Clarette, the latest epicurean opening in London foodie mecca Marylebone, shows a lot of early promise that it will become more than just a wine destination du jour. The team behind the wine bar is one of the big draws: Alexandra Petit and Thibault Pontallier both have ties to Bordeaux estate Château Margaux (Petit is the owner’s daughter, Pontallier its global ambassador), while restaurateur Natsuko Perromat du Marais – who has worked with Alain Ducasse and Anne-Sophie Pic – came recommended by Pontallier’s brother during the pair’s search for an expert food-industry partner.
Here is not the masculine swagger of some temples to wine: there are no terrifyingly expensive verticals of first-growth Bordeaux prominently displayed, no dusty bottles of ancient port or double magnums of Napa icons. In fact, there is a refreshing lack of bottles or barrels of any kind. Alexander Evangelou, creative director of Alexander Waterworth Interiors and an alumnus of restaurant design doyen Martin Brudnizki’s Design Studio, has transformed what was once a rather dark, dingy old boozer, retaining the faux-Tudor exterior and stained-glass windows but creating a clean, bright and airy space with a scheme that is understated yet cosy with touches of “belle époque lite”.
The aesthetics reflect the owners’ vision for an inviting “quality-casual experience”, says Perromat du Marais, and unlike most other recent additions to London’s wine bar scene, Clarette consciously decided not to become a private members’ club, but something more accessible. The menu is simple but engaging, focusing on small and sharing plates but punctuated by dishes that are reminders of childhood comfort food (Frenchy mac, cheese and ham; ratatouille Provençale) and cute self-referential sliders (“petit” burgers, and a brioche croque monsieur that is lighter than many due to Petit’s insistence on no béchamel sauce). There’s also a surprisingly effective raspberry hummus, and crudités such as charred baby cauliflower with tahini (inspired by Miznon in Le Marais), while the braised octopus with olives, tomato and capers, and the sirloin (from nearby Ginger Pig) with persillade are presented with justified confidence.
Jess Kildetoft Sørensen, who works as head sommelier at Mash, has overseen an interesting and eclectic wine list that benefits from its owners’ connections to various châteaux. France is naturally well represented, accounting for about two-thirds of the selection, but there are smart choices from the rest of Europe and a smattering from the New World too. By-the-glass offerings start at £4.40 and bottles at £25, and mark-ups throughout are less than might be expected given the locale.
The list also has a featured producer section – currently Burgundy’s Taupenot-Merme, whose 2008 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru (£30 a glass) comes highly recommended, and moving to Burgenland’s Moric in July – as well as some top wines under Coravin (glasses of 2010 Meursault Buisson-Charles and 2000 Grand Puy Ducasse would make a great pair at £19 and £20 respectively). If entertaining a thirsty group of discerning associates, the Comte Lafon négociant label Mâcon Bussières and Lucien Le Moine Bourgogne, both from the outstanding 2010 vintage, make judicious choices, offering maturity and good value.
Top picks from further up the list include 2010 Chassagne-Montrachet premier cru Clos St Jean from Paul Pillot (£105), Jaboulet’s 1996 Hermitage La Chapelle (£145) and 2002 Nuits-St-Georges premier cru Les Pruliers, Domaine Jean Grivot (£170). And the special collection of vintages in Château Margaux’s cellar has yielded Pavillon Rouge 1996 (£440 a magnum) and the particularly noteworthy Margaux 1999 (£525 a bottle), arguably the wine of the vintage, both of which are drinking well now and are fairly priced.
The list is deliberately succinct (around 150 references) because Clarette wants a “living, evolving list, not a gallery”, says Pontallier. This approach nicely sums up the bar’s ethos and ambience: refreshing and chic, but also unpretentious.
Bookings are taken for the dining room upstairs, but the downstairs bar remains unreserved. A smaller private dining room on the second floor seats 14 for a more intimate soirée, while the owners’ experience of living in New York means they are enthusiastic to open for weekend brunch, and from September there are plans to host regular wine dinners upstairs.
Tom Harrow is a fine wine commentator, consultant and presenter. His Grand Crew Classé is the ultimate invitation-only club for fine-wine enthusiasts, with exclusive access to rare bottles and events around the world. Follow him on Twitter here.