October 24 2010
There comes a moment in every year, sadly, when the hunt for a pretty pub garden or a sunny terrace has to be abandoned. Thoughts turn inside, to roaring fires and warming nips of something amber, or a bottle of something red. For the latter, there can be fewer places in London better – or better value – than the wine bar and restaurant 28°-50° (pictured), just off Fleet Street.
Named after the latitudes between which the wine grape flourishes, it is the second restaurant set up by sommelier Xavier Rousset and chef Agnar Sverrisson, once of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Their first venture, Texture, has gained much praise (and a Michelin star) for its modern European menu; at 28°-50°, it is the wine list that steals the limelight.
Not that there is anything wrong with the food. The short menu sticks, sensibly, to French-accented, wine-friendly offerings: charcuterie, rillettes, bouillabaisse (actually nothing like bouillabaisse, but a perfectly decent fillet of red mullet with shellfish), burrata (served, curiously, on a hot plate, lending the mozzarella-type cheese a rubbery, halloumi-like quality), onglet and pissaladière. As one might hope in such an oenophilic atmosphere, breads and cheeses are very good.
All of which acts as soothing blotting paper for one of London’s most interesting wine menus. The main list cleverly spans the world in 40 or so wines – I sampled a flowery, steely Fiano from Salento, a firm and honeyed Roter Veltliner from Austria and a spicy, nervy St Nicolas de Bourgueil – and all are available in 75ml “tasters”, as well as by the glass, carafe and bottle. For those seeking depth as well as breadth, there are “flights” of wines from featured winemakers: on my visit, three pinot noirs from the Aussie Mac Forbes; this month, a selection from the Barossa Valley’s remarkable Glaetzer family. Prices are distinctly reasonable: few exceed £50.
The same cannot be said of the Collectors’ List, a compilation of (mostly red, mostly French) wines offered for sale by friends of the owners, but the sense of grabbing a bargain is even greater. Many are from older vintages rarely available in restaurants, and all are tremendous value: Château Mouton-Rothschild 1989, for example, for a trifling £325. Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester (actually, even if he isn’t there) will happily relieve you of £1,490 for an identical bottle. Or the peerless JL Chave’s Hermitage, from the same vintage, for £350; again, barely above retail price.
I like the room, too. 28°-50°’s high-ceilinged, beautifully lit cellar – comprising a bar, 40-seat restaurant and two private dining rooms – is the perfect place to sniff, swill and slurp your way to autumnal contentment. The leaves may be turning and the nights drawing in, but solace can be sought in a glass or two of something red and venerable. Whatever the joys of summer, one can get tired of rosé.