Friday, 21 December 2012

Sager and Wlide

I had feared I was going to miss the boat on this one, the horns had blown, clouds of smoke billowed forth from the cavernous chimneys and yet still there I was in the cheap dockside tavern. Bottles of ale littered the table as we all drank to try and forget my ropy Irish accent. The card game was still in progress but I was winning. Yes, Lady Luck was smiling on my pretty little face, it was going to happen. I, Leo DiCaprio would make it onto the ship, I would elicit swooning from teenage girls across the world, and yes I would get to see Kate Winslett in the buff.

You may, quite rightly, be wondering where I'm going with this, but bear with me. What I'm trying to convey is the sinking feeling I had when contemplating the last Thursday night of Sager and Wilde. I was certain that I wouldn't be able to put in an appearance at the wine and toasted cheese sandwich pop up that had caused such a ruckus amongst my more winey friends.

Thankfully, the stars aligned and come 4.30 yesterday I was on the East London line venturing forth towards Hoxton and beyond.

To recap; the crux of what has all my friends in such a tizzy over Sager and Wilde is fine wine at stupidly low margins. I'll admit that the first murmurings of it I heard over twitter tended to talk of bottles of decent Meursault being sold at a tenner a glass and the like, this didn't grab me as much as it might once have done. Still murmerings soon turned to rancourous praise, with people berating me for my non attendance.

Cedric Bouchard, L'Inflorescence, from the outskirts of Troyes the capital of French bum sausage* production. This is a small single vineyard Champagne the fair quivers with delicate floral minerality while lingering on the palette like the memory of a particularly electric seductive glance. Oh and at £9 a glass. Apart from Bubbledogs, I can't think of anywhere in the UK where one can get a Champagne of such stunning quality at even close to that price.

An 03 Musar Blanc had a glorious fatty yeastiness that revelled in umami like a particularly wonderful miso soup. Willi Schaefer (willy chafer to his friends) Graacher Himmelreich, Spatlase Riesling 06 was similarly wonderful if more akin to licking lime juice of an electrified slate than supping one's starter pre eating Japanese.

None of the above had yet broken a tenner, given that half the UK wine trade was present there was much table swapping and gossip broking. Bottles of Gauby, Le Soula 08 at £45, Paulo Scavino, Carobric 01 £60 (memorably described as being a product of the shoulder pad years) followed.

But, to the chase, the wine that really caught me unawares was the 02 Peyre Rose 'Clos des Cistes'. Tantalisingly complex, with lavender and garrigue, a whiff of greeness sublimated into a pleasing freshness on the finish, tannins delicately rasping with a saltiness akin to liking the back of your lovers neck. Sorry if this is all terribly pseuds corner, but it's been a very long time since I've drank a wine that excited me so much, it was as if a switch had been flicked reminding me of exactly what it is that I love so much in wine. God it was good. For this alone (£60 and virtually unfindable anywhere save Robertson*)

Lots more wine followed, but by this point I was firmly in conversation mode and disgracing myself with some terrible calls on wines being served me blind. Really, thinking 96 La Chapelle Hermitage was a Medoc. Time to return to the class room, one thinks.

It was Juel (@winewomansong) who put it best. If we want to ever get access to decent fine wines of the like at Sagar and Wlide we need more places of their ilk to grab access back from the huge mark ups of the baby boomer generation. For this alone I'm very grateful to them.

Still I'm going to wrap up with a mention of their grilled cheese sandwiches. As fine a grilled cheese as you will find in London, similar to Kappa Casein in it's earthy depth of flavour and the riot of aliums that leaven the fattiness of the cheese. Charlotte (Wilde) kindly let me know their exacting recipe.

3 day old Hackney wild sourdough from E5 Bake House.
Montgomery Chedder.
White onion.
Red onion.
Spring onion.
Garlic leek.


I will be back in the new year when they find themselves a new home.

Included as an homage to Chris Pople and his photography.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Fuck hot booze

Taking stock of where we are about half way through the festive season it occurs to me that most of what has really frustrated me over the last couple of weeks has been the preponderance of mulled wine and other hot booze offerings that have been thrust upon me*.

Now I’ve not always harboured a disliking for mulled wine, indeed whilst I was working at Ashdown Park, I spent the best part of a winter attempting to perfect my recipe; somewhat pressing at the time due to the rather rubbish wine that we had to work with for mulling.

Punk Orange courtesy of +MsMarmiteLover Msmarmitelover 

But it has slowly dawned on me, that, rather like little children being employed to fire peas at windows to wake people up, it is an historical anachronism. Taxi’s, busses and all my friend’s houses are all pretty warm. This means that we’re now much less in need of warming, heartening glasses of sweetened alcohol to warm our tired and travel weary bodies. Yes, I will concede that if you’ve spent a day out hiking in snow covered hills you might still find your body and spirit in need of the uplift that comes with hot sweet booze, however I’ve not spent any time in snow-covered hills, the most stressful festive experience I’ve endured this year has been a very hot and steamy 176 bus. I do not need my wine mulling.

You might wish to argue that there is a wonderful festive tradition of serving mulled booze; I believe this is wrong, mulling, spicing and generally adulterating wines was a necessary evil in times gone by, wine was much less stable and chances are it would be more vinegary than fruity, so a whack of luxurious sugar and expensive spicing would make it much more acceptable and indeed much more of a festive offering to your guests.

Sugar is no longer expensive.

Spices are (at least on Rye lane) pretty fucking cheap.

Central heating has been pretty commonplace since the Second World War, at least in the UK and the US.

So I’m going to suggest that instead of ruining wine with heat, spice and ill thought out sugar additions, we should instead raise a glass to William Cullen ** who in 1756 first demonstrated artificial refrigeration. Let’s bear in mind that William was working at Glasgow University, which (and on this I can speak from experience) is not the warmest place in the world, and yet he still saw the need to develop the technology to make enough ice for you to make me a proper martini rather than the sticky, sickly mulled concoctions that he was surely rebelling against. 

* Hot buttered rum, if done well, is acceptable. Though I'd strongly advocate following Felix Cohen of the Manhattans Project's recipe (and stabilising with something like xantham gum to stop the butter splitting if you're making it in batches) 

** Nothing to do with Twilight, which amongst it's many failings (vampire's should not fucking glitter, it's wrong and teen sex really ought to be encouraged) doesn't have any decent cocktail recipes. 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Memory lane...

I'm going to take you all on a trip down memory lane:

It's sometime in 2010, there's a great controversy raging, everyone wants to have an opinion on Biodynamics. There's a website called Biodynamics is a hoax there are more op ed pieces than I can think of to link to.

It's now late 2012 and Jacob's Creek, yep Jacob's Creek have launched a Biodynamic Shiraz. I'll let that sink in for a moment, one of the largest wine brands in the world has decided that grabbing the Biodynamic flag is a good way for their brand to go. Admittedly it's pretty easy to do this in the McLaren as there are a host of excellent growers all working Biodynamically, off the top of my head I'm listing Battle of Bosworth, Gemtree, Chapel Hill, Kangarilla Road, Paxton, and I'm sure there are others a quick Google search could find. But really my point is that somehow in the last couple of years, people have just stopped ranting and raving about Biodynamics.  Why would this be the case? After all, Biodynamics hasn't changed, it's still pretty much the same thing that it was 50 years ago.
now going all bd, getting down with the Steiner loving....

What's that you say, the world has moved on? Really, there's something else to get the goat of the professional troublemakers?

Natural wines... Oh, yep, that makes sense, all the people ranting about Biodynamics, now rant about natural wines, I'm sure that all their carefully constructed philosophical and semantic arguments as to why natural wine can't possibly exist will prove so much comfort and satisfaction as it creeps ever so slowly more mainstream and as the producers that favour it become more and more accepted.

I for one am waiting for the Echo Falls minimal intervention, soft and fruity red. That and the Gallo family vineyard's zero SO2 Sauvignon....

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A cluster fuck of trends?

I’ve read many a snarky post on the way that food trends seem to come and go in London at the moment, be it the sudden proliferation of burger places, or the fairy ring like growth up of ramen joints in Soho. So I decided to look at it from a different point of view.

After all in other industries it’s very common to find similar merchants or manufacturers in a common geographical locale. It's usually referred to as clustering or aggregation economics. 

As I understand it one of the key features of aggregation economics is that there is an increased amount of competition within the group. This certainly seems to hold true with a couple of the recent trends. The swift growth in numbers of new burger restaurants following the success of Meat Liquor has certainly demonstrated that is both a market hungry for a better product and people willing to provide it. Whether one views this as a passing trend that will burn out, or as I’m inclined to do, as a welcome readjustment of way the burger is viewed within London’s restaurant scene. One only has to take a short hop on the Eurostar to experience what it was like in London about 4 years ago.

Parisians demonstrating how much they'd love a cluster fuck of decent burger joints..

With respect to the other hyped trends, I would again argue that they are merely taking a much loved food style and elevating it to a higher quality level. For fried chicken we can see that there was evidently a market for it. See the enormous numbers of chicken cottages, KFCs and their ilk. However the shocking welfare standards that the chickens endure and the low quality of the product was obviously putting a segment of the market off, thus it makes perfect sense to follow a revival of one type of fast food with that of another.

Other obvious examples of clustering within the London restaurant scene would be the revival of Soho as a food destination and the more recent explosion of activity within Brixton Market Row and Brixton Village. It is not for nothing that Soho has been the epicentre of the no bookings places, it is surely one of the few places in the UK where one can safely go to eat without a booking safe in the knowledge that should one’s first choice be unavailable there are plenty more excellent places within very short walking distance.

The quick growth of the restaurant scene in Brixton can similarly be explained by the benefits of clustering in that potential customers are drawn to the area and see the diversity on offer, thus prompting repeat custom. It being home to a shit load of affluent mainly white folk who are newish to the area is a completely different blog post, it is still a beautiful example of businesses clustering in a new locale.
Shonben Yokocho : Piss alley, god how I wish we had this in London.

Finally, I’d like to dwell briefly on the Ramen renaissance in Soho, we have an area with a high concentration of restaurants, lots of potential customers who are prepared to pay slightly more for high quality produce, a dish that has previously been popularized by the Wagamama group. So what better place for there to be flowering of new openings? 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Very bad wine

Of an evening at my parents, a bottle of Tesco’s on offer Chablis, Maison Fort du Roi. A brand name made by Paul SapinSA, of which more later.

It was (well still is as the bottle is unfinished) insipid, bland with a soapy sort of taste that just about alludes to it’s provenance as a Northern French chardonnay. I like Chablis, a lot, and as such I’m taking this as a personal insult, it’s really, really bad. A bit like discovering that your favourite aunt was actually Boris Johnson hiding behind a prosthetic mask, the shock and revulsion of what lay behind the label was actually physically revolting.

So back to Paul Sapin, they appear to be a large winemaker looking to cash in on the growth in the market for smaller bottle sizes and PET plastic bottles. Quite why Tesco chose them for this product line I’ve no idea, though, if you asked me whether I wanted to list a Chablis at this price I’d probably point at something in the direction of the window shout out in mock horror then run for the door whilst everyone was distracted.

Very bad wine. Sorry. 

On the implications of trying to assess quality in sandwiches

Manducare ergo sum? 

On the curious philosophical implications of trying to categorize quality in a sandwich; it is quite evident that to a large degree, quality as commonly understood in terms of a sandwich is something that is inherent in the sandwich itself. To elaborate, the sandwich is made of (in general) two pieces of bread and a set of fillings. The bread can be of varying type and obviously the fillings can vary. Within this quite simple set of rules there is obviously a huge potential for variation. The bread can be of many different types, some better than others and some unsuited to the fillings with which, they are to be matched. When considering fillings we can contend with quality of base ingredients, skill in preparation of said ingredients, and then, somewhat harder to quantify, the degree to which the ingredients work together. All of the above is pretty standard within the field of sandwich appreciation and discussion, however I’m going to contend that it is merely one of the two pillars which underlie the actual sensation of sandwich enjoyment, which; is ultimately that which is desirable in the act of sandwich consumption.

For a sandwich to be appreciated, it must be consumed, and for consumption to happen we must have an eater, therefor, for any meaningful conclusions to be drawn we must consider the state of the eater.

I would like to posit a theoretical eater, one that is unaffected by emotions and previous sandwich eating experiences, I will call this theoretical gourmet, tabula rasa palatum (TRP). TRP is capable of assessing every sandwich with complete clarity, and cast judgment upon the merits of said sandwich with no bias. However TRP sadly does not and, one hopes, will never exist, as surely the most meaningful joys of sandwich appreciation is the wondrous contemplation that it elicits as the eater drifts into reverie, each bite drawing favourable (or unfavourable) comparisons with sandwiches of the past.

Once we accept that the state of the eater is of prime importance in the judgment of quality in a sandwich, we can ask deeper questions. Firstly we ought look at the meta construct that is actually enjoyment. Obviously enjoyment is something that is experienced by the eater in response to the act of consumption of the sandwich. Therefor I believe it is entirely reasonable to prioritise the favourability of the eaters state towards enjoyment prior to the consumption of the sandwich. I feel it is as much of an imperative as the quality of the sandwich itself.

By way of example, please consider the example of a Beigel Bake salt beef beigel at 2am in the morning following an evening of libatory indulgence. I contend that there can be no finer example of the joy possible in the eating of a sandwich. However there are those who would argue that there are finer examples available of the salt beef beigel, though I would counter that in the absence of their availability they cease to exist as a potential sandwich. This doesn’t mean that they cannot affect the actuality of the sandwich being consumed. This takes place by means of what I have termed the imagination effect and or the knowledge effect.

The knowledge effect is one that our TRP can never know, this is the knowledge that there are finer examples of the sandwich being consumed’s genre, that the consumer has previously experienced. This often leads to a whistful somewhat melancholy consummation, the sandwich, while possibly very good, will never live up to the remembered experience of the Ur-wich*. The imagination effect is closely linked to the knowledge effect, in that the sandwich consumed can never live up to the imagined Ur-wich. This is particularly prevalent in trans national sandwiches, for example that domestic London burger consumer may well imagine that there is a burger or family of burgers far beyond anything he/she has ever consumed domestically that resides in, say, New York or California. This may well lead to a deferential hat doffing in the presence of the originals. I speculate that it is partially due to the imagination paradox that In and Out burgers are so fetishized by London burger consumers.

Finally, I would like to tackle the issue of immediacy of desire fulfillment with regards to sandwich consumption. This is what I will, as per Oisin of the Ship, term the Fridge buffet phenomenon, a sandwich which is available and satisfying at, or almost exactly at the genesis of the desire for it will be immensely more satisfying to the consumer than one that has been long in the making. This is, I believe, due to the essentially transitory nature of the sandwich. That it is something to be consumed in passing, while gambling, travelling or indeed engaging in philosophical discourse.

So, to recap, when considering the meta construct that is sandwich enjoyment it is essential that one considers both the current mental state of the consumer (such as happiness, hunger, inebriation etc), and the bias’ that the consumer may hold as relevant to either knowledge or imagination paradoxes in as high a regard as the actuality of the sandwich itself, mediated obviously by the immediacy of the sandwich delivery post realization of the consumers desire for said sandwich.

* Ur-wich; the essential pattern or identity of a sandwich type. Ur- bears the connotation of primordial, basic, elemental, archetypal; as such the elemental sandwich of it’s kind, that by which all others are defined, and ultimately judged.