Probably one of the most eagerly awaited openings of 2015 on the wine scene, the guys at Noble Rot (the very alternative wine magazine) finally opened their eponymous wine bar on Lamb’s Conduit Street a little over a week ago. I got my first taste of #nobrot last night, with five other wine obsessives (three trade, three amateurs), and a very good night was had by all.
What does #nobrot actually give you? Located in Bloomsbury, part of the newly branded “Mid-Town” district of London (on a street which looks a whole lot more attractive than when I was last there), Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew have enlisted an A-Team headed up by chefs Stephen Harris and Paul Weaver, who oversee the kitchen. Many UK readers will know this pair from Marina O’Loughlin’s favourite restaurant, The Sportsman at Seasalter, near Whitstable. There are plenty of other young “old faces” around the place, enticed, or stolen, from some of the capital’s cutting edge locations too. Add to that a wine list which builds on its Roberson connections but goes much further, with Mark Andrew relishing the chance to share some really good stuff (and prices are far from gougingly high), and you have what I hope will prove a winning combination.
The bar area – the restaurant is through the door ahead
The venue itself, dating from the eighteenth century, is far from swish, though they do plan a refurb in January. But that’s hardly the point when everything else is so close to spot on, and in any case it does have a good atmosphere. They have more space than some of London’s best bar/restaurants, and perhaps more interesting space. We were put in a separate alcove containing a couple of tables, nice and quiet and perfect for half-a-dozen wine geeks to chew the cud over several bottles.
Service was really excellent, though I’m sure that having a friendly wine waitress known to some of us helped on that score. The wines were all exciting, but more on those in a moment. My biggest surprise was the food, which was better than I thought it might be. Not sure why I was surprised, considering the kitchen’s pedigree, but it was good.
Slip-sole and pigeon – note I tucked in before photographing – no prissy plated pics here!
I began with slip-sole, served on its own, cooked in a smoked butter (The Sportsman do a variation on this), which was firm and came off the bone easily without breaking up. For main course I had pigeon, cooked red on a bed of stock-simmered lentils with cavalo nero (aka black cabbage). Three cheeses took the place of dessert – a Colston Basset Stilton, a good Brie-de-Meaux, and Lincolnshire Poacher. Others had the main course which has for some reason gained fame in just two weeks – Halibut in an oxidised Bâtard-Montrachet sauce (in this case, 1998 Réné Lequin-Colin). It’s a dish dreamed up with a shimmer of reverence for Coq au Vin Jaune.
The famous oxidised Bâtard and last night’s menu
We started off with a stunning bottle of San Lorenzo Verdicchio “Le Oche” 2013. This is a step up from San Lorenzo’s entry level wine for not all that much more money. This estate makes some much more expensive single vineyard wines, but this one delivers major bang-for-buck value, with soaring fruit, freshness and limey length, all at a balanced 13.5%. Delicious and very highly recommended, a producer who invariably over delivers at this level.
Our second white was a wine I was very keen to try, Envinate’s Táganan Blanco 2014, from Tenerife. A field blend based around Listan Blanco, it is one reductive wine, and would have benefited from a serious splash decant. Nevertheless, our vigorous shaking helped bring it to life, and what life! If wines can taste volcanic, this did. The acidity is quite high, but it’s needed to balance the immense texture – it’s almost tannic. In the middle sits something silky and chewy. Quite unique.
First of the reds was Antoine Sahzay’s Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeux 2012. Sahzay is a Clos Rougeard protégé but his wines seem still to be a little under the radar. This is a wine I want to buy. It was possibly the only red wine of the night I’d have pinned down as to grape variety and broad region. It was the freshest, most alive, Cabernet Franc I’ve had all year, with bright fruit and a very refined finish, yet the best part – an amazing fruit and pencil lead-driven nose.
The surprise of the night for me was Piedrasassi Central Coast Syrah 2013. Just 480 cases made of this 14% wine which tasted refined and not remotely blowsy. This collaboration between Sashi Moorman and Peter and Amy Pastan is inky dark to look at and the fruit on the nose is actually sweet, but you get the added savoury complexity of what I called Vegemite (a yeast extract spread beloved of Australians for those who’ve never come across it), but soon amended (on Tony’s prompting) to tapenade. This wine combines real concentration with an elegance usually reserved for top Northern Rhônes. I didn’t even mind the squat, dumpy bottle which I excused from pretentious Californian marketing hype, along with the minimalist front label, on account of the wine being so good.
My evening finished with a Greek wine, Foundi’s Naoussa Xinomavro 2009. Xino comes in many styles, and this was a lighter version, not complex but initially very fresh and vibrant. It was a wine I’d have difficulty naming blind, even though I’ve had at least four Xinomavros this year. I might have gone for a Langhe Nebbiolo and then changed my mind to aged Cabernet Franc, though I think others have said Pinot Noir. It took off with all the rush of a jet fighter, but then it hung there like a bi-plane, losing power and finishing short. But the initial shot-rush meant I did enjoy it, despite that criticism. And after all, I don’t think it’s especially expensive.
I had to leave for my train at this point, but I believe the others sneaked in a Sylvain Cathiard Bourgogne Rouge 2010? I’m rather hoping someone will come along and tell me what it was like. I thought that even at this level it might be too young when we discussed it, though Mark Andrew said it was drinking nicely.
This was an excellent evening, even though my copy of the latest edition of Noble Rot Magazine, promised me by a young lad working the bar area, never materialised (so I picked one up elsewhere, today). Otherwise, despite the oddly dated style of the place at present, I can guarantee good food and a great wine list for the adventurous, not to mention a chance to explore a part of London which I’m betting few who have not worked around Holborn at some point will know. Just arrive early for a drink and time to explore the wine list at leisure. Booking recommended.
Noble Rot Bar & Restaurant, 51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB, Tel: 020 7242 8963