On the table: Sager + Wilde, Paradise Row
Author: Sophie McLean
In its sixth year, the cobbled streets along Bethnal Green’s Paradise Row become ever shinier, as both hipsters and non, willingly continue to tread their way to Sager + Wilde’s second eponymous, East End establishment.
Paradise, as it was first known, is set within a series of railway arches – the windows under the main curve offer urban, leafy reflections, when the sun is out. Tonight, we are still in darkened winter, but naked bulbs that dangle outside invite us in with a carefree, illuminatory warmth.
On this week’s hump-day, inside, this warm feeling is mirrored. The room is busy. Diners arrive into deep hues from the wood that panels the walls, and the brand new back bar causes eyes to rest not only on the wine racks, but also on a rainbow of spirit bottles in colours that would make Murano proud. The sounds of trains thunder over us occasionally, reminding us of life continuing outside, and stalling chatter temporarily while we listen to the passengers’ thoughts.
As in every good wine bar of the moment, Sherry is on the menu. This Spanish sipper also finds its way into one of this month’s cocktails – a Fino Martini, served with a twist of lemon. Seasonal ingredients make an appearance here too, not simply in the cuisine – notably the Blood Orange + Clementine Garibaldi and, in the Kawaii there is yuzu sake – a favourite ingredient currently sweeping food-topia. “Shrubs” (non-alcoholic fruit liqueurs) are also strong on the list’s visual SEO.
It is cold outside, so we order comforting “devils on horseback” while we peruse the rest of the menu. The wine list: a manageable tome. We are impressed with the range and breadth of sparkling wine particularly – the Shan Ban sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from Piedmont catches our curiosity, as does the “Notes Blanches” from Fleury, a trio of different vintages from top Cava producer Gramonia, and a quality line-up of grower and Grande-Marque Champagnes alike. Here exists a veritable treasure trove of must-try wines. We wander through the pages – a traveller’s tale of grapes brought to glory – and after much deliberation, elect for a bottle of Tannenberg Zweigelt from Austrian producer Joiseph. Joiseph is a tiny producer who cultivates only five hectares of vines at the foot of the Leitha Mountains. The wine is deft, and light, and lovely, and at only 12.5% it doesn’t blow the monkfish or his beard out of flavour when arriving for our main course. In its oak-aged smoky fill, it also complements the slow-cooked tomato with basil “casarecce” brilliantly. S+W currently offers this as part of their “£10 pasta plate and glass of house wine” deal between 5-7pm every day. Excellent value indeed.
A wheel of bright spring colour arrives with our starters. Squishy, unctuous burrata with the give of a perfectly-proofed dough ball comes with earthy delica pumpkin, pink, yellow and green dressed leaves, and fresh, crunchy pomegranate – a textural carnival for the senses. Bright, fat Chardonnay matches the richness of the cheese, but its Sandhi winery, Santa Barbara ocean breezes, ensure it remains tongue-fresh. “The blonde” in question this evening chooses an orange wine, an earthy, highly tannic, prickly on the tongue, chalky, corky, Malvasia “Ageno” from La Stoppa winery in Italy’s gastronomic Emilia-Romagna. It is the colour of Lucozade, and works well with the bitter leaf, pear and Berkswell salad (a cheese that, upon googling, we learn hails from the West Midlands, but is of Parmesan-family descent).
Accompanying clientele this evening are jovial and charming. Friends dominate over dates, and there are larger tables too. Sager + Wilde provides multiple liquid reasons to visit, while the cuisine here ain’t half-bad either. It’s not surprising to note then, that there are further plans in the pipeline. Watch out for Michael Sager’s “FARE”, coming to Clerkenwell soon.