Inside Oswald’s club: a long, leisurely lunch

Following our exclusive on the opening of Robin Birley’s club Oswald’s earlier this year, wine insider Tom Harrow swings by for lunch to see how the wine list measures up

Members can keep up to 12 bottles in Oswald’s cellar
Members can keep up to 12 bottles in Oswald’s cellar

Oswald’s is first and foremost a Robin Birley club and so one can naturally expect that it is an exercise in curating the exquisite. It’s no surprise then that this includes a gilt-edged, patrician wine offering that sets out to have members in raptures. But exactly how is what I have come to discover…

Just as the interior, with its grand chandeliers and statuesque hearths, has bypassed vogues for chrome, filament lighting and bare brick, so too the wine list is gloriously unreconstructed. This is no place to sample the latest skin contact, indigenous Slovakian varieties – members will be as happy as in their own cellars of maturing burgundy and bordeaux. It’s worth noting too that members can keep up to 12 bottles in the club cellar and drink these or other bottles brought on the day without a corkage fee.

But if the list is conservative, then the prices are positively reactionary. Across the board the mark-ups are at or below retail, from the house champagne – Krug (£98 a bottle vs up to £140 on the high street) to Napa’s most eye-watering icon Screaming Eagle (magnums of 1992 for £32,000). 

As impressive as the pricing is the policy of preferring more mature cuvées: the youngest Dom Pérignon is from 2000 (where the current release is 2009) and, while there are four shelves of Domaine Romanée-Conti in the cellar, wine buyer Tim Parkinson has chosen to recommend the more approachable and better value vintages and allow the trophies to mature. For Mayfair today, it’s refreshingly classy to see some of these vinous jewels discreetly tucked away rather than showily paraded.

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The Birley family’s longstanding relationship with wine world royalty means there are the inevitable verticals of first growths, as well as Leroy and Chave, while own-label wines are from Puligny-Montrachet’s François Carillon (a 1er cru Champgains) and Pomerol’s Edouard Moueix (from a parcel of vines otherwise destined for La Fleur-Pétrus). Meanwhile, recommended ex-château bordeaux include: Belair 2000 (£60), Latour à Pomerol 2003 (£75), Cos d’Estournel 1986 (£160) and Mouton Rothschild 1959 (£2,950). 

And this being a Birley club, it goes without saying that the finesse does not stop at the wine list. The club is “not about offering a Sideways moment” (slurping Cheval Blanc from a styrofoam cup), says Parkinson: glassware was commissioned by the UK’s king of crystal, John Jenkins; the Provençal filtered water is the same as that sipped at Michelin-starred Etxebarri and Bordeaux’s Cordeillan-Bages; and the FT’s wine writer Jancis Robinson is providing content for the club newsletter. 

Over an indulgent lunch this spring, I ordered a glass of Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 2011 (£20 a glass) to pair with a generous vitello tonnato from Sardinian head chef Gianluca Cossu, and chose a youthful Château Léoville Barton 2005 (at £25 a glass) to draw out the richness and depth of Cossu’s liberally marrow-studded risotto Milanese. A glass of Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru La Riotte 2012 (£21) was perfect with char-coated, succulently pink veal and I finished with a Delamain cognac, from the club’s selection of own label spirits – which also includes a 25-year old Macallan. The generous brandy rounded off the experience nicely, firmly cementing my view that Oswald’s is a confident and elegant, rather than stuffy or showy, addition to London’s wine and member’s club scene.

With a plethora of establishments and increasingly impressive wine offerings in London to choose between, whether it has changed the game will be debated, but Oswald’s is undeniably upping it…

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