Restaurants and Wine Lists

September 24, 2016 10:49 am / by

It has been a very long time since I have posted on Chez Lloyd but I have been meaning for some time to reflect on the combination of food and wine at restaurants. These comments, of course, reflect my own experience and I welcome alternative viewpoints.

I rarely eat out these days as I have an extensive cellar of my own wines and I enjoy cooking so fine dining accompanied by wines to match is a regular feature chez nous but another reason I rarely eat out is that I find so many experiences frankly disappointing. It is rare, in my experience, to get a good combination of excellent cuisine accompanied by an exciting wine list. Often the food is great and the wine list disappointing and sometimes, albeit far less frequently, the wine list is stunning but the food is mediocre. Most Michelin-starred restaurants do offer the appropriate combination of course but the problem with such restaurants is that affordable wines at the lower end of the list are often, in my opinion, not quite up to matching the excellence of the food and wines that do require a mortgage to buy at such restaurants! Don’t get me wrong I have loved nearly all starred restaurants I have been to but my wallet always takes a huge hit on such occasions.

It was my birthday yesterday and my wife took me out for dinner to a restaurant that has been receiving rave reviews. No Man’s Grace in Chandos Road, Bristol was voted “Best Newcomer 2015″ at the Bristol Good Food Awards in June 2015; it received a Michelin Bib Gourmand in September 2015 and was named one of “the top 25 coolest restaurants in the UK” by the Times in November 2015. With such accolades I was looking forward to trying the menu out for the first time. As always I look at the wine list before going. The list is described on their website as “unusual, exciting and uniquely chosen for No Man’ Grace.” The first thing of note is that there is no champagne by the glass; the only bubbly available by the glass is a NV Prosecco and I must admit I have an immediate, negative reaction to so-called fine dining restaurants that don’t offer a decent house champagne by the glass. I have no quibbles with the sparkling wines on offer as a whole – just the fact that only Prosecco is available by the glass. The wine list itself is certainly unusual but I would hardly call it exciting. I thought long and hard about bringing wine from my own cellar but did not really want to pay corkage (which, to be fair, is a very reasonable £15 a bottle). My wife and I went for the eight course tasting menu at a reasonable £45 per head; an accompanying wine flight is available at £35 per head but I did not find the wines chosen particularly inspiring so I opted for a couple of glasses of Hopler, Gruner Veltliner 2014 to accompany the fish courses and a bottle of Howard Park, Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 to accompany the main course of venison. The latter was the second most expensive red wine on the list at £36 a bottle. The wine list itself was undoubtedly reasonably priced but I was generally disappointed. The wine I had was particularly disappointing – overbearing, cloying fruit with little sophistication. I have some Australian CS in my cellar at £9.99 a bottle which is much better! This is not meant to be a restaurant review so I won’t dwell any longer on this particular restaurant – my point is simply that the wine list, compared to the food on offer, was not great.

A rare example of the opposite (where the wine list is excellent but the food not so great) is the Annexe in Birmingham. This is a quirky restaurant with an ambience that both myself and my dining companion loved. The wine list is astonishing with some amazing wines at prices which make me wonder why similar wines fetch such a high premium at starred restaurants (and of course they do champagne by the glass) and the food menu certainly looks exciting but in reality the execution of the dishes we had left a lot to be desired.

So my experience is regularly decent food but a problematic wine list or, occasionally, a great wine list but the quality of the food does not do justice to the wines on offer. Surprisingly, some of my best experiences have come from chains where I am not expecting much from either the food or the wine list but am surprised by some of the wines on offer at such establishments. For example, Pizza Express used to have a decent Valpolicella Ripasso and still have a perfectly drinkable Gavi di Gavi on their list. Carluccio’s at Cabot Circus in Bristol also has a decent Gavi and a drinkable Amarone at only £36 a bottle. Brasserie Blanc, likewise, can usually be relied on for  some decent wines on the list.

I have to conclude with reference to a restaurant which has never disappointed. Ronnie’s of Thornbury, which was the 2009 Good Food Guide Restaurant of the year, offers an exciting menu combined with one of the most sensible wine lists I have ever experienced. Ron Faulkner, the Chef Patron, knows his wines and this shows! The wine list is not huge but the wines complement the food extraordinarily well and has wines at sensible price levels. It is the restaurant I return to with great anticipation and I have never been disappointed.



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