Under the knife: Four Corners at Rondo la Cave

I first went to Rondo la Cave a couple of years ago when I saw a snap of the Detroit-style deep dish that Four Corners was doling out during its residency there. Combine these serious slabs of pizza with a funky but clean, crisp take on Provence rosé from Freddie Cossard – made with 20-year-old Cinsault – and I fell in love. The residencies that followed both caught my eye – Chet’s Thai-Americana junk food courtesy of Night+Market’s Kris Yenbamroong, and Dollars, a celebration of the deli sandwich from Singapore’s Andrei Soen, and then Brooklyn’s Four Horsemen. I wanted to catch each one, but didn’t. When I saw that Four Corners was back – and this time for good, the pull was too much to resist.

The natty-leaning wine bar is tucked beneath The Hoxton in Holborn. Unlike the sleek-yet-casual minimalism of the hotel, this basement channels dive-bar chic. A neon sign welcomes you as you descend to a slightly gloomy space, with an open kitchen, chalkboard menus, rustic wooden panelling – spotlessly clean yet with just a hint of grunge.

Operating as both a wine bar and shop (with some particularly fun beers and ciders too, although those aren’t all available to drink in), the list is firmly natural, with few familiar names. But in amongst these are reassuring signals of good taste – such as a rosé from Judith Beck (vibrant, juicy, moreish and a touch reductive) or the cult Domaine des Ardoisières Argile Blanc. The “house red” is a País//Cabernet/Carignan blend – juicy, savoury and fruity, the sort of thing that is perfect pizza fare.

Pure, utter filth.

And the pizza, oh the pizza. Trays of two-inch-thick focaccia are re-baked with cheese around the edge, forming a filthily savoury, fat-crisped crust to each pie. The list of topping options is short and simple, with specials making guest appearances. The red top (tomato, cheddar, mozzarella, pecorino and oregano) sets the bar, with its sweet-and-salty balance. Pistachio and mortadella combines a pistachio pesto with flutters of mortadella (surely the king of cold cuts?) and soft, creamy mounds of burrata. The soppressata combines gentle heat and meaty richness with sweet arrabbiata sauce and honey, the cut of basil making it the most moreish of them all. Slices are generous, verging on obscene, yet the base feels so airy, the combination of flavours so addictive, that it’s easy to devour much more than you intend to. Fortunately, doggy bags are offered freely.

Weninger’s hopped rosé – a delicious curiosity

To finish, we had a fascinating hopped rosé from Weninger. This curiosity sat somewhere between cider and wine, with a pleasing savoury, almost bretty feel, but still lifted fruit and freshness, as well as a satisfying phenolic grip. As we were about to leave, a member of the team arrived with a mystery gallon jug, scribbled with permanent marker. Sweetcorn, chilli, mezcal and several other ingredients were combined to make a maverick twist on an old fashioned – smoky, fiery, savoury and totally lethal. it’s just one marker of the service here, that draws you in, making you an insider.

It’s not flawless. Some wines were out of stock, one member of the team didn’t really know the wine list or if things were available, and I’d have loved it if the Brooklyn Ghost Bottlings they sell in the shop were on the list to drink in. But, beyond that, this joint feeds your guiltiest dreams with undeniable class, blending junk food and funky wine to create a spot that exudes fun. The one downside of Four Corners’ return? Calories now feature on the menu. Don’t bring your reading glasses, and you’ll have a much better time. Ignorance, in this instance, really is bliss.

Four Corners at Rondo la Cave, 199-206 High Holborn, London WC1V 7BD


Under the knife: Café Deco

Look at Anna Tobias’s Instagram and it is deliciously ugly. The queen of #beigefood, she’s a refreshing counter to the curated profiles of London’s leading culinary talent. There’s no portrait mode, no careful lighting, no considered plating and careful ceramic selection. Indeed, her trademark has become the Chartier plate.

It’s a neat embodiment of the food you’ll find at Café Deco, her Bloomsbury restaurant that opened in the heart of the pandemic in late 2020, a collaboration with the 40 Maltby Street team. On the quiet of Store Street, it glows welcomingly, with the soft light and a stripped-back feel under its soft green awning. But there’s an Old World classicism here, with white table cloths and tealights that feel reminiscent of a French bistro or Italian trattoria rather than modish London eatery.

The menu is hard to describe, at once determinedly British, yet with classical French and Italian influence running through it. Modern European is a disservice to this very gentle combination that seems both familiar and totally refreshing.

Flawless sourdough and creamy salted butter set the tone – offered here without an additional charge, a rarity beyond the most expensive establishments. Smoked mackerel with beetroot and horseradish chrain (£11) is a statement in simplicity: the pleasing chunk of mackerel closeted in its iridescent skin, bones and all, pertly placed alongside a pile of firm and flavoursome, vibrant beetroot cut by the fire of horseradish. A mouthful of the pumpkin caponata and baked ricotta (£12) offered the perfect balance of sweet and sour, with the soothing creaminess to balance its intensity.

Beef mince on dripping toast, watercress and pickled walnut (£25) cries out to me – and rightfully so on a wet and windy November evening. But this is no Quality Chop knock-off. The oblong of toast is crisp, the mince an honest and subtle alternative to its Farringdon friend – less decadent, rich and gout-inducing, yet no less comforting. A perfect pickled walnut provides the sharp bite to prevent the plate’s reassuring brown-ness becoming bland. Roast halibut, potatoes and salsa verde (£28) sees similar acclaim from my fellow diners.

Chocolate pudding pie (£9) was a triumph – the finest, crispest pastry shell holding an almost inappropriately good chocolate ganache, layered with an almost obscene volume of pillowy whipped cream: the ensemble is one of the sexiest puds you’ll ever eat. Apple charlotte and cream (£9) leaves a Lancashire-man speechless.

Everything is simple, modest, yet executed to the finest level. It’s cooking that speaks of Tobias’s CV so far, with Jeremy Lee, the River Café and Rochelle Canteen, not to mention the P. Franco residency that I still have FOMO about. It’s not cheap, but it’s also the sort of place where you can linger, you can hear everyone around the table, where napkins are weighty, there are plentiful coat hooks. These details are the thing that elevates this from just a nice restaurant to somewhere that you can see yourself returning to time and time again.

There is but one black mark against the place. The wine list, unfortunately, is for me the only downside. It’s the sort that is obfuscatingly, determinedly natural. And few bottles sit below the £50 mark, making most choices risky. The wait-staff were delightful, but I’m not convinced they’d be particularly helpful in guiding you to a safe choice. On the upside, corkage is available, at £25, which is worth doing if you plan to drink well.

Take a bottle, or just savour the joys of #beigefood pure – I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

Café Deco, 43 Store Street, London WC1E 7DB

The magic of miscellanea

The view down over Clos Saint-Denis

One of the most joyous things about my job is getting to write (and commission others to write) on such a range of topics. True to form, it’s been a few months since I got round to sharing my latest jottings, and putting them together for one “article dump” highlights the variety.

First up is a personal favourite, delving into the unexpectedly fascinating and murky realm of the world’s most treasured tuber: white truffles. I spoke to Rowan Jacobsen, the author of a new book on the topic – and a tale of his own journey of discovery, as well as a real-life trifulau about the truth behind the white gold shaved over your fresh pasta. Read the feature here; Jacobsen’s book, Truffle Hound, is out now – and worth every penny.

Just before my nose led me down the truffle trail, I managed to make it (post-Delta, pre-Omicron) to Burgundy to taste the 2020s. My first overseas excursion since my trip to taste the 2019s, it was unsurprisingly brilliant to be somewhere else, let alone tasting such an extraordinary vintage. As with last year, I was heavily involved in the FINE+RARE coverage of the vintage – all of which you can find here, including our overview and a breakdown of the year by producer.

Last but not least is a piece about a producer I first came across visiting Australia in 2018, the fabled Bass Phillip – an estate that made some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, I was told. I trawled shops seeking out a bottle I could afford to taste, but no such luck. Last year, I got to try the wines for the first time, just as the estate changed hands, with the legendary Jean-Marie Fourrier taking the reins from Bass Phillip’s founder, Phillip Jones. I sat down with the Burgundian to talk about the project, one that has been made far from easy by Australia’s stringent border controls in the face of Covid. Read the full feature on FINE+RARE Editorial.

Here’s to an ever more eclectic selection of stories in 2022.

A long overdue round-up

Blogs were built to be badly managed – and so I have lived up to the expectation with a rather embarrassing two-year lull. Here’s a quick(ish) look at almost everything that I’ve penned in that time.

Talking shop

Interviewing might look a little different these days, with a rapport dependent on the strength of the WiFi connection, but nevertheless it hasn’t stopped me being able to speak to some wonderful people in the world of wine.

Tasting notes

Two years’ worth of jottings on a host of brilliant bottles spans the globe:

Looking beneath the surface

A constant theme throughout is the challenge of climate change, and how winemakers can take on the growing threat, as well as limiting the impact they have. I spoke to a number of California’s top winemakers to find out what they’re doing (a shorter summary of which you can find here), and more recently examined the issue in Burgundy – where with the delicacy of Pinot Noir and recent warm conditions, the situation feels increasingly tangible and ominous. I also penned a guide to the lingo around sustainability, with a quick run-down of the differences between organics, biodynamics, natural and more – including what they actually mean, if anything, for the wine in your glass.

Something stronger

Just occasionally I drift into the world of spirits:

Under the knife

Remember restaurants? Lovely places where people bring you wonderful plates of food and delicious drinks in exchange for dosh? A very long time ago, I visited some stellar places in the name of “work”: Bright, Levan, and the now-shut Emile were particular highlights (although crossed fingers for a permanent home for the team from the latter in the wake of Covid). Add the former two to your post-lockdown wish-list.

Other things

I’m still dreaming of Margaret River – in fact, three years ago today I was at Pierro learning how to run and clean the press. I wrote up a guide – should you ever be in the hood, here are some tips, mainly on what to eat and drink

Down the rabbit hole: going native

There is no shortage of things that fill me with rage each week (or – if I’m totally honest – day). Most flutter away after a few hours, a G&T or just a bit of distance. But one comment has been going round and round in my mind.

I recently had dinner at a relatively fashionable not-that-new restaurant in London. It’s from an established team, but whose allegiances certainly lie in the natural camp.

I have been fortunate enough to do corkage with a group of four – and so we arrive with four bottles. One – a ‘12 1er Cru Chassagne from Leroux – is corked. A shame, but the way of the (natural cork) world. Then we have a 2011 Pierro Chardonnay (flawless under screwcap), a rare ‘08 Tondonia Rosado, and a phenomenal ‘09 Flaccianello. It’s a delicious, stellar line-up that would leave any sensible wine-lover at their knees.

Early on the sommelier pops over to introduce himself and we – as is good (and expected) etiquette – insist on him tasting the wines and thank him for the opportunity to open them. Tasting the Pierro Chardonnay – a wine about which he confesses to knowing nothing – he nonchalantly, pathetically swirls the glass, looks unimpressed at the bottle. He barely brings his nose to the rim of the glass to deign to sniff it and says, having not yet tasted it: “It’s not my style, it’s a bit inoculated.”

My thoughts were expletive-filled. Yes, I’m biased in many ways having spent time working there, but there are few who could deny the quality Chardonnay produced at this remarkable Margaret River estate.

This sommelier might lay claim to higher knowledge but sniffing out inoculated versus indigenous yeast seems unlikely. He was more likely reacting to the voluptuous oak that wraps the grape in this quiet corner of Australia. It’s struck-match scented but enriched by vanilla and spice, with rich fruit to back it all up. Yes, there is unapologetic new oak – and it’s damn delicious. This carefully hand-picked GinGin clone Chardonnay deserves that lush expense to express itself fully.

Say you don’t like it if you really must, that you prefer your Chardy lean and mean, that reductive is right and oak is bad; but, honestly, if you’re talking to a paying customer who is offering you wine out of courtesy, do you need to express your ignorant opinion?

I’m not in the least bit against natural wine. I’m open to anything made in a sustainable way, carefully farmed and made with respect for the environment – but on a list that I can guarantee includes wines laden with Brett, mouse and VA – how can anyone suggest that something clean and fricking phenomenal is “a bit too inoculated”?

This kind of absolutist view is not ok; yet it is being normalised, at least in certain circles. After Tim Hayward fairly called out Westerns Laundry for their natty list in the FT, the restaurant retaliated with passive aggressive posts on Instagram evangelising their ethos. It’s this sort of vinous extremism that risks leading wine down a faulty rabbit hole, and away from wine that is just straight tasty.

Under the knife: Brat


There are no two ways about it: turbot is an immensely ugly fish. Fortunately for Brat (which is Old English slang for “turbot”) – where this fish reigns supreme on the menu, an essential order for every table – it is also absolutely delicious.

Opened earlier this year by the very fashionable Tomos Parry (the man who put Kitty Fisher’s on the hipster-restaurant map), Brat is in Shoreditch, sitting just above the new-ish location for Smoking Goat. On a hot day, the space – with dark wood panelling, proudly sporting signs from its days as a Truman’s pub – was surprisingly open and inviting, large warehouse windows flung open to East London’s air.

We started proceedings with a taste of the dedicated and extensive Sherry list (excellent to see, although I do fear quite how long it will survive), one glass of Champagne, and a selection of chopped egg salad with bottarga (delicious if not mind-blowing), samphire, melon and Carmarthen ham (a nod to Parry’s Welsh roots – wonderfully fresh, the samphire adding a welcome tang), lobster, beans & trotter sauce (ever so slightly under-seasoned and lacking in lobster, if tasty nonetheless), young leeks with fresh cheese (simply superb) and grilled bread and anchovy (which was by far the highlight – I can see exactly why Nigella, reportedly, had to re-order. Twice).

Glasses of a fresh uncomplicated Etna Bianco and an interesting Macabeu from the Roussillon were showed up by a brilliant rich, saline, mineral Assytiko from Argyros in Santorini. As for the reds, two stood out – Envinate’s trendy Lousas (Mencía at its best) and my first taste of Hervé Souhaut’s Syrah – this an entry-level Ardèche that was nonetheless impressive and elegant.

But it was, of course, the brat itself that stole the show. Raised on high and presented to our table by the chef, the majestic turbot’s flesh is ever-so-gently smoked as it cooks for 40 minutes over coals, doused regularly in its lemon-butter sauce. We dove eagerly into every corner of the unseemly beast, body, forehead and cheek. Its meat was decadently rich, so much so that even I admitted early defeat – seeking relief from sides of sumptuous tomatoes and smoked potatoes.

Afters seemed sensible and somehow we were filled with a second wind facing the refreshing bite of possibly the most perfect lemon tart, a deceptively light cheesecake and a platter of cheese. Onto the bill and out into the afternoon’s lazy heat…

Brat is a superb spot, its cooking (almost, I’d suggest, not chef-ing) frustratingly simple and unattainable, it offers both something different and joyful. And then there’s the turbot. There are few better places to while away a Sunday afternoon than in the company of such a sublime and hideous fish.

Brat, First Floor, 4 Redchurch Street, London E1 6JL

Round-up time


The Spring/Summer 2017 issue of No.3, edited by me

Sheesh, how did it get to July? This blog has been long-neglected, so it’s time for an update on all that’s been in the four or so months gone-by.

Most recently, I’m still wanging on about California: here’s an overview for the uninitiated on why the Golden State is hot property for hip sommeliers right now – looking at how it got to where it is today. There are plenty of exciting wines that didn’t make it into the piece for one reason or another. Here are a few producers and bottles that should be on your radar: RPM Gamay, A Tribute to Grace Grenache (any of the different cuvées), Broc Cellars (a recent bottle of their 2014 Valdiguié was particularly pleasing), Matthiasson, Failla, Wind Gap, Domaine de la Côte Pinot, Sandhi… it’s fair to say I’m addicted. But you should be too.

It’s been a pretty great year for me so far. Although it’s been hectic and busy (Berry Bros. & Rudd’s stunner of a new shop at 63 Pall Mall certainly drained some of my time), I’ve been fortunate enough to have my writing acknowledged by people who seem to know about these things. Back in April I made it onto the long list for the Wine Writing Competition, seeing a couple of my pieces published to a broader audience than ever before. (Fortunately no trolling yet.) It was even more of a treat to receive an honourable mention when the final shortlist was selected. There are some great writers on that list, and I felt in good company. (Joss Fowler’s brilliantly un-grown-up, grown-up blog, Vinolent, is well worth a read.)


The luck seems to have continued, and last week my name made it onto the shortlist for the Emerging Writer of 2017 in the Louis Roederer International Wine Writer Awards. Worst case scenario, I’m looking forward to a glass or two of the outrageously delicious Brut Premier at the awards in September. A good friend of mine, the entirely dishonourable HoseMaster of Wine has been shortlisted for the second year in a row – you should check out his scathing pieces too.

And what else in terms of the doing, rather than basking in under-the-radar glory?

I’ve snuck in a couple more restaurant reviews under the guise of “work”: Rochelle Canteen – the BYO to end all BYOs (and one that is rumoured to be applying for a licence, so rush there now); and Plot, a bizarre little spot in Tooting that serves bloody good food and bloody good prices. What more do you want?

I also had the chance to talk to The Telegraph‘s wine columnist Victoria Moore about her new book, The Wine Dine Dictionary. I really didn’t expect to like it (and sort of hoped I wouldn’t), but my copy is already looking rather well thumbed.

In editing news, the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of No.3, Berry Bros. & Rudd’s biannual publication is out. You’ll find my name alongside the Editor’s letter and can unfortunately blame any typos on me. I interviewed the legend that is Dukes’s very own Alessandro Palazzi for the sidebar to this feature, which may or may not have ended in a stiff drink. You can pick up a copy at one of Berry Bros. & Rudd’s shops, or I’d be happy to pop one in the post for you – just send me a message.

I also cast my beady over the latest issue of Noble Rot before it made its way to print. By far the most enjoyable wine magazine out there – for any level of knowledge – it’s perfect Sunday brunch reading. Bloody Mary optional.


Under the knife: Aquavit


“Oh. My. God,” my friend says, seizing the two weighty slivers of cutlery in front of her, ogling them like Beyoncé had just sat down opposite her. “This is Georg Jensen cutlery. My Georg Jensen cutlery.” I, meanwhile, stare somewhat blankly at this reference to utensil fame, deeply impressed by her knowledge. She’s a woman of impeccable taste and I can only believe that this means something, to those who know about these things, the knife-and-fork elite.

The cutlery is just one element that adds to the oozingly luxurious feel of Aquavit, the newest Nordic addition to London’s restaurant scene. It’s hardly surprising, given its location just off Lower Regent Street, that this is a restaurant positioning itself at the very top end of the market, with prices to match. Classic Nordic cuisine with a modern edge is served in surprisingly generous portions, but some dishes are more successful than others. Mackerel tartare, sorrel and lumpfish roe was inspired; the shrimp Skagen was a posh (and overpriced) prawn cocktail on toast.

Read a full review, with the highlights of my meal, on here.

Under the knife: The Clove Club


There’s a meal haunting me. I lie awake at night and lightly salivate as I dream of the numerous courses. I wake up anxious at the absence of duck, morel and ginger consommé, reaching for another sip of soup that isn’t there. It’s been three months, and I’m not sure how much longer I can handle these gustatory ghosts. It doesn’t help matters that 2017 has begun in a utilitarian, austerity-stricken manner – but, boy, were the excesses of 2016 worth it.

The meal in question was three months ago, my first trip to The Clove Club, a restaurant that feels so established on London’s scene that it’s almost passé to gush over its fabled dishes. Almost. But then you taste one mouthful of any of the nine courses that forms their extended tasting menu, and it’s clear that the world can indeed handle another five-star statement (alongside yet another Instagram of their irresistible basket of buttermilk chicken in pine salt).

Slipping through the pearly gates (alright, blue doors) of Shoreditch Town Hall, a magnificent structure perched on Old Street, you’re greeted by a window filled with home-cured haunches, hanging alluringly, just out of reach.

While things start to haze around the eighth or ninth course (chiming with the end of the second bottle and the arrival of the first in a series of glasses); it’s rare to recall a meal so distinctly. But that’s the power of the restaurant’s genuinely life-changing creations.

I’ve written about the food in some detail on – but, while you go for the food, the wine list is the best I’ve ever seen*. It’s interesting, varied, combining classics and unusual numbers with some under-the-radar bottles, without offering too much choice. It’s not cheap, but it’s not outrageous (and when you’re spending £110 per head on the food, that £70 bottle or £15 glass seems a minor addition).

We had a bottle of Sam Harrop’s taut Cedalion Chardonnay which gradually unwound over the first five courses, revealing a little more of its flesh, fruit and ageing potential. With the partridge we graduated to a bottle of 2001 Henschke Cyril Cabernet – a rich, gluttonous wine whose liquorous, Kirsch fruit was dark and dense, drowning all but the beef rump with Jerusalem artichoke, ceps and coffee. Of the two, the Cedalion was more to my taste; but you can’t deny that the Henschke was a great wine, just a bit brash and bulldozer-y. It would have been excellent with venison stew, thinking of it.

Today The Sunday Times declared The Clove Club to be Britain’s best restaurant; prompting my bid to vanquish my hunger-mares. Perhaps the only way to rid myself of such visions is to return, seeing if it really is as good as I remember.

*Andrew Edmunds is another contender, but of a different sort, and one I’m hoping to revisit soon.

Under the knife: Portland


Thanks to a series of misappointed associates, I had – regrettably – been forced to cancel the first three bookings I made for Portland in early 2015. Before it got a Michelin star. Before everyone knew about it. And before the prices went up.

But, better late than never. So, 14 months down the road, I went, I ate, I drank and now I’m going to bore you all about it, because it is as good as everyone says it is.

The menu is neatly divided into snacks, first courses, mains and sides (with – obviously – pudding later). A series of snacks arrived looking beautifully neat, moreish – two morsels that divided neatly between two. White truffle and Gruyère macarons (£3) melted in the mouth, a surprisingly sweet shell balanced by just the right amount of cheese and the slightest hint of truffle. Squid toast, brown crab green asparagus (£3) disappeared in a mouthful and a half. Native lobster, red miso and daikon rolls (£4) were gloriously fresh tasting.

Poitou asparagus, girolles, preserved lemon and almonds (£12) was earthy and fresh, while my rump cap tartare, new season beetroots, smoked yoghurt (£12) looked unerringly good – a platter of blood-red protein that felt so deliciously iron-filled; a bowl of sweet, strengthening goodness. A side of sweet potato was underwhelming, cooked to melt-in-the-mouth softness but under-seasoned and unexciting.

The grand finale was Portland chocolate bar, peanut butter croustillant (£9) – the soothing salty ice cream cutting through the dark, dense chocolate, and a touch of caramel to round things out.

With such vinous lineage (owner Will Lander is Jancis Robinson MW’s son), I was excited about the list. I nailed a copita of Fino swiftly on arrival, but drinking alone (and cycling) I indulged in just one glass from their “special” list – 2007 Morgeot, Premier Cru, Chassagne-Montrachet, J.N. Gagnard (£19 – whoops). It was rich, heady, contemplative and all that I needed – but, alas, a little tight. With time I’m certain that it would have been utterly bewitching, but I couldn’t offer it any more.

And therein lies the issue with not getting a bottle. With a bottle, you have the first glass to ease into, to look one another up and down; you have the second glass to muse over, potentially to fall in love with; and the third in which to simply languish, to bathe indulgently in (or, if it’s a total disappointment – to reserve for cooking and move on to pastures greener). That’s why you need a drinking companion. All boozers should come in twos.

Even without a partner to halve a bottle (which perhaps was wise considering the price tags), Portland is worth the fuss. The service was impeccable, the atmosphere easy, the food just the right balance between creative and comforting. I may have been a year and a half behind the crowd, but cor, is it still good.

Portland, 113 Great Portland Street W1W 6QQ