Could this new bar, serving fabulous 'natural' wines and flavour-packed snacks, be the future of casual dining?
Terroirs, 5 William IV Street, London WC2, tel: 020 7036 0660
Sunday 15 February 2009
On any given day, I read a dozen different columnists across three newspapers, loads of web pages, a bit of a novel and the clues to a cryptic crossword. What I don't expect is to then go out for dinner and be handed a wine list that knocks all the above into the shade for originality, wit, poetry and authority. The list at Terroirs, a heaving, three-month-old woody, split-level wine bar tucked away off the Strand, is so deliciously written they should sell copies of it at the door so you could take it home and read it at your leisure, for pleasure.
In the meantime, read about a "turbid, yeasty" Sancerre Blanc that is like "a thunderous gallop through wild forests and murky thickets" while jostling elbows and clinking glasses on a stool at the zinc bar or at a small red-topped, wood-trimmed table. For the time-short, there is a handy run-down of "Wines of the Moment", and a good-value section of 20 wines by the glass or 500ml carafe.
Joy of joys, the entire list is devoted to "natural" wines from small, committed artisan growers who work sustainably, organically or biodynamically – crazy, stubborn people, most of them, the despairs of their mothers, who insist on making wines with wild yeast, without added sugar or sulphur, unfiltered and unfined (unclarified); wines that most naturally represent their "terroir", or sense of place.
Sourced by the respected but happily unrespectable wine merchants Les Caves de Pyrène (the wine bar's major backer), wines such as these tend to be richer, with more fruit and more acidity, so the food has to punch back with lots of flavour. High marks, then, to chef Ed Wilson, a rising star from the Galvin brothers' stable, for producing, from his pocket-sized kitchen, bar snacks such as brandade, small plates such as bone marrow and truffle on toast, and plats du jour including black pudding with fried eggs, and bavette with shallots and red wine.
So how best to use Terroirs? Put in an order for cervelle de canut (£3), a whippy, herby, creamy, fromage-blanc-y bowl of Lyon's "silk-weaver's brains", or share a tapas-style dish of plump and juicy palourde clams with ham, garlic and chilli (£8). Ask the wine-savvy waiter Florian to pick something suitable, such as a glass of 2005 Macon-Chaintré Vieilles Vignes (£8.50), a delicious white Burgundy made from old vines by Domaine Philippe & Gerard Valette, with "aromas of white flowers, hazelnuts and grapefruits". Dabble in the charcuterie platter (£9), sourced from a trip to the Slow Food Festival in Turin and supplemented by excellent home-made rillettes and terrines, so you can try a glass of unfiltered 2007 Morgon from Domaine Jean Foillard (£8) with its "fugitive bouquet of warm earth, stones and dried spice". You must have the lardo di Colonnata (£6), paper-thin slices of pure pork fat melting on to toast – the pig in its most sensuous form.
Next, try an £8 glass of sprightly, minerally organic 2007 Cuvée Garance Bourgogne from Domaine de la Cadette ("throstling and throbbing with acidity") with a field-worker's dish of lush tarbais beans topped with chunks of slow-cooked Suffolk pork belly (£11), or a sloppy, floppy, rust-coloured pipérade, a Basquaise emulsion of scrambled eggs and red peppers topped with a big brute of a chorizo (£8).
Together with Soho's Bocca di Lupo, Terroirs raises casual, small-plate dining to a whole new level. The food is great, pure and simple. The wine is great, pure and natural. But the best thing is that, like me, Terroirs is genetically unable to see food and wine as being somehow separate. This isn't about food and wine "matching", so much as the two entwined, leading you on, making you enjoy both all the more.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
Terroirs, 5 William IV Street, London WC2, tel: 020 7036 0660. Open noon-11pm, Mon-Sat. Around £75 for two, including wine and service
Read Terry Durack's food blog at independent.co.uk/terrydurack
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