The gavel struck the block. ‘Sold,’ said the auctioneer, ‘for £40,250.’ The date was Wednesday 8 February, 2012; the place was the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge; and the consumption was conspicuous. The sold lot was a jeroboam of Romanée-Conti, 1990.
I’ll let you into a secret. I’ve done something the buyer of that bottle will never do: I’ve drunk Romanée-Conti, and it didn’t cost me £40,000. I drank it in an unfashionable London restaurant several years ago; and I paid half of £180 for the immeasurable pleasure.
Restaurant mark-ups are notorious, more so since the explosion of fine wine prices over the last 20 years. But London still has one or two quiet bistros that sell the very best at astonishing value. Indeed, it’s a mystery how these businesses turn a profit.
Andrew Edmunds is one such place. It’s a small brasserie, tucked away in Soho. It might have been in provincial France: unprepossessing exterior, low ceilings, battered wooden furniture. You half expect René Artois to emerge from the pantry, wiping Yvette’s garish lipstick from his mouth with one hand and handing you the menu with the other.
It has oodles of charm, which is just as well because the cooking is unremarkable for London these days. The wine list, however, is scarcely credible. Recognised burgundies and clarets are available for less than a wine merchant would ask for them. All of them drink very well, but you can afford to be extravagant here. Alas, the Romanée-Conti has been drunk, but plenty of other luminaries are on offer. The best of the bunch is a 2004 d’Yquem. It’s the most exquisite pudding wine on the planet: sweet without being cloying and rich without being heavy. It costs £185 here. To put that into context, the same wine is available at Brad and Angelina’s favourite Riviera haunt, Le Bacon, for just under €2,000. The Romanée-Conti is a snip at €13,500.
Andrew Edmunds is an old-fashioned restaurant; 28˚–50˚, on Fetter Lane, is a different proposition. It pretentiously calls itself a ‘Wine Workshop’, but don’t let that deter you. The list is more interesting than that at Andrew Edmunds, and you can sample more of it, thanks to their ‘wine by the glass’ machine. A fiver to the barmaid will buy you a small glass of something that a lunatic would waste x thousand pounds on at auction.
As retail prices for the famous wines of France grow ever more extortionate, the huddled masses have to delve deeper into la campagne and other parts of Europe. 28˚–50˚ is a good place to experiment. There are rare gems from regional France, and an array of underrated Italians, Spaniards and Germans — German (and Austrian) wine has recovered from the nadir of 1970s Blue Nun and is enjoying a renaissance.
The waiters are hugely knowledgeable and, if asked, will recommend matches with the good food without condescension. I ate beef that night (predictably), and was recommended a bottle of Domaine de Trevallon 1999. Trevallon comes from the wild country at the mouth of the Rhône, and it’s a musky hunk of a wine. It describes itself as ‘red table wine’, but it has a subtle, minty aftertaste: a sign of its structure and the fact that it ages well. In that sense, it’s reminiscent of a fine Bordeaux — except that it’s a good deal cheaper at £71 a bottle.
Next up was one of those elegant Germans: a Mosel Riesling, grown by the renowned producer Fritz Haag. It was sharp enough to cut through the thick yoghurt in my pudding, but sufficiently sweet to complement the rhubarb topping. £12.95 for a large glass might seem to be pushing it, but this is a wine in its own class: able to enhance complicated modern desserts in a way that grand old Sauternes sometimes cannot. You can find it in other fashionable London restaurants, but not by the glass.
The chief delight of 28˚-50˚ is to drink an exceptional wine that hasn’t yet caught the eye of a rapacious oligarch. A mellifluous Hermitage Blanc, a white from the hills above the Rhône, was matched with my salmon starter. It’s a unique wine, so wholesome in taste and texture that it warmed me on that bitterly cold night. It was also a bargain, at £4.95 a glass. But this can’t last: Harrods has just started flogging it for £195 a bottle.
46 Lexington Street,
London W1F 0LW
020 7437 5708
28°–50° Wine Workshop & Kitchen140 Fetter Lane
London EC4A 1BT
020 7242 8877