it’s not.)
My friend was late, and I was early, as can be the way – but I settled at the bar with a book and – it was Friday, after all – a glass of Champagne. It turns out a Zalto-full of Gaston Chiquet’s Pinot-rich fizz doesn’t last very long – under a chapter, in fact. Anywhere that accepts or even encourages this sort of behaviour is my kind of place – no pressure for small talk with the staff, although I’m sure they would have obliged had I been book-less.
I resisted ordering another glass until my friend arrived and we moved into the recesses of the restaurant. We staved off hunger with some juicy olives, musing our options. The much-written-about ‘Halibut Braised in Oxidised 1998 Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru’ was clearly an essential order, albeit one I delegated to my companion, while I opted for ‘Ox Cheek, Swede & Purple Spouting Broccoli’.
Once the food was decided I was able to take charge of the wine list, picking a bottle of Moric’s peppery, red-fruited Blaufränkisch that I hoped would work throughout the meal (apart from the fish, now my friend’s problem). While we waited an incredibly generous selection of superb bread arrived – a treacle-laden soda bread that was soft and sweet, an olive-oil soaked, herb-scented focaccia and chewy sourdough. I could have polished the lot off, but luckily swift service brought our starters forth. My ‘Duck Hearts, Radicchio & Grapefruit’ was the best thing I’ve eaten in a while – the sharp freshness of grapefruit (alas, a nightmare with the wine) worked perfectly with the rich, seared duck hearts and bitter radicchio. A substantial slab of wonderful ‘Venison & Walnut Terrine’ seemed to disappear rather quickly. Unable to resist, we also tried the ‘Slip of Sole & Smoked Butter’ – a perfectly-cooked, purists’ piece of fish.
Next came the regrettably un-Instagram-friendly halibut that finds purpose in premox. It was worth the hype, so much so that my unfortunate friend ended up with more of my ox cheek than he’d bargained for. The sauce was so unctuously rich, the fish so delightfully flaky, the shallots sweet and soft: it really is fantastic. My ox cheek was no lesser, its fatty meat falling apart under my fork, the swede totally spoon-able and the broccoli dancing in a piquant sauce.
Some might suggest that we didn’t need pudding after all that, but caramelised blood orange made a lime cheesecake seem positively calorie-free, and while my ‘Warm Chocolate Mousse’ was far from light, the crème fraiche helped things along.
Before I knew it, we were one of the last tables there: the place just feels so incredibly comfortable, so instantly familiar, that it’s difficult to drag oneself out the door knowing only a journey on the number 59 awaits. From the serious wines by the glass (thanks to Coravin) to the enjoyable and accessible wine list (which includes gems such as a KFC and Robbie Williams analogy), to the straightforwardly good grub, it was hard to find fault. Thank goodness, I did manage to find one flaw: to get to the loos one must first tackle a slightly treacherous spiral staircase, no friend to the larger patron, the vertiginous heel or, indeed, to those who over-indulge in that aforementioned wine list.
What we drank:
2013 Blaufränkisch, Moric, Burgenland, Austria