General Manager Ollie in Gallic mode
As the people of Leamington and beyond are probably aware, the team at Wilde's are not only friendly and a tad extrovert, but we are also consummate professionals and are always willing to go that extra mile for the customers satisfaction - whether that extra mile is making specified "non-menu" food and drinks, adhering to various tastes in music or actually visiting the source of products we offer to you.
For myself, the latter has become a bit of a "bucket list" thing to do.
On-site training, creating our wine list and studying wine has been the driving force to my passion for wine, so you can imagine my reaction to the news that I was to visit Joseph Perrier winery and vineyards. Fortunately, we have had the pleasure of being associated with Frazier's Wine, a fine wine merchant business and we were more than happy to add the Joseph Perrier non-vintage brut champagne to our list…and then i found out the reward of this…an over-night trip to the champagne region. Thank you very much!
Monday morning came along like Christmas morning for a child, except I slept better. Not so bright-eyed and bushy tailed I met Will Frazier of Frazier's wine outside my house at 7 am to the morning call of keen gym-goers before they sit behind their desks. Little did they or anyone know I was off to 'av a few drinks'! Birmingham airport was a hive of a bustling travellers as I met my fellow visitors. A mix of people from the hospitality trade ranging from owners of pubs, managers, head chefs and a couple of guys from Frazier's wine. After a brief hello we boarded and after a brief fight we were in France.
Greeted by a French bus driver after a late arrival due to an unbelievable wait at passport control in the airport (one staff member checking passports with a queue of near 500 travellers!). As we got settled on the luxury coach I realized what we were in for as Will started pouring glasses of the NV brut at 11 am! A quick kip on the coach and we had arrived at the Joseph Perrier house. An obligatory glass of champagne followed accompanied by a couple of sandwiches.
Soon, we were ushered towards a door which opened into the fermentation area, 1st and 2nd stages. The smell of CO2 was overpowering so we were moved on into the caves. The caves are etched into the chalk hill-side of Chalons and are set at a beautiful all year-round temperature of 11 degrees celsius. Perfect for storage of up to 800,000 bottles. As we meandered around the tunnels every rack and every bottle seemed to have a story - from the way it is nurtured as the fermented grape juice and yeast first meet, to the application of the label to the cleaned bottle. The care and dedication was the most astonishing aspect of this part of the tour. As we entered the factory part of the house i soon had a sense of a family environment. This wasn't because they were family. It came from a sense that there wasn't many people working, this might of been a French "thing" or they were taking an extremely long lunch, but it seemed the enormous scale of the operation was kept to just a handful of dedicated artists. For that, i was truly astonished.
Gathering my composure and my vision as we exited the caves and winery, we entered the tasting hall….to taste…. As an experienced "taster" the format was familiar and the information provided by our guide, Martin of Joseph Perrier, was truly fascinating. From the tried and tested NV brut to the 2002 vintage, Blanc du Blanc (100% chardonnay), The Josephine, the rosé and their Demi-sec. We were educated to Joseph Perrier's full range.
After a quick scrub-up at the hotel I hopped in a taxi back Joseph Perrier for dinner, a quick detour to la gare to pick up some smokes and test my not so French…French. I still managed to get what I wanted! At Joseph Perrier we were greeted by Jean-Claude, the great, great grandson of Joseph Perrier himself and now the brand figurehead worldwide. The Champagne and canapés flowed until we sat for a four-course dinner with Jean-Claude. As each course was served we were again treated to Joseph's full range which beautifully matched what we were eating. The conversation around the table was something similar to a first day at work scenario with a twist. The twist being six or so glasses of champagne, so this was very enjoyable. After mains a magnum of non-labelled champagne was presented to which we had to guess the vintage. As a table, due to the colour, characteristics and fuller creaminess on the palate we decided 1985, we were correct and it was older than me!
As we got into Jean-Claude's car for a lift back into the town, he dropped us off at the only bar that was open in town, which had similarities to a little-known bar in Leamington Spa called Kelsey's. We carried on the evening in true form of beers and pool until the barman decided to stop serving us and keep serving the locals, fair enough, we got a take out and headed back to the hotel. Great night.
The sun was out for the second day of our trip, so i took a wander around the town in the morning, to clear my head. A quick espresso and we were back on the bus up to Hautvillers and the vineyards of Champagne. As we were driving through the town, it was like driving up Hollywood Boulevard. Moet Chandon, Bollinger, Tattinger and Gobillard houses all produce here. After a quick visit to Dom Perignon's resting place in the abbey of Hautvillers we walked up towards the vineyards of Champagne to see our product at its purest form, the grape. Like the village, the vineyards is like a "who's who" of wine making. All the famous houses are within metres of each other. We strolled along the road, eating pinot noir grapes until we reached the viewpoint. As Martin pointed out, we were on the pinot noir side of the region, directly in front was the pinot meunier and into the distance was Chardonnay. Once again, the grand scale of Champagne had left me speechless, the only thing i could see for miles upon miles was vines.
As we boarded the coach to take us half a mile down the hill, I could feel a glass of Champagne coming on. We approached a building which looked like a stereotypical French chateau, we were duly greeted by a waiter with a glass of NV brut…after all it was lunchtime.
After a quick tour of the pressing room with a glass and something that could only be described as cheesy balls, we had a smoke and a drink on the upper garden then entered the dinning room for a four course lunch. During the feast the food was accompanied by Joseph Perrier's full range. It's funny after a bit of a night out last night and a few drinks today, the conversation around the table is more relaxed and a sense of pride and realization of what we all have just experienced over the last two days. This was confirmed as we headed outside into the chateau's gardens for an espresso and a smoke. With the sun beating down, we said our farewells to Martin and we boarded the coach back to the airport.
With a couple of gifts we arrived home. Not only am i privileged to have experienced what has been a dream for years, but i feel that with my first hand experience of seeing the whole process of Champagne, especially for the Joseph Perrier NV brut champagne, I hope that my experience can be seen as a positive step for Wilde's Wine Bar's customer service and the measures we take to provide a detailed and dedicated service.
Ollie Paginton, GM, Wilde's Wine Bar
The late Tony Wilson once told me about booking some mega-American band for the Haçienda. Actually, he told loads of people, because I think he repeated the story in his book, 24 Hour Party People; but he told me first over a glass of wine (me) and a pint of lager and a joint (him).
Tony was my best man at my first wedding - Chris Dark had turned me down - and his taste in music was still developing in parallel with his self-regard. At this stage, he had moved on from Carol King’s Tapestry, his regular listening while the rest of us were focused on the Dead, and the Airplane, and Bob, and the Velvets; but his obsession with punk and rave was more opportunistic than instinctive. (One would never use the word ‘genuine’ in the same sentence as ‘Tony Wilson’.)
Anyway, the one thing that was constant in Tony's life was his hatred of jazz in all its manifestations. And this mega-American band who were costing Tony (or rather, New Order) “mega-bucks”, took to the stage more stoned than the audience, and played ... jazz! Tony told me he was so disgusted that he pulled the plug on them, though he doesn't mention this in the book.
The point of all this is that we had an analogous situation in Wilde's on Sunday night, the occasion being the 37th birthday of the bar. Several months ago, my wonderfully generous friend John Myers had arranged for “Mick n Keef” from the cover band Stones to perform a greatest hits set appropriate for the Wilde's demographic. It his birthday present to Wilde's - and it was keenly anticipated, to say the least.
Except that ten minutes before we were due to open, John called to say that they were not coming. No reason. They had just decided not to come.
Shanade Morrow, singer, song-writer and waitress extraordinaire, went to work on the phones. Within half an hour, the best and the brightest of the Leamington music scene, including Clayton Denwood who played with The Band in Woodstock and Thom Kirkpatrick, who has played with everyone else, were on their way.
Meanwhile, Geof, the embarrassed manager of the Stones, had also been on the phone. And, unbeknown to us and at short notice, he managed to acquire the services of a crooner of a certain age who marketed himself as a Billy Fury sound-alike. What's more, Billy Fury arrived first and set up his karaoke machine of backing tracks and proceeded to belt out a Herman's Hermits song. Which was kinda fun. Until the next one and the next one and the next one.
With a dozen musicians (defined for these purposes as people who play their own instruments and write original material) hanging around having given up their evening to help us, it rapidly became something of an issue. Some people left, many complained, and others, including myself, took to drink and, for the first time in months, tobacco. It took Jill - who is less timid than am I – to take action and request that he cut his act short to give others a chance.
The others took their chance. They jammed, sang and played a series of excellent sets which kept a hundred of us on the dance floor and in awe.
This is not musical snobbery. ’Billy Fury’ knows what he is doing and does it well. But it is not what Wilde's is about. It is the very antithesis of the live music which Wilde's wishes to promote.
Fortunately, the last few hours of the evening developed in the right spirit with some superb acoustic guitar work from Jason and Clayton, plus some great vocals, some great sax from Ono, and - at the end - some brilliant Stones covers from Thom Kirkpatrick, the 21st century one-man-band.
So us oldies eventually got our Stones. As well as our Dead, our Dylan, and our Herman's Hermits!
You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.
Our thanks to all the musicians, to Myers, to Geof, to Shanade, to Ollie and Rachel, and to Richard for his canapés. And to all those who came out on a school night to help us celebrate, especially Pinky and James for their great card.
On the reverse of the Wilde’s business card are nine circles.
Each time you spend £10 or more in a single transaction, we will stamp one of those circles with a small representation of a wine glass.
When you have nine stamps, we will exchange the card for a bottle of Sangiovese red wine or Colombard white wine.
It’s a sort of Frequent Flyer programme for winers and diners; our way of saying thanks for your support in the past, the present and (we hope) the future.
Ask at the bar for your card, and start collecting now.
Pretty soon, you’ll be drinking a bottle of house wine.
On the house.
Nathalie at home in Margaux
That was the theme of the Bordeaux tasting dinner at Wilde’s last night, hosted – we are proud to say – by the wonderful Nathalie Schyler of Chateau Kirwan, the Margaux grand cru classé.
Nathalie is one of the current generation of a family which moved to Bordeaux in 1739 and bought this prestigious Medoc estate in 1925. Informed, multi-lingual and passionate about wine in general and Bordeaux in particular, she guided 36 guests (from England, Ireland, the States, France and Germany) through half a dozen wines over four courses of a menu which Chef Steve Keenan created to pair perfectly with the wines.
The highlight for me was the 1995 Chateau Kirwan, hailed as the best ever, and with serious structure. It was matched with Steve’s version of the famous Bordelaise dish, Entrecote Marchand de Vin, 55 day aged rib of beef in a red wine and bone marrow sauce. It needed to combine its elegance with richness and robustness. It did.
But not all Bordeaux wines are affordable only by bankers and Chinese billionaires. I was not alone in my relish for a couple of the inexpensive vins de négoce (your French phrase of the day), and also for the second wine of Kirwan, Les Charmes de Kirwan.
We tasted the 2007, and it was fascinating to compare the two styles and get a sense of the way Kirwan is developing since the departure of Michel Rolland, the ubiquitous Bordeaux consultant responsible for some of the more egregious examples of ‘Parkerisation’ in the region.
In this sense, it was an interesting and educational evening. Don’t think, however, that this was a solemn occasion. Nathalie engaged individually as well as collectively, there was banter between tables, there was laughter and conversation, there was dialogue and debate.
So, my personal thanks to the guys in the kitchen and to the staff out front. You were brilliant, all of you.
And, on behalf of Wilde’s, our thanks to Nathalie, to Richard Banks (her man in the UK), to Will Frazier of Frazier’s Wine Merchants, and – most of all – to our guests, all of whom showed that one’s love of food and wine does not mean they should be approached with an awed reverence and high seriousness.
In keeping with the Wilde’s motto (or is it a mission statement?) of good food, good wine and good company, we ate well, we drank well and we made new friends.
In short, we had a great time!
We’ll do it again soon. Promise.
It’s line caught. It’s sustainable. It’s available only between January and April. And it’s delicious.
We’re talking about skrei cod, also known as Arctic cod, which has just made its first appearance on our prix fixe menu.
Skrei is a migratory cod, which swims thousands of miles from the Barents Sea to northern Norway, resulting in a lean, firm, white flesh which is rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. In Norway, it is a real seasonal delicacy and in the UK, it appears on the menu of, for example, Michel Roux’s Gavroche during this four month window.
We are delighted that we can offer this superb fish, that is caught under the most stringent regulations and is certified 100% sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.
The plan was to go for quality rather than quantity. As it turned out, we went for both.
When one works in a restaurant like Wilde’s, choosing a venue for the traditional Christmas staff party is something of an issue. After all, we have a brigade of chefs who cook superb food every day. And we have a wine list which is the envy of many ‘classier’ joints.
Where could we eat and drink well? Where could we be looked after by a team which has the same high standards as ourselves?
Well, there’s only one Michelin-starred restaurant in Warwickshire. So that’s where we went. Mallory Court, just outside Leamington itself. A Lutyens-style mansion, beautifully and seamlessly extended. With an excellent restaurant featuring the cooking of Michelin-starred chef Simon Haigh.
Wilde’s has a relationship with this excellent relais et chateau, which dates back to its opening in 1976, the same year as Wilde’s, by the wonderful Allan Holland and Jeremy Mort. The owners of Wilde’s celebrated their wedding here, and were involved in the marketing of the hotel and restaurant a dozen or so years ago. Now and again, Mallory people relax in Wilde’s. And now and again, Wilde's people treat themselves at Mallory.
So, it seemed as if it was the perfect venue for Wilde’s to celebrate a long and hard year.
The service was impeccable; the food delicious and accomplished; the wines excellent and free-flowing; the table beautifully presented.
Individually and collectively, Wilde’s had a great time. And we are grateful for the hospitality and exemplary professionalism of the Mallory team: General Manager Sarah, Chef Simon, Maître d’ Dom and the event organizer Natalie.
Thanks to all of you from all of us. And Happy New Year to everyone.
I did take some pictures of yesterday’s Waifs & Strays party yesterday, but thought better of publishing them.
Suffice to say, the lunch was one of the best in more than a decade of festive revelry.
Wilde’s Waifs & Strays began in 2000, when we realised that many of our regular customers were free-lance, very small businesses, partnerships or retirees. They missed out on the big corporate Christmas events to which we play host each December.
So, each year, we allocate a lunchtime and afternoon to these waifs and strays. We re-arrange the restaurant to facilitate one big party in the bar area. We place some bottles of various wines on the tables. We serve a Christmas à la carte menu. We play a festive game or two. And we end up with a gig.
Yesterday, the band was The Swaps.
Regular readers of this blog and that at www.everysmith.com
know that The Swaps are a favourite of management and customers alike. Yesterday showed why.
They played a superb set of smoky contemporary blues, which had us older folk grooving in appreciation, and the younger ones dancing in the bar, the restaurant and subsequently in the streets.
Beth was in terrific voice. James was electric on the acoustic guitar. Tommo played the harp like there was no tomorrow. And Tom, filling in for Dave, gave us a percussion masterclass. Best of all, for me at least, was the triumphant return of bassist Chris, who overcame neurological issues to lay down some great grooves.
Thanks guys. And thanks to all the waifs and strays for contributing to a memorable lunch which, being temporarily deprived of red wine, I can remember vividly.
There are some compensations for not drinking after all.
Happy holidays, everyone.
We have recently stumbled across the website of an organisation called CUREE, the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education. It is based, intriguingly, in Coventry - just down the road from where we are based in Leamington Spa. Its mission is to support and promote “the use of evidence by building bridges between academic research and professional practice”.
As an academically-minded businessman, writer and restaurateur, I am impressed by its objectives and its methodologies. I am convinced of the importance of research and evidence to back up any statement of any kind. To illustrate, we might cite (at opposite ends on a scale of gravity) the Newsnight allegations about Lord McAlpine and a recent review of our own humble restaurant on TripAdvisor.
The false and damaging statements on Newsnight were made without research or evidence. Disgracefully, McAlpine was not even contacted to be given an opportunity to deny the charge, which had spread virally across the internet before being formalised in a Nationwide broadcast.
And this is important: in the fuss about Newsnight, we have ignored the importance of the internet, where more people garner their information than from hundreds of Newsnight broadcasts.
On Twitter, on Facebook, on TripAdvisor, there is a plethora of unjustified, false and damaging allegations which are allowed to remain on the net, despite the lack of research and evidence.
A thought: the excellent team at CUREE might establish similar organisations in other disciplines.
It is clear that Newsnight could do with a Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in journalism, for example.
And maybe there is also a role for a CURERR: the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Restaurant Reviewing.
This is an edited version of a post which was first published at www.everysmith.com.
Eleanor reading the wine list
Rules in Covent Garden used to have a section on its wine list headed Wines From the Former Colonies. Here, alongside South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, it listed an excellent selection of Bordeaux wines, which qualified on the basis of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s marriage to Henry of Anjou, Henry II of England.
This marriage was the beginning of a long-standing love affair between the British and Bordeaux, which lasts to this day. And there was a time, not so long ago, when our wine list consisted primarily of white Burgundy and red Bordeaux; not exclusively, of course, but primarily. Drinking these wines was how many of us were brought up, and Wilde’s catered for this clientele.
In fact, it’s probably less than a decade since we stopped categorizing our wines according to country and region, rather than by style.
Currently, we list ‘crisp, approachable whites’; ‘fresh, fruity, aromatic whites’; and ‘rich, full whites’. Our reds are categorized as ‘ripe, succulent’; ‘soft, supple, lighter’; and ‘full, opulent’. Which gives everyone a pretty clear idea of what they are buying, regardless of country or region.
But there is a single exception to this rule. Our wine list includes a page which is headed ‘Bordeaux’.
Wilde’s is a bar which, for 36 years (on Saturday!), has loved its clarets. And Wilde’s ownership and management has always tried to accommodate this need, even though the received wisdom is that Bordeaux is, increasingly, out of reach for the drinker who isn’t a Chinese billionaire. (This is the class of people who are buying first growths en primeur and driving the top crus out of our league.)
Nevertheless, there is good value to found in Bordeaux. And we think we’ve found it. The clarets on our list range from £22 to £130. They include Montrose 2004 at £85.00 and – we’ve just found another parcel – the luscious Larrivet Haut Brion 2004 at £65.00. The most expensive, now the Petrus has been drunk, is Gruaud Larose 2002 at £130. Which compares very favourably with a vintage champagne.
Now, with the possible exception of the first (Chateau Nicot), these are not by any standards vins de soif. But they do represent good value. And like all clarets, they drink particularly well with good food.
Which is yet another reason why they find a good home in Wilde’s. Santé.
Wilde's smoked eel salad
A couple of months ago, we introduced a prix fixe menu at lunchtimes. This set menu, with three choices each of starter, main course, and dessert has proved rather more popular than even we anticipated, with customers requesting that something similar be available in the evening as well.
So last week Steve and his team sat down and created what you will find on the menu when you visit Wilde's from Monday evening (the 20th August) or click on the food page of this site: two courses for £12.25. three for £14.50.
This is, to an extent, a response to the current times of austerity; but it is more an opportunity to complement the a la carte menu.
As a 'neighbourhood' restaurant, we recognise that our customers visit us for a special treat or a celebration on one day, but for good, nutritious, appetising sustenance on another. One night, they are a 'foodie'; the next merely hungry!
So, apart from Friday and Saturday evenings, you can choose both or either menu at any time.
The a la carte menu will change with the seasons; the prix fixe menu every couple of weeks. And those who lunch with us, often pressed for time, will also be able to choose a menu express, which includes a small glass of wine, and which can be ordered, served and eaten within even the most modest business lunch hour.
Whichever you choose, bon app!