A Tale of the Occult featuring some flashing lights, a lot of wine and not suitable for those of a nervous disposition…
I was returning from the ElbJazz festival in Hamburg via the retail paradise that is Heathrow Terminal 5 when I experienced what I can only describe as a vision. Somewhere between the baggage hall and Boots my consciousness was invaded by a beautiful young woman’s face. I halted my perambulation as she whispered to me in an accent not dissimilar to that of Leslie Caron in the 1958 Vincente Minnelli film Gigi the words
“Go to the London Edition Hotel now”.
I was powerless to refuse…
As I sat on the Piccadilly line I pondered the experience I had just had. I knew the London Edition as a stylish modern hotel housing The Berner’s Tavern, Jason Atherton’s post-modern reinvention of the grand hotel dining-room. But nothing could have prepared me for what was to follow…
I entered the hotel’s main lobby and two immaculately besuited chaps immediately ushered me towards a shining, spinning vortex of light from which there was no escape. I was sucked in to it, my very being split into a billion swirling molecules; all my pasts, presents and futures co-existing on a plane of immanence.
And then just as time seemed to no longer have any meaning I was reconstituted and found myself in a cavernous underground space full of bright lights and strange sounds. It was populated by strangely beautiful creatures dancing deranged wild dances. They went under names such as The Cheekster and Luscious and were clearly under the influence of the god of all things fun – Bacchus. I suddenly remembered that I was The Hedonist and that these were my people and that things were going to be fine. This congregation of decadence was hosted by a devilishly handsome master of ceremonies going by the name of Douglas Blyde and his vinous high priestess Lindsay Oram. It soon transpired that we had all been summoned to a gastronomic event with six Loire wines matched by the London Edition’s sommelier, Matteo Montone and Douglas.
But then there she was – that girl who had spoken to me so powerfully. Her enigmatic gaze followed me all evening as I pondered why she hadn’t taken her rollers out…
As a warm-up before the meal kicked off we had a 10 wine preview chosen by Lindsay Oram featuring choice bottles from the Loire, France’s longest river. Loire wines come from four regions; Pays Nantais, Anjou, Saumur and Touraine with familiar appellations such as Chinon and Muscadet, Rosé d’Anjou and Vouvray and less well know ones that are ripe for discovery such as Bonnezeaux and Savennières. The range of wines is staggering and with 250 million bottles of Loire wine being sold a year it’s a big business. I particularly enjoyed a bone dry Touraine Mousseaux, Monmousseau Cuvée J.M., a classic Muscadet from Louis Métaireau, Grand Mouton, 2015, a strawberry infused 2016 Rosé d’Anjou from Maison Bougrier and the honeyed sweetness of a 2015 Coteaux du Layon Rablay, Chateau la Tomaze.
And then to the main event…The opening gambit was a generous plate of fresh sweet and smokey Colchester crab, with a deliciously pungent brown crab mayo, apple and coriander, served on a slice of toasted sourdough. Crab starters are a signature of Atherton’s restaurants and this was a perfectly balanced plate. Our glass of organic Muscadet cotes de Grandlieu sur Lie, Clos de la Senaigerie 2015, Domaine des Herbauges made by two brothers matched the dichotomous nature of the crustacean’s flavours particularly well. It had a lean, light minerality with enough acidity to cut through the brown crabmeat flavour.
Pan-fried rainbow trout arrived with a perfectly seared skin, chargrilled courgette, a pokey wasabi butter sauce, and a dollop of caviar on top for added salty sensuality. For our wine we had moved 65 miles east to the most exciting region of white in the region. Our silky, chalky glass of Savennières Clos de la Hutte, 2015, Thibault Boudignon was food friendly, made from the Chenin Blanc grape through a process of sustainable viticulture that really amplifies the terroir.
On trend pan-fried gnocchi came with a vegetal broccoli pesto, and the unexpected delight of shaved broccoli stems.
A tender and moist Dingley Dell pork chop was a great hit amongst the assembled libertines. Served with roasted calçot onions, a sweet apple, tomato and sage sauce the tightly textured porcine flesh
had a succulent melting texture. To accompany we were sampling two Cabernet Francs because one simply wasn’t enough.
Chinon Rouge, Clos de la Dioterie, 2009 was a smooth sip and a great manifestation of the grape.
Charles Joguet’s Saumur Champigny, Lisagathe, 2014, Château du Hureau was more peppery and had a greater level of acidity and a sinewy, lush, understated power. Think Yvonne Goolagong in her prime…
Looking like a Dutch still life a selection of cheeses with pear and saffron chutney and homemade mixed seed biscuits arrived. Accompanying wines had been chosen by Jason Atherton – a wonderful Chenin Blanc Anjou Blanc ‘Berners Tavern’, 2015, Clos de l’Elu and a more full-bodied Anjou Rouge ‘Berners Tavern’, 2014, Clos de l’Elu made from the Cabernet Franc grape.
If experiencing the diversity and quality of the Loire wines wasn’t enough the evening ended with a revelation. Coffee and cigar aficionado Amir Gehl of Difference Coffee Co. supplied a Guatemala Speciality Decaf Finca de la Pastoria coffee from the Santa Rosa region with notes of chocolate, caramel and a hint of citrus. Using a Catuai variety of 100% Arabica the non-chemical Swiss Water Process is used to remove 99% of the caffeine. I am hugely caffeine intolerant, I find it gets in the way of the alcohol, and this was the first time I was able to enjoy a great tasting espresso at the end of a meal in about 40 years!
I had answered the siren’s call and taken a journey down a verdant, curving river of wine, past fairytale Chateaux ending up miraculously in the jungles of South America! It was a mind-expanding exploration of the grape and coffee bean and I even got a good night’s sleep dreaming of the angel who entranced me.
If you would like to explore the wines of the Loire go to http://loirevalleywine.com.
London Edition Hotel, 10 Berners St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 3NP