Social Wine and Tapas, London

Now it starts again, my raving of the great food and wine scene in London. Someone might say, so just move back already, but I am for now, just happy to be able to visit. Have I ever mentioned that I am a great fan of Jason Atherton’s cooking? I have visited several of his restaurants: Pollen Street Social, Little Social, Berner’s Tavern and Esquina (in Singapore). His style is tradition (French/Italian) meets social eating with a pinch of street-charm. Many of the dishes I love are the more simple ones, like sliders (pimped up with foie grass) and ice cream scones. But I must say that the Spanish breakfast at the Esquina, the English bistro in Singapore is a masterpiece (eggshell filled with yum). And the great thing about Jason’s restaurants is that his quality does not seem to suffer even with the many restaurants opening in his name. The man must be a genius to be able to keep so many chefs up to his standards.

But this review is about Social Wine and Tapas, Jason’s new restaurant in Marylebone, London. We originally didn’t have a reservation and thought about just walking in. Thankfully M did a last minute check and reserved two seats for the same evening, as when we arrived they seemed to already be fully booked. There are some walk-in tables, but we saw a crowd gathering after seven pm to wait for tables, and the lobby really was not that pleasant a place to be standing. We were seated on a bar facing the door, so we could follow the situation developing all evening (we got some evil eyes from the crowd after we had finished eating and were selfishly keeping the table sipping on wine). So the lesson is: Reserve a table before you go.

Chefs hard at work
Chefs hard at work
Awesome English sparkling and Francis Boulard Champagne
Awesome English sparkling and Francis Boulard Champagne

About the bubblies, wonderful choices. They had four different sparkling wines by the glass: one cava, one English sparkling and two champagnes. The Cava Mas Sardana was a disappointment. M had tried it before (at Social Eating House) and told me that he did not have more than one sip. So a wine warning for that one. We chose to have a glass of the English sparkling, Wiston Estate Cuvee Brut from West Sussex (12£/ glass) and a glass of Les Murgiers Champagne from Francis Boulard (12.5£/ glass). I love the style of Francis Boulard and Les Murguers, one of his cheapest champagnes is a wonderful toasty brut nature, just the way I like my aperitif. The Wiston Estate was a real surprise, bone dry with notes of yeast, brioche and citrus fruit. Even with a price of close to 30£ I hunted for a bottle of this for the rest of our trip. Unfortunately, and understandable, it was sold out everywhere. I must try to visit the next time we are in England.

The list of reds and whites was also rather comprehensive with close to 30 wines by the glass. We did not at all have the chance to sample as many as we wanted but M had the Love Red v.3 from the urban winery Broc Cellars in Berkeley. Rather fitting considering we had been to London’s first urban winery earlier the same day. I had the Vin de Table from Jean Michel Stephan from Rhone. The Love Red is a blend of 75% Carignan, 14% Valdigiué, and 11% Syrah. It is very light to be a red and really works well a bit chilled. It is full of berry flavor but the light character avoids the ‘jam’ feel and it has a pleasant hint of summery flowers. Would love to enjoy more of that.

For food we had some wonderful dishes. Traditional tomato bread, croquettes, heirloom tomato salad with burrata and foie grass sliders. We also ordered two Spanish breakfasts expecting them to be like the ones we had in Singapore (see photo), but to our disappointment, the Spanish breakfast at Social Wine and Tapas did not live up to the ones at Esquina. The dish was good, but it is always a matter of expectations vs. experience. Overall, the food was really good, for the exception of there being too little burrata for our liking. I must say that Jason has done it again and reached outstanding quality. Price-wise the restaurant is mid-range. We had four glasses of wine and six-seven different dishes and ended up with a bill of 100£ including service charge. Not too bad, but I cant really say it was cheap. Jose’s in Bermondsey still takes home the trophy (but I am very emotional about that place and biased) as the best tapas in London.

Heirloom tomato salad with (too little) burrata
Heirloom tomato salad with (too little) burrata
Jason's signature sliders with foie grass
Jason’s signature sliders with foie grass
The Spanish breakfast at Esquina Singapore
The Spanish breakfast at Esquina Singapore

So if in London, give Jason’s restaurants a try. Social Wine and Tapas is a good place to start with a reasonable price tag and a relative easiness of scoring a seat. You can work your way up the ladder via Social Eating House, Berners Tavern and Little Social to the bright star of Jason’s cooking, the Michelin starred Pollen Street Social.

Wine Review: Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2013

Wines from the Abruzzo region are perhaps not the most exciting to come out of Italy or perhaps it is just my rather limited knowledge of the wines that makes me feel like that. I was however at a restaurant serving regional food from Abruzzo so it seemed fitting (and the wine list sorted of forced me) to sample some wine from the region. I ended up sampling a wine from the winery Masciarelli. The winery was founded in 1981 by Gianni Masciarelli and it has several vineyards spanning over 300 acres in all provinces of Abruzzo. It is a fairly large operation these days and the produce around 2.5 million bottles spread over 18 different labels and five product lines (Classic Line, Gianni Masciarelli, Villa Gemma, Marina Cvetic, and Castello di Semivicoli).

The wine I tried was from the classic line and is called Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2013. This is one of their entry level wines and it is made from a 100% Montepulciano. The winery produces around 500 000 bottles each year, so not really something rare. The wine is deep ruby colored. The nose is full of dark berries, cherry as well as more subtle hints of tobacco and violets. The flavor is dominated by blackcurrant, plum but also with some pepper notes and tobacco in the finish. To me this is not a bad wine at all but it just does not excite me one bit. Too simple and slightly boring and a typical mass-market wine. It is non-offensive and works well with the regional foods, for example it went pretty well with the grilled lamb skewers. Quality wise it is only worth a 2.5 but value for money is pretty decent and deserves a 3.

Mother’s milk – truly excellent coffee bar experience in London

I am trying to return to some sort of order here in the posts for the so called Coffee Monday’s so today it actually posts on a Monday and with a real favorite both in terms of city and coffee bar. London is full of excellent places for coffee and I have a great many that I hold in high regard so naming one as the best is difficult. I do however hold Mother’s Milk as perhaps the best coffee quality.

The place is located just a few blocks north of Oxford circus (12 Portland Street, W1W 8BJ) and it is a little gem of a coffee place. It is run by two experienced baristas who really know their coffee. It is a tiny place (3 seats inside and a bench outside) so much of the business is take out. The menu is simple and straightforward. Everything on there is £3 (espresso, espresso with milk and filter) and made on order. The coffee is from reputable German roaster JB coffee (same as Rapha used in the past – before they decided to both ditch quality coffee and good staff) so quality of the beans is great and since they know how to make coffee the result is top notch. I have never had a bad cup of coffee here and usually stick to the excellent aeropress but the cold brew is also great.

Service is friendly and it is nice to have a seat and chat a bit about coffee. There is no food at all so if you are after other things than coffee then this place may not be for you. There is also no wifi so not the place to linger for a day. I am a fan and they really started the trend of good coffee around this area(since then Curators and Workshop also opened close by) and it is nice to have a good place for coffee if shopping at Oxford Street. The main drawback is that they are only open weekdays but as the guys work elsewhere as well  that is understandable.

So how does rate:
Coffee quality: 4.5
Ambiance and service: 3.5 (great service but so tiny so not really the place to hang out for a longer time)
Food: –
Vs local competition: 5

Wineweek 36: London Greetings

It is pouring outside. Weather is what one would expect of London, the type of persistent drizzle you see in the movies. During my one and a half years of living in the city, it did not rain more than I was used to in Helsinki. Probably less. However, the humid air really gets under your skin and reaches your bones, so rather often you feel cold and wet even if it’s not raining. Luckily there are several cozy cafes (and wine bars) where one can sneak into to escape the rain. We have made camp at Tap Coffee on Wardour Street. After second breakfast we will make our way deeper into Soho, visit some of our usual caffeine hangouts and continue towards Selfridges to browse the wine department. I am hoping to find a bottle of Wiston Estate sparkling wine to take home. I am slightly hesitant though and will make my decision once I see the price. English sparklings have really taken a price hike since the success of Ridgeview and Nyetimber. Many of the local bubblies are basically priced as if they were Champagne. I am not saying they are not good, but comparing to some of our premium cavas, the English sparklings are seldom value for money. I have been wondering about the price: is it just that the Brits believe so much in their product, or is it due to the cost of production? I can imagine the grape yields being quite low…what do you think?

But what have we been up to this week? We traveled back home from Finland just to jump on the plane taking us to London on Thursday. Friday we visited a new potential producer for our range of wine, London Cru, an urban winery located near West Brompton (btw. their wines were awesome). And since, we have just been eating (and drinking) our way through London’s culinary hot spots: Kitchen W8, Gymkhana, Social Wine and Tapas, just to mention a few. Tonight we will be checking out the newly reopened Ivy. London always has something fresh to offer. But more about specifics later, here is a series of photos from the week:

Thursday dinner at Duck and Rice. The cava, Rene Barbour was a steal at around five pounds per glass.
Thursday dinner at Duck and Rice. The cava, Rene Barbour was a steal at around five pounds per glass.
Even though Borne & Hollingsworth is hardly a secret any more, the speakeasy has managed to keep a high quality on cocktails.
Even though Borne & Hollingsworth is hardly a secret any more, the speakeasy has managed to keep a high quality on cocktails.
Tasting wines at London Cru, urban winery.
Tasting wines at London Cru, urban winery.
Awesome English sparkling at Social Wine and Tapas
Awesome English sparkling at Social Wine and Tapas
Nothing like some Pimm's to start the day
Nothing like some Pimm’s to start the day
The market is overcrowded with tourists but makes for a colorful place to take photos
The market is overcrowded with tourists but makes for a colorful place to take photos
Coffees at the Magic Roundabout. The cold brew was awesome.
Coffees at the Magic Roundabout. The cold brew was awesome.
A trip to London would be incomplete without a pit-stop at Joses. Snacking on  Padron peppers.
A trip to London would be incomplete without a pit-stop at Joses. Snacking on Padron peppers.
The last drinks of the night at Whiskey Ginger
The last drinks of the night at Whiskey Ginger
An evening walk on the South Bank
An evening walk on the South Bank

Wine review: Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Elyond DOC

I have left much of the wine writing to S recently but have now found some new inspiration for other drinks than coffee. I recently spent some time in Italy (for business) and managed to sample some interesting wines. First out of the reviews is a Gewürztraminer from the very north of Italy in Alto Adige. The wine is Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Elyond DOC. The winery is the Laimburg Estate Wines located at the foot of the mountain called Monte di Mezzo in the South Tyrol. Wine has been produced and traded for a long time in the area, there are even recent discoveries of grape seeds that are 2400 year old. The current winery has been producing for more than 40 years.

The winery is actually a branch of Laimburg Research Centre of Agriculture and Forestry that works for the advancement of viticulture in South Tyrol. The winery is a half public institution, not sure how that influences their work but I could imagine that the fact Laimburg grows and produces the entire spectrum of South Tyrol’s wine varieties is connected to it. There are numerous wines produced and they are divided into two broad categories. The Estate Wines are vintage wines with a focus on varietal character, matured either solely in stainless steel or partially in large oak barrels. The Manor Selection are wines with distinctive personality: they are mostly aged in oak barrels or are specially selected.

The Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Elyond DOC is not what I would normally go for but I felt a bit adventurous so opted for this powerful white wine. It belongs to the Manor Selection and is high in alcohol content at 15%. The grapes of Gewürztraminer Elyònd come from one hectare of vineyard, situated at 350 meters above sea level, on a limestone soil, gravel and with a mixture of clay located in the town of Sella, Tramin, according to the winery one of the best areas for this varietal. The grapes have been harvested manually followed by aging for 8 months in steel tanks and for 12 months in bottle.

Unfortunately I must say that the alcohol was very present in both the nose and the flavor of it. The color was however nice golden yellow. The nose had hints of dried figs and raisin and there were clear floral notes of rose petals and lavender and a, to me, unpleasant hint of the alcohol strength. The flavor is however unfortunately also influenced by the high alcohol level. There is a lingering acidity and some spices in the flavor. I am not at all a big drinker of Gewürztraminer and this one did not convince me to change my opinion. I would rate it as a 2.5 in quality and the same for value for money (it costs around €12 for a bottle in stores and I had a glass for €5 in a restaurant in Milan).

London Top-3 Wine Shops

Well hello London! We meet again. Yesterday I stepped of the plane at Heathrow airport to a welcoming 18 degrees (C) and could feel I had come home. My days of actually living in London were short(ish), only one and a half years, but it always feels like the place I am supposed to be. This trip is going to be brief. We are here for two reasons; the main being a visit to London Cru, an urban winery in the heart of the city (Fullham), and the second being food. The rest of the trip, we intend on eating and drinking at nice restaurants. You might call it market research, but I would be lying if I would say it is not enjoyable. Who said work always needs to be boring.

Enough with the babbling. To celebrate my brief return to London, I thought I would bring back a list of my favorite wine-shops and hangouts in the city:

1. A trip to London would not be complete without a pop into the Sampler (the South-Kensington branch), one of the best wine-shops in town. Even if I am not buying, I love that they have a wide range of wines in the sampling machines as well as some sparklings by the glass. One can just pour a small taster into a Riedel Vinum and walk around the shop (or stand by the Champagne shelf drooling as I do it). Click here for a complete review of the Sampler from January.

2. The Winery is a small piece of Germany located close to Warwick Avenue tube. The shop houses a wonderful selection of mainly German, Austrian and French wines. If you are a friend of Pinot, this is the shop to come to for some interesting German Spätburgunder. We also found some wonderful Marie Noelle Ledru Champagne here the last time we visited. Her wines are only available in London through the Winery. Here is a full review of the Winery from January.

3. Our newest find is Vagabond wines. It is a fairly similar to the Sampler, a wine shop and sampling house. Vagabond is perhaps one step more towards being a bar than a shop and is quite crowded with afterworkers in the evening. The selection is also slightly heavier on Spain and new world wines while the sampler houses one of the best champagne selections in the city (grower champagnes I might add). Vagabond also has a nice amount of sampling machines for trying out different wines as well as wines by the glass. What I particularly enjoyed was their charcuterie board that could be ordered as a companion for the wines. Here is a post about Vagabond from our last trip in January.

There are many more shops that I like visiting, but these are my absolute favorite ones. Perhaps it is because you can have a glass of wine while shopping. All in all, I love the variety of shops in London and wish we could have such a selection in Stockholm. Perhaps some day…one can always dream.

Wine Review: Tarlant Brut Prestige 2000

I love reviewing good wines. As I am reading my tasting notes and thinking about the wine, I travel back to the moment I first tasted it. I think about what I thought and what I felt..what I compared the wine with; and many other things. I relive the happy experience. So today, as it is 16 degrees (C) and raining, I need to review something wonderful: the Tarlant Brut Prestige 2000.

The history of the house of Tarlant dates back to the 15th century and it is even today a family owned company. Jean-Mary Tarlant is makes the decisions concerning vines and vineyards; he is said to be a man of soil. His wife Micheline organizes visits to the vineyards and winery, Benoit Tarlant works with marketing and sales and the youngest of the flock, Melanie works with communication. They own 14 hectares of vineyards on 4 different “crus” located in the villages of Oeuilly, Boursault, St-Agnan and Celles-lès-Condé.

Beautiful bottle and deep golden color of the wine
Beautiful bottle and deep golden color of the wine

The wine is a blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir and the dosage is low 5g/l (just the way I like it). The wine has a golden yellow color, deeper than I expected, and many bubbles. The nose has wonderful aromas of brioche, almond and pear and the mouth feel is creamy with tastes of minerals, yellow apples, biscuits and a hint of citrus. 2000 was a hot and stormy year and you can taste how the old vines have delved deep into the limestone and sand.

This particular bottle was opened for Sunday brunch (one of my favorite meals of the week) as a companion to some Korean barbecue (chicken, fresh vegetables and rice wrapped in salad leafs). An unusual pairing, but it worked as long as one did not get overexcited with the spices (it worked with the dessert as well which was a blueberry pie with basil sugar). All in all, I think this champagne is wonderful with food or on it’s own. As this was a bottle from someone else’s cellar, I had to do some googling to find out the price. As the bottle is not that easy to source, I just found a few references, but it seems like the price is around 45€ (or up). Pure quality-wise, I give it a 4 (out of 5) and I must say it is a wine exactly to my taste. For value-for-money, I would say it’s a 4.5: definitely worth the investment but not necessarily a steal.

Korean barbecue with chicken, veggies, rice and a yummy spring onion and soy sauce
Korean barbecue with chicken, veggies, rice and a yummy spring onion and soy sauce
Blueberry pie with basil sugar (!!)
Blueberry pie with basil sugar (!!)

Maja Coffee Roastery: New exciting coffee roaster in Helsinki

Once again the coffee Monday post is published on the Tuesday, this is almost becoming a habit so I will perhaps change it to the weekly coffee post. This week it is more on Helsinki.

I must admit that my view on Helsinki has changed a lot in the past years. I used to see Helsinki as a boring grey, half Eastern European part of Northern Europe that had little to offer from virtually any perspective. When I then started to visit more often I realized that things have really changed in Helsinki, the weather may still not be a reason to visit but there is bustling restaurant and bar scene and the specialty coffee scene is very lively as well. I find more new places opening here than in the other Nordic countries and looking at the small size of Helsinki there is an impressive array of places that serve up good coffee.

One of the newer ones on the scene is Maja Coffee Roastery. I sampled their coffee at several locations in the past year but did not have the chance to visit until recently. The roastery is run by a Finnish Japanese couple and they sell beans to other cafes as well as serve them at their own café. The café is located on the outskirts of Helsinki so not an easy location to get to without a car (or bicycle if the weather is nice) as there is no tram or metro going there (just a few buses). They are located in an old run down half outdoor mall where most of the shop spaces are empty except for pizza place, a golf store and something that looked either like a second hand store or an accountants office (or perhaps a combo of the two). They occupy a very small space there with enough seats for around 10 people (two tables inside and one outside) so not really a place for crowds. It did however not seem extremely busy when we were there and from what I understood opening hours are a bit infrequent so always best to check their FB page in advance.

They have created a very nice looking space that nicely integrates the Nordic and the Japanese so nice wooden chairs and tables with beautiful glassware and simple design. The service is friendly and relaxed. They take their time to talk about the coffee and tea and are also happy to recommend other places as well. There is no free wifi so while the place is inviting to stay and relax it is perhaps not optimal to sit and work here.
The coffee on offer is their own roasted coffee. Usually two or three different options, all have been roasted on site on their one kilogram roaster. The coffees can be ordered either has hot or iced and there is an option of with or without milk as well. They are brewed on order and having tried their full range I will say they do brew nice coffee. Improvement would be offering multiple brew methods as I do for example believe that their nice Kenyan AA would be even better as an Aeropress. The coffee is however consistently good and while not reaching top levels they are good. They also have very nice teas from German Paper and Tea so also the tea drinkers can get their fix here.

Food selection is limited, usually some raw cake and toasted sandwiches. So it is simple yet sufficient but perhaps not the place to go to for brunch or lunch. They are however a very nice addition to the Helsinki coffee scene.

So how does it rate:
Coffee Quality: 3.5
Ambiance/Service: 3.5
Food: 2.5
Vs local average competition: 4

Wineweek 35: Thoughts About Helsinki

I can’t believe it! I have now lived abroad for three full years. In 2012 I packed my bags, kissed my family goodbye and boarded a plane taking me to London. I had always dreamed about living abroad and the British capital was calling for me. I was at my thirties (mid-life crisis or something), doing a job I no longer had passion for, so it was time take that leap of faith and trust in the ease and freedom of movement within the EU. Paperwork (and longing for my loved ones) aside, it was a breeze. In 2013, I married the love of my life and followed him to Stockholm, my current home-city.

This week, walking around old neighborhoods and breathing in the fresh Helsinki air, I have been thinking about what I left behind. On the top of my mind are of course all my loved ones, but there is something else as well. There is a rough charm to the city I no longer call home and now deem small(ish). Many new exciting concepts are popping up and  I can see I have fallen behind with what is new and cool (if I was ever up to date in the first place). During my visit this summer I have been surprised with the artsy feel and wonderful places I have found, and I must say I the city is starting to open up like never before. I guess you sometimes need to look at things from a distance to really see the forest from the trees. I don’t know if I will ever really return to Helsinki, but the city is alive and kicking. Here is a series of pictures from this week and from some great places I visited.

Terrace at Sushibar + Wine
Terrace at Sushibar + Wine
 The new restaurant complex in Hernesaari
The new restaurant complex in Hernesaari
Cool art in the Harbor
Cool art in the Harbor
Enjoying the summer while it lasts
Enjoying the summer while it lasts
New bars and restaurants are opening up in the aftermath of the old industrial harbor
New bars and restaurants are opening up in the aftermath of the old industrial harbor
Micro breweries are popping up in Helsinki. This little brewer had found its way to Michelin-starred restaurant Ask
Micro breweries are popping up in Helsinki. This little brewer had found its way to Michelin-starred restaurant Ask
Delicious rawcakes at cafe Kokko
Delicious rawcakes at cafe Kokko
Japanese inspired cafe Maja has a rough charm to it, like Helsinki
Japanese inspired cafe Maja has a rough charm to it, like Helsinki
Great cocktails at Liberty or Death, can't believe this was in Helsinki
Great cocktails at Liberty or Death, can’t believe I have just walked past before
A stop at Good Life Coffee is a must on our trips to Helsinki
Good advice from a coffee cup, at Good Life Coffee

And what did this post have to do with wine? Nothing really. But good times equals good wines, and I have had a lot this week (eg. Tarlant Brut Prestige 2000). So I will be happily scribbling away some reviews in the coming week!

Getting Ready for Cavatast 2015

This year, I have decided to start the marketing early. Cavatast, my favorite wine event of the year, is closing in on the first week of October (1.-4.10.2015), and Team Sweden (as we call ourselves) is heading to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia to enjoy the festivities. It might seem that October is very far away, but hey, booking flights and hotels must be done early. To be honest, I think it feels so far away just because we want to live in the moment and enjoy the summer (no one wants to think about the fall), but it is just two and a half months time left (!!).

So what happens in Cavatast? It is an exhibition and festival for all of the cava producers in the village of Sant Sadurni, capital of cava and home to 95% of cava production in the world. The festival is a joyous event with locals and wine tourists alike enjoying the late fall sun and cool and dry cava. People bring their families and hangout at the tables set out on the streets. Everyone does not take part as exhibitors, but I think the whole village comes together for these four days of celebration for the local bubbly. There are around 30-40 large and small Cava houses set up in small tents introducing and sampling their products.

The way it works is that you buy tickets both for food and wine and walk around trying the products you want. The entry level cavas go for one ticket (value 1.5€) and the prestige ones from two to four, depending on the house. If you get peckish you can grab a plate of charcuterie, cheese or some yummy street food. There are also free lectures on cava and the Cavatast shop, where you can pick up the displayed wines for very reasonable prices (I think we dragged over ten bottles back last year). All in all it is a really fun event.

The only thing I would change is that the tickets are always for full glasses of cava. As we are there mainly to “work”, I would appreciate being able to buy half or even quarter of glasses (otherwise I will either throw the rest away or get too drunk). We have solved this by going with a larger group and then sharing glasses. If you are jut tasting, 3-5 people sharing one glass is perfect. This works out, but I would still like to be able to sample the really good stuff for less tickets.

We will be heading to the event on Saturday the 3rd of October with a small group of our friends and customers. Anyone interested are very welcome to join us (just send a message to info@thewinecurious.com). We will be visiting our current producers as well as mingling with some potential new ones, and trying out a lot of cava of course. Last year, our friends at Peret-Fuster wines also arranged a barbecue to feed the hungry tasters after the event. I hope that they have something similar in mind for 2015.

So drop down your beach towels and start browsing for flights and hotels, Cavatst 2015 is coming!