Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Fear And A Vast Cellar Of Wine

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

Most fears are irrational; spiders, the dark, I even have a friend with a phobia of fish. I found out about it when I introduced her to my pet goldfish, Clementine. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for the three of us. I still think my friend shudders when I talk about my orange pet, and I swear Clementine has a tendency to start swimming out of her fish bowl when anyone new comes near.

I’ll admit, I'm scared of weird things too. My main phobia is mannequins. In all seriousness, I had a traumatic experience with a mannequin (three in fact!) when I was young. I have two more very odd fears, one is doing any sort of Maths whatsoever - I hate the subject - and men in pinstriped suits. There's just something a bit 'urgh' about them, and I don’t know why but I always get the distinct impression that a man wearing a pinstriped suit is a pathologically posh liar. Sorry to those of you who like Maths and wear pinstriped suits (especially if you’re a mannequin too). It’s ridiculous, I know, but like I said, fears are irrational, and I’m taking steps to overcome mine.

So when I stepped out of Bank tube station (Exit 7) and emerged on the doorstep of 1 Lombard Street brasserie and fine dining restaurant, amid a mob of men in those dreaded suits chattering into their Blackberry's about number crunching and 'getting that merger going’ I took a deep breath, resisted the urge to frown at a suit that was made all the worse by a matching waistcoat, and hopped (really I did, it was that close) into the foyer of the restaurant.

I handed my bags to the hostess and was ushered in to the main hall of the venue to the brasserie and bar. Thank goodness there were no mannequins about! With a flute of Mumm Cuvee Lalou (1998) and a canapé in each hand I had already sparked up a conversation with a wine blogger from North West London, and a fellow food reviewer who looked so much like Woody Allen I felt almost inclined to ask him about his mother. I didn’t, as the hostess kindly ushered the group of about 40 to follow her downstairs.

Now, I just want to digress a bit and admit that the last time I went to a wine tasting session it was at a rather prestigious wine venue. I'd only eaten a salad for lunch as I naively thought that wine tasting consisted of sipping, sloshing and spitting the liquid out. Apparently, not so nowadays. The more favoured option is to taste wine and spirits the Irish way (i.e. by swallowing it). I ended up, that night, stumbling home, falling in to bed to the Land of Nod without removing the day's make-up which any self respecting girl will tell you is a huge beauty error, unless you're Kate Moss of course, which none of us are, except Kate Moss. The evening at 1 Lombard Street Brasserie and fine dining restaurant was different as dinner was being served (to be on the safe side, though, I added a jacket potato with beans and cheese to my lunchtime salad).

Fluid has reviewed the brasserie before, but the impression I got was that it was primarily a place of fine dining for the Financial Times reader. I didn’t have a copy with me but I did have The Evening Standard in my bag. Reviews of 1 Lombard Street Brasserie and fine dining restaurant have been positive; stunning service and top notch nosh appear in comment threads. That's all very well, but what about the wine? That's what I was here to find out.


What's the Wine Society all about then? Well, the recently launched society offers the opportunity for Lombardian lovers and tipple tasters to test and learn more about some of the world's greatest wines, and to meet many people that produce them. With one of the largest and most prestigious cellars in London at his disposal, the sommelier, Matthew Mawtus, must feel like a kid in a candy shop. You could tell from his face how delighted he was that the evening had sold out. He worked closely with chef patron Herbert Berger and his team to create a perfect menu to match some of the cellar's great vintages.


So the room was hidden at the far end of the restaurant on the ground floor. It was dimly lit, the walls were red and there was a huge deer head protruding out of one side. The sheer redness of the room and the four big round tables set a bizarre fantasy in my head of all of us embarking on a mass séance or a rather filthy game of Bridge. I sat myself in between to the lovely wine blogging lady and Woody Allen. We’ve perched ourselves on a table with the restaurant owner, his colleague, his colleague’s sister and a trio of very posh but quite lovely friends of the owner. Us outsiders were welcomed rather than ignored. The setup of the tables was perfect for getting to know strangers. We didn’t know each other, but were all there for the same purpose, to learn about and appreciate wine. Mr. Matthew Mawtus emerged like a magician from the side of the room to commence with the wining and dining.

Before each dish or wine, Matthew related a detailed history of each wine – its provenance, regional description, what the weather was like during the particular year the grapes were picked – and he used some interesting words to describe the wine, such as ‘tempestuous…cool…lean…a late budder of a wine…nutty…honest’. To Matthew, these wines are individual characters that deserve to be noticed. And all of us in the room could see his passion, which made us passionate too.

Here’s what was on the menu, all of it delicious:


Starter: Fricassee of Calf's sweetbreads and langoustines, peas, broad beans and tarragon veloute with a glass of Chassagne Montrachet, Domaine Louis Carillon




Main: Noisettes of new season lamb, ragout of wild mushrooms with speck and herbs, vegetable fondants with a glass of Chateau Leoville Barton 2004


Dessert: Apple Tart Tatin, vanilla ice cream, balsamic caramel with a glass of Tokaji Aszu, 5 Puttonyos, Diznoko 1993


A selection of cheeses were served with a ten year old Marsala by Marco di Bartoli

The ‘honest’ wines came with the starter and main course. I’m guessing dessert wines don’t have that quality, which makes sense; whoever heard of ‘honest’ ice-cream?

Although we were given a glass of each wine, if you liked a particular wine, or you simply drank like a fish (goldfish or otherwise), the waiters duly noted this and your glass was filled. As the wine flowed so did the conversation. Subjects covered during the dishes included the London North/South divide, how some wines can smell like a tramp’s trousers and yet still be drinkable, the perils of wind surfing, and how we all love watching Christmas episodes of favourite programmes in August. Everything about the evening, the food, the company, the talks was just so…honest. But then there were no men in pinstriped suits in attendance.

The prices of a wine dinner at 1 Lombard Street is £85pp. Numbers are limited to 40 so early booking is definitely advised.

Forthcoming wine dinner events:

Friday 19 September – ‘Burgundy Wines’

Monday 17 October – ‘Italian Wines’

If you’d like skip the lesson and just book a table at the brasserie for dinner, use this clever booking form below.

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