You’re out to dinner with a friend. You’ve just sat down, opened the wine list, and your so-called friend announces that they’ve jumped on the latest fad diet band-wagon and aren’t drinking. Traitors. This is inevitably means that you either have to join them on their virtuous endeavor, or you’re forced to make the choice between a pathetic handful of uninspiring wines by the glass. Reader, I find this deeply traumatic.
Well, if you’ve also found yourself in a similar bind, your luck is changing. Many more restaurants have caught on to the fact that not everyone wants to buy a bottle (or drink the same wine as everyone else, or have the same wine with every course), and far more are now offering a larger selection of good wines by the glass.
For this, we have to thank (in part, at least) the Coravin – a revolutionary needle-through-cork system that pressurizes the bottle with inert argon gas, allowing you to dispense just a glassful at a time, so there’s no waiting for the perfect occasion to open and drink that special wine you’ve been saving.
One restaurant that has fully embraced this new way of drinking wine is Les 110 de Taillevent on London’s well-heeled Cavendish Square. The first UK outpost of an already established Parisian restaurant, there are a staggering 110 wines available by the glass here. The dining room feels a little stuffy, filled with testosterone-fueled suits talking business, but the back bar is a thing of beauty with rows upon rows of wine bottles that gave us serious cellar goals.
We started with a glass of champagne (naturally) while we nibbled some posh cheese straws and tried to get our heads around the behemoth that is the fold-out menu. It may seem daunting at first – food is down the middle, flanked by wines – but don’t be put off. If you still quiver at the sight of a sommelier, this is incredibly useful: read across the menu and you’ll find that each course has been paired with four different wines at different price points, eliminating any potentially awkward conversations. What’s really great about this though, is that the wines are available in 70 or 125ml servings, the perfect size to be enjoyed with just one course, and range from as little as £3 upwards.
A word of caution: prices increase at an alarming rate as you read across, reaching the palpitation-inducing £80 for a 125ml glass of Bordeaux (although we bet it’s delicious). The only down side to the way the menu is presented is that, unfortunately, there’s limited detail given about the wines themselves, expecting a fair amount of existing knowledge from the diner (perhaps you’ll have to have that conversation after all).
A starter of langoustine ravioli was served with a bright citrus butter which lifted the pasta and came together into a wonderfully light but flavour-packed dish. Alongside, we sipped a glass of petite arvine from Switzerland – not a region renowned for its wines although expect to see more included on lists in the future – a fresh, acidic wine with a saline edge, this won’t be for everyone, but worked beautifully with the dish.
Our other starter, was just as good; a silky smooth mushroom velouté with all the earthy, umami flavours you’d hope for with nuggets of crisp, salty bacon and rich shavings of fresh truffle served with a creamy chardonnay which sung of white flowers and citrus with just enough age on the bottle.
A main course of duck breast was served perfectly pink with moreishly crisp skin and endive, which provided the mildly bitter foil that the richness of the duck needs. Classic French cooking often shows its skill most prominently in its sauce section and here it was no different; bold but not overpowering with a great depth of flavour, it was good enough to drink, but instead we opted for a fruity 2013 South African pinotage, whose cherry notes sat perfectly with duck. Hake served with creamy beurre noisette mash, lardons and baby onions was expertly cooked, but didn’t deliver the same wow-factor as the starter.
Having fallen in love with a pillowy soft Gran Marnier soufflé in Burgundy last Autumn that had puffed up to twice the size of its dish, there were high hopes for 110 de Taillevent’s version. Unfortunately it didn’t quite deliver – while all the zesty orange flavours were there, the structure was just that bit too heavy. While they were individually delicious, a pairing of Sipsmith sloe gin with cheese was, for us, slightly less successful than the other pairings throughout the evening.
Cooking here shows real skill and the kitchen confidently turns out classic French dishes, and the concept is fantastic, but high prices and the cliental that it seems to attract would make us think twice before returning.