Are you tipsy?
‘Je suis pompette, darling’ – tipsy, tiddly, squiffy, cockeyed, mellow, well-oiled. Oh, the white-heat given off by that second martini, the thwack of booze pulsing through a system that skipped lunch, a tingle in the fingertips, the anticipatory glee of the first chip scooping up a wobble of rouille – the joy, chips and rouille! – and a certainty that this, this my friends, is what makes eating out such a thrill-ride, such a mood lifter, the reason I’m feeling so damn cock-a-hoop about being here for dinner, experiencing the culinary equivalent of the horn.Read on...
Vosne-Romanée blew me away the very first time we met – Pinot Noir as I had never known it. "I just don't get red Burgundy, it's just all a bit thin, a bit weedy' was my line, having just arrived from Oddbins in 2004 to work for independent merchant The Winery, Little Venice. Owner David Motion's riposte: "Really? Ok, try this", plucking a bottle from the old apothecary shop's wooden shelf – Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru 'Les Beaux Monts' from Domaine Michel Noëllat. One sniff, without tasting, I put the glass down: "Ok. I get it."
The perfume of top draw Pinot Noir is the seducer, and the memory of that first time winged back as David popped a bottle of Vosne from Domaine Robert Sirugue during lunch at Brat restaurant (BYO bottle), a domaine he imports directly from the grower, as with all of the Burgundy he lists.
Owning 11 hectares of vines in the sleepy village of Vosne, the winery is run by 5th generation siblings Jean-Louis and Marie- France, Jean-Louis' son Arnaud now the winemaker. This village wine is made from twelve lieu dits (including Aux Reas, La Croix Blanche, Les Chalandins), and despite being young, its already oozing with red cherry scented grace and charm – silky stuff.
The Domaine appears to be flying quietly under the radar in the UK, while garnering a cult following in Japan after an appearance in Manga comic 'Kami no Shizuki' (The Drops of God) . Relatively excellent value for the finest spot on the planet for Pinot Noir, they own a plot of 1er Cru 'Les Petits Monts' which overlooks the hallowed Grand Crus of Richebourg and La Romanée – reader, I bought one.
Vosne, you're a babe....
Vosne-Romanée 2016, Domaine Robert Sirugue
62,000. That’s the capacity of the new stadium that Tottenham Hotspur will move in to later this year – built on the existing site of the former 36,000 White Hart Lane – and the attendant upsurge of activity in N17 that has been ticking along over the past year is no coincidence: no doubt about it, the new home for Spurs is the main thrust for everything happening in the area.
The first flickerings of a Tottenham uplift began a couple of years ago, and once it was confirmed that the club would indeed be staying in the area rather than gallivanting across to another postcode, it felt like someone, somewhere, pressed a button labelled GO for all things food and booze related.
Was it a surprise when The White Stripes belted out ‘Jolene’ at their gigs? It’s got 7 million views on YouTube, you know?
Also, have you ever been to Stoke Newington?
The Folkestone Wine Company
The Fordwich Arms
Where The Light Gets In
The Mash Inn
Grand Trunk Road
The Laughing Heart
German Doner Kebab
Black Axe Mangal
House of Ho
Leyton Pub Rising
"Are you looking at my bird, mate?" and "Will you sing your songs outside?" – The Coach and Horses felt like this kind of dive for years: scuzzy carpet, grimy lavs, faint aura of menace.
It's all change with this impressive revamp, the kitchen led by hip-hop loving local chef Steven Wilson, who has spent time in some top London kitchens. With Leyton Orient currently languishing in the Vanarama National League – within chanting distance of the pub – this is another welcome boost for Leyton which has started getting jiggy, most significantly on Francis Road with the additions of Yardarm, Kettle & Ryan, Marmelo Kitchen and friends.
Several visits and the 'perfect pub' classics are being ticked off:
* Sausage roll is a Platonic ideal (massive) and a very fair £4.50 for the size. 1-0.
* Scotch Egg: Cumberland mince with a smattering of Clonakilty black pudding. Top corner.
* Crisp potato cake with roasted garlic mayo. Cheffy layers of mandolined potatoes, a nod to the classic Pavés de pommes de terre.
Hat-trick (2', 57', 89').
Return trips are made to make sure this isn't a mirage, just to check that it's a bona fide pub with owners that give a massive toss about what's going on. The Sunday Roast is a beauty, probably the best that Leyton has seen for decades. Beef suet pudding with mash and liquor is the clincher – deeply satisfying on a drizzly day, a mound of suet giving way to reveal hunks of tender short rib, the whole lot collapsing into parsley flecked liquor (no eel juice here, no eels on the menu...yet), with a jug of extra liquor on the side. Woof.
The owners have form, led by Ronnie Finch who transformed The Duke in Wanstead a few years ago, as well as partnering with chef Chris Hruskova on Hackney bakery The Bread Station – next project is the reopening of The Leytonstone Tavern.
"Will you sing your songs outside?" – Yes mate, just let me finish this Scotch Egg...
391 High Road
It was the 'Mission Chinese' spices on the fried chicken that hooked me in: have only seen Danny Bowien's firecracker Sichuan peppercorn charged spice mix appear in London once, at the peerless Black Axe Mangal in their 'wing spice'. Then a sausage and egg 'McMuffin' with slow cooked egg yolks and kimchi ketchup, appears on the brunch menu. Disciples of Bowien? Sod this, it's around the corner from me on the Wanstead/Forest Gate borders....cover me, I'm going in.
A short walk from Forest Gate and Wanstead Park stations, Arch Rivals occupy one of the arches on Winchelsea Road, and unlikely looking strip already perked up by wine shop and bar Burgess and Hall, and The Wanstead Tap. A couple of visits and I'm a believer: tiny menu of asian accented dishes to smack across the chops, alongside a sharply chosen list of beers, wine and cocktails. Pinot Gris from Mount Difficulty in Otago, New Zealand, is a winner with the food.
Jitterbugging across Asia over six dishes, these are bites falling squarely into the 'booze food' category, full of punch and spice to sustain and revive after a skinful. Sichuan aubergine here, smacked cucumber over there, a rib steak with miso butter and kimchi, XO sauce and Mapo Tofu darting in and out of the evening and brunch menus.
We just miss out on Dan Dan fried rice one evening (pork runs out) but with a swift substitution of kimchi for pork, it reminds me of a raucous evening in the Lower East Side in NYC, and a fried rice dish of salt cod at Bowien's Mission Chinese: oh look, there's a kedgeree fried rice dish with smoked haddock on at brunch. Riffs on Bowien, flashes of David 'Momofuku' Chang – we spot books from both on the shelf, alongside Pok Pok's Andy Ricker – reveal the influences the kitchen enjoy playing with most.
That 'McMuffin' is a gem: free-range pork patty with American cheese, the ooze of slow cooked egg yolk, kick of kimchi ketchup between a particularly good toasted muffin. Mushroom Mapo Tofu with jalapeño cornbread and eggs, hopping with Sichuan peppercorns and black beans – while feeling slightly dusty from the night before – is a most welcome Saturday breakfast.
I'm liking Arch Rivals – a bar with attitude and hutzpah.
361 Winchelsea Road
Meursault and Megadeth
“Can I offer you something while we talk? You wanna beer or something? Wine?”
We’re backstage at the 02 Centre in Greenwich, two hours before showtime: 17.30. Dave Mustaine walks back from the fridge with a Heineken – I asked for a beer.
Megadeth wasn’t a thing for me until recently, until last year, a bewildering and unexpected flashbang: I’ve become a fan, and dammit I’m going to trawl through all the albums over thirty-five years and get a real handle on the band, ranking the albums in order of favourites – a protean list that shifts with repeated listens. From the opening frantic jagged riffs of Holy Wars…The Punishment Due (Rust In Peace, 1990, fourth album), I was hooked. Urgent, visceral, crowd-moshing thrash metal: a new obsession, a compulsion.
"You have the best job in the world, you really do...”
So the refrain goes, a bit of admiration laced with a dash of jealousy and a smattering of “Oh FFS, all you guys do is drink for free all day, you massive old soaks.”
Sure, I used to enjoy them, revel in them: back when gin and tonics were still fizzy and vegans didn’t exist – glory days.
Then something started to happen, a stealth attack, a creeping feeling...
The rise of the English sparkling wine industry has seen its bottles move from “plucky outsider” status to champagne-beating cellar essentials, claiming a record number of international trophies along the way. England is fizzing, and the world is taking notice.
— It started with venison medallions and a Barossa Valley Shiraz: the dish that sent me down the path of food and wine while living in Sydney. A career change from advertising began by joining Oddbins in 2003, then to independent merchant The Winery (specialising in German Riesling, Burgundy, Piemonte, California), moving to selling wine to London restaurants, and a stint as sommelier at Zucca in Bermondsey — the writing kicked in after all of this. I’ve written for various publications including The Evening Standard, The Guardian, Christie’s Magazine, The London Magazine, Noble Rot, Completely London, Caterer, and Ocado magazine. I consult on wine lists for restaurants, recent projects including Smoking Goat, Kiln, Coombeshead Farm, Bibo, Arabica Bar and Kitchen, Frontline Club, Cây Tre and Martello Hall.