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Tim Atkin

The Wine-List Inspector

Visiting London for the Olympics? These are the champions, my friends

Tim Atkin | July/August 2012

Ask a bunch of people who sniff, swirl and spit for a living to pick their favourite London wine haunt and I suspect 28°-50° would top the list. Since 2010, this “wine workshop & kitchen” behind Fleet Street has established itself as a destination for thinking winos; so much so that a second 28°-50° opens in Marylebone in time for the Olympics.

As the name suggests—28° and 50° are the latitudes between which the world’s grapes are grown—wine is the focus here. Master sommelier Xavier Rousset updates the list on a weekly basis as he discovers new and interesting things. Paul Walsh’s French-influenced bistro food is tasty, too, but most people come here for the vino and the atmosphere.

Rousset, who used to work at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, has gone to the opposite extreme here, choosing a minimalist list that fits on a single page. Hallelujah! If the wines are well chosen, 50 bottles are more than enough for anyone. I say bottle, but all of the wines are available in by-the-glass and carafe sizes, too (75ml, 125ml and 250ml). This means that you can—and should—try several different wines while you’re here.

The list is French-focused, but Rousset has a cosmopolitan palate, picking wines from Italy, Spain, South Africa, Austria, Germany, Portugal and America. His preference is generally for lighter, more elegant styles with freshness and acidity, rather than ponderous, oak-saturated flavours.

The highlights are the Sherries (also available as a four-wine flight for £21) and the Burgundies, but there isn’t a bad wine on the list. Most of them are priced under £40, which is unusual in London, where wine is too often regarded by restaurateurs as a way of fleecing customers.

If you want to drink something really special, there is also a one-page collectors’ list, aimed at people who like the best Burgundies, California Cabernets and cru classé clarets. These bottles—some of them dating back to the 1980s—are fairly priced and more eclectic than many fine-wine selections. Examples include a mature, savoury 1999 Château Bouscassé from Madiran (£42) and a toasty, almost Sherry-like 1992 Tondonia white Rioja (£45).

The buzz, the decanting and the popping of corks are all part of the pleasure of dining in the basement, but the best seats in the house are at the large 12-person table on the mezzanine. So go mob-handed and make an evening of it.

2850.co.uk; around £80 for two

THE COMPETITION

Hakkasan, an up-market Chinese restaurant, has been rolled out from New York to Abu Dhabi, but the original in Hanway Place still takes some beating. Its wine list contains plenty of swanky bottles for high-rollers, but is appealingly quirky too. Unlike many Michelin-starred selections, Christine Parkinson’s is arranged thematically: biodynamic, signature, curious vines, old vines, blends and (for bin ends) the last few. This makes it hard to find, say, a Sancerre in a hurry, but encourages diners to choose unusual things. The sommeliers are helpful and the wines (£7.40–13.80 for a small glass) complement the food brilliantly.

Quo Vadis is still my chosen place to eat and drink in Soho, especially now that Jeremy Lee cooks there. The owners, Sam and Eddie Hart, love wine, and it shows in their list: a short, palate-watering selection of mostly European bottles, 20 of which are available by the glass (£4-9). Burgundy and Bordeaux provide the window-dressing, though there are bargains from both regions, but the real interest lies in the more unusual Spanish, Italian and French country wines.

hakkasan.com; quovadissoho.co.uk

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