Let’s get the wine stuff out of the way, shall we? 2015 Bordeaux, shown to the trade from bottle last Wednesday courtesy of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. As ever it was hard to address the case in hand (tasting, evaluating, forming an objective opinion on eighty or so classed growth clarets from the vintage in question) as there are far too many people to say hello to – I was there for twenty minutes before I even tasted a glass. It was particularly good to see Nice Guy Eddie.
The wines: 2015 is a good vintage. Not a great one, but a good one. A modern-day 1985 as Mr Browett put it, though I reckon 1985 is/was probably more consistent. And, as Mr B. continued: another Mr B., a Mr Broadbent, always said that 1985 was a modern-day 1953.
And that is all you really need to know. If you own these wines then you will be happy and will probably have done well if you bought them EP (though that’s as much about Brexit and exchange rates as it is about the quality of the wines). I personally prefer the style, the drawing-room elegance and the consistency of 2014. In ten years or so we’ll see if I’m right.
But this isn’t about 2015 Bordeaux, a BMW of Bordeaux vintages. It’s about dinner.
Someone, somewhere, sometime invented the restaurant. One of humankind’s greatest ideas. Be it Greasy Spoon or Gavroche, restaurants are a brilliant thing. Trouble is, though (and there’s always trouble), is that – particularly in this country – there is an awful lot of rubbish in between the Greasy Spoon and the Gavroche.
At the very top it’s relatively easy to pull off if you have the backing – there will always be a market for those that want to eat caviar out of golden cups or beef from cows that listened to Beethoven – and you can just throw money at it (which your backing may or may not be laundering anyway). At the bottom it’s relatively easy to pull off if you know how to fry an egg and use a toaster – there will always be people that are hungry. It’s in the middle where it gets a bit more tricky.
My favourite restaurant of all time was the much-missed Zucca. I don’t think I’m alone. These days it’s either Medlar or Chez Bruce. I don’t frequent either, which is rather the point: you don’t need to have eaten there yesterday to be sure of the quality. The good news is that I think there’s another one.
I had been intrigued by Lorne Restaurant since it opened, largely because Katie Exton (who is behind it), is just about the best sommelier I have ever met. Katie “sommed”, if that’s the expression, at one of the best wine dinners I have ever hosted (at Chez Bruce) and her expertise and professionalism was such that, after five minutes, I felt like a guest rather than a host. To get me relaxed is no mean feat.
The menu at Lorne is refreshingly simple; it’s here.
I had the pumpkin and the guinea fowl. Both perfect. Both served at the right time. Both ordered when WE wanted to order them rather than when the restaurant wanted us to order them. And brought to the table when we were ready for them – not just when the cuisto was ready. I think that’s the whole point. The staff were there when we wanted them and only when we did – this is the trick of service.
And then there’s the corkage, which so many restaurants do with a sneer: they’d rather make £20 off their wonky-vintage-Macon than take £20 to open your Meursault. And, even if they agree to do it, they’re thinking that they’re losing £100 because you’re not buying their wonky-vintage-dodgy-grower Meursault. None of this at Lorne. Just: “what do you want decanted and how many glasses do you need?” Followed by: “do you want to look after yourselves or shall we do it?”
My wine of the night was probably the Raveneau that we brought. Raffety Jnr’s Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot was impressive, as was 95 Ornellaia courtesy of Nico. Our 96 Reserva Especial was knackered (it came from that Spanish broker who sends you bottle pics that he’s taken on the balcony). The Egly-Ouriet off the list was lovely, as was the 1971 Rivesaltes, though I had lost my concentration by that stage.
And – here’s a thing: at these sorts of dinners it is normally the wine that sticks in the memory, no matter how much has been consumed. With this one, though, aside from the impeccable company, it was the restaurant. Which is pretty much perfect.