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.
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!
We were one of the first to list the ABV (or alcohol by volume) of each of our wines on our list.
This is not because we disapprove of high alcohol wines necessarily - some grapes simply don't make good wine at under 14% or so, and even the great Chateau Haut-Brion came in at over 15% in 2010, though most of our clarets - including the Chateau Larrivet-Haut-Brion 1999 and the delectable Montrose 2004 - are a more modest, and more traditional, 13%. We do, however, stock and sell the 2002 Stonewall Shiraz at 14.5% and the Bertani Amarone Classico 2003 at 15%.
But, at the opposite end of the scale, the lunchtime-with-work-still-to-do end of the scale, we have many which offer merely 12% alcohol by volume - our best-selling old vine Carignan, for example. And we have just managed to acquire another parcel of the Kenton Vineyard Bacchus 2010 at 11%.
The point is, we should know what we're drinking. That's why we list the ABV. And Kate Spicer, in The Sunday Times, has also cottoned onto this trend:
"Alcohol by volume (ABV) is something that, like anxious calorie counters, more and more people are alert to. It has certainly changed my drinking habits ... An English wine, Bacchus, made from a cold-weather grape, has less-than-ideal residual sugar, but at 10.5% ABV, two people can split a bottle and remain completely civilised" she wrote in yesterday's paper.
Apart from the fact that we rather like the residual sugar, and that the 2009 inched up to 11%, we agree.
I suspect many of you will too.
Man is born free, but is everywhere in chain restaurants.
In the same way as our retail High Streets are being taken over by a rash of building societies and chain stores, so our food outlets are increasingly under the control of large corporations. As I ordered a meal in a gastropub in a small village in Bedfordshire the other day, I realised I had ordered exactly the same thing in Broadway the previous week. And it turned out that these so-called family places were in fact part of a chain of family orientated gastropubs. There are dozens of them throughout the country with the same menu, the same wine list, the same look.
So is there a future for the small, independent restaurant of which Wilde's is an exemplar?
We believe so, but we need to distinguish ourselves from the chains by the food we create, the wine we serve and the ambience we develop.
This is what we have been doing over the last few weeks in Wilde's.
We are investing in the future. We have re-decorated and re-furbished the restaurant. We have introduced a new menu at lunch and dinner, together with some new wines.
Importantly, we have a young management team both in the kitchen and at front of house.
So far, the feedback has been gratifyingly encouraging, but not unanimously so. When an institution changes, it disappoints some who miss particular dishes, or a specific wine or simply a way of doing things which had become comforting and familiar.
But of course, the things they miss were themselves new not so long ago. And we promise that we are not changing for the sake of change. And nor are we changing the essential character of the restaurant.
Wilde's has changed many times over the last 36 years and it will doubtless change again. But Wilde's will always be Wilde's.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.