The day I met sommelier Xavier Rousset will always be seared into my mind, because it coincided with my first, synapse-blowing taste of 1996 Pol Roger Winston Churchill, a prestige cuvée that opened my eyes to how great really good vintage champagne could be. At that time, Rousset was still at Texture, the wildly successful Mayfair restaurant he co-founded with chef Agnar Sverrisson (before that, he was head sommelier at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons). And I’ve been a fan ever since.
Last year, Rousset opened Blandford Comptoir, a chic wine bar just off the main drag in Marylebone that I’ve returned to many times. I’ve lunched there with friends, talked shop over burrata and grower champagne with wine writer Victoria Moore (her new book The Wine Dine Dictionary is a must-read) and recently squeezed my whole family round one of its tiny tables for my mother’s birthday.
Rousset’s new baby is Comptoir Café & Wine in Mayfair, a parquet-floored, light-flooded affair complete with tasting room, bottle shop and a cellar of more than 2,000 bottles. Champagne is Rousset’s speciality (Comptoir lists 75 producers), but it does morning coffee, croissants and lobster rolls too. So there’s no excuse not to visit, even if you’re having a dry day.
Back in Marylebone, Château Margaux heiress Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos has also been busying herself with the launch of her wine bar, Clarette. Housed, rather incongruously, in a restored mock-Tudor pub, Clarette is setting out to do fine wine in a way that’s a bit more dégagé – you can sip first-growths to the sound of reggae and vintage champagne with your fishcakes. Petit-Mentzelopoulos – who has the alabaster skin and raven hair of an old-time movie star – is adamant that it’s not “A Château Margaux wine bar”, but there’s plenty of house juice on the menu. The Margaux is bought ex-château, so prices are keen – there aren’t many places you will find a magnum of 1999 Château Margaux at just over £1,000. The Coravin list also has all sorts of gems by the glass. I snuffled happily into a £30 glass of Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux 2004, a red as velvety as the dusky-rose alcove I was holed up in. But Clarette bangs the drum for other houses too. I tip my hat to Emilie Sagot, the charming sommelier who urged me to try the 2013 Anjou blanc – it was a tangy delight.
Clarette also has a private dining room on the second floor, and the promise of tantalising tastings in the future. The official line is that Château Margaux has no events planned at present – but I’d just say watch this space…