Last Thursday was a special day for The Editor and me: we got to meet our great friend – and notable supporter of Elitistreview – Keith Prothero for a boozy lunch. The three of us met up with Greg Sherwood MW – wine buyer at Handford Wines – at The Glasshouse in Kew. The Editor and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Keith for hosting us for a lunch of coruscating brilliance.
This meal demonstrated three things very clearly. Firstly, that fine dining is one of the most under-priced aesthetic experiences one can have. Secondly, there is not only great pleasure in drinking proper wine, but that there is enormous pleasure in drinking proper wine that is fully mature. Finally, better, even, than excellent food and fine wine are good friends.
The Glasshouse is a modern, well-designed restaurant on the leafy square just outside Kew Gardens underground station. Keith always likes to get there early so he can bag the ‘best’ table in the corner near the window. I would have been happy sitting anywhere in that sophisticated dining room.
The Glasshouse provides modern British cooking with a slight Asian twist. There were a broad range of delights on offer in there reasonably priced lunch menu. As we had three flights of wines, Keith had arranged for us to have two starters each then a main course. We would debate desserts.
A side note here: The Glasshouse usually do not allow corkage, which is not surprising given the modest cost of the lunch menu. Keith suggested, but was too embarrassed to go into details, that it was arranged for us by the application of quite a lot of money. Hooray for money!!
The four of us largely ate the same dishes and, whilst The Editor and I passed large forkfuls of our differing dishes to each other, I hope you will not mind if I focus on my choices and those are the ones I got the delightful opportunity to revel in most fully.
First up was a large squid ink raviolo filled with crab and prawn in a foamy bisque. It had good, flavourful pasta, a delightfully textured filling of complex flavour and a hedonistically rich and shellfish-y bisque. A very carefully constructed dish that showed skill in creation and presentation.
By arse, what wines we drank with our first courses! Both made by Eben Sadie (of South Africa, in case you are woefully poorly informed – but worry not! If you are that poorly informed there is no chance you will ever be able to buy any as they are all carefully allocated these days – ha!), both 2012s and both respairing reasons why we continue to taste new and rare wines.
Palladius and T’Voetpad are both Chenin-based blends that aim to display the primacy of terroir over varietal. This means they have everything from Palamino to Verdelho in them. They worked their magic stunningly well.
Both were powerful wines of prodigious length and breadth, the T’Voetpad especially – a real mouth-filler. The Palladius was more elegant, but it was the biggie that had the better balance and more scintillating excitement-value. The scale of the T’Voetpad was amazing but it was not in the slightest bit ponderous or heavy as it had a quite intense but perfectly balanced acidity level.
Both wines undoubtedly had fruit, and a glorious, effulgent fruitiness it was too, but they were not really about fruit in the same sense that Grand Cru white Burgundy is not primarily about fruit. The experience was digging into the terroir and astounding concentration resulting from the old vines that produced these explendent wines.
In short, stunning white wines that impressed, engaged and titillated us all served with (in my case at least) a deeply lovely starter of interest and delight that was quite wonderfully well executed.
Next up came two wines that brought back memories of my youth (relative youth in one case). I was so happy to drink them being somewhat veteratorian of them and their siblings. They were perfectly mature but still still throbbing with life and engorged with incandescent quality.
But first, an admission of shame for me. I had brought along a Domaine Tempier La Miguoa 2001. I thought this wine at 20 years old should be quite brilliant. As we were waiting for our second starters and wines to arrive, the owner of the restaurant appeared next to me and whispered in my ear that my wine was corked! The horror!
It was not my fault, of course, but I felt rather silly that I did not have a backup. So no real shame for anyone but the cork manufacturer and Tempier for not using screwcaps – something I would be very surprised to see happen in my lifetime, but one never knows! The failure of my bottle was handled with professionalism, politeness and tact by the staff at The Glasshouse. A model of how restaurant staff should behave in such an eventuality.
First up was a wine I idiotically squandered my three bottles of in my mid 30s – Domaine Tempier La Cabassaou 1999. Jesus Shit, this was fine as. A wonderful, scented nose of herbs, flowers, grilled meats and delicious soft, dark fruit. This amply demonstrated that top class Mourvèdre can age and improve for an… well… age!
That beguiling nose charmed with its winsome character, and such was its beauty one of the last things you could say about it was that it might be a little hot at 14.5% (just as a point of interest, a new winemaker took over the harvest and winemaking for the 2001 vintage and my failed 2001 Miguoa was a whopping great 15%!). Yes, there was some Brett there, but it was by no means overpowering and just added complexity to the panoply of aromas on the nose. A scented, soft nose of indescribably involute individuality.
The palate showed a similarly glorious personality. It still had a good structure, with acidity and tannin supported all those softer, bewitching flavours, but so much softer than when I necked mine 15 years ago. It really did not need decanting, but it had not suffered from Keith getting rid of the sediment before we arrived at the restaurant.
The other wine I drank epic quantities of soon after its release was when I was an undergraduate: Chateau de Beaucastel 1990. It proudly displayed the alcohol level as 13.5% on the label (it says 14.5% on more recent vintages, and I think that is being economical with the booze-factor) and, as such, it is probably one of the very last Chateauneuf du Papes I enjoyed.
Again, the aromas of Mourvèdre were dominant, with grilled meat, herbs, floral tones and from the Syrah a bit of meaty, spicy, bloodiness. An excellent Chateauneuf that I doubt will last too much longer. However, this was a wonderful bottle, enjoyed in a wonderful restaurant with wonderful company so all in all a great way of saying goodbye to this old friend of my youth.
These two wines were perfectly matched with ox cheek served on confit potato. The ox cheek was meltingly delicious, so tender and so packed with flavour. A perfectly executed piece of ox cheek, I do not think I have had better.
The think slice of confit potato it was served on had a fantastic, firm texture and was lustrous with the delicious fat it had been cooked it. The flavour was more than one could legitimately ask for from a slice of potato – crikey it was so lovely. The whole dish was an absolute joy. The Glasshouse was clearly showing itself to be a destination restaurant.
My main course was mind bogglingly good – I drool just to think of it. Rolled pork belly with crackling and an apple and black pudding tarte tatin. Excuse me whilst I compose myself to try and describe this gastronomic wonder…
That is better. The pork was obscenely high quality, that allowed it to be lightly cooked, so it was just pink in the centre. Again, a meltingly gorgeous texture – no knife required. It clearly came from a happy pig as it was tasty beyond description. That pig died to make us happy and by thunder his sacrifice was appreciated. The crackling was finely cut into hair-like strips. Totally yummy and would present no problems for people with only two molars left.
The apple and black pudding tarte tatin, good lord what a side dish for pork of frankly lewd quality. All ingredients were in perfect harmony and cooked to enchanting an beauty of mouth-watering, delectable, delightful wonder. I cannot decide which component of the meal beguiled me the most, but I was a dribbling wreck as I ate this.
The Editor and I knew we were special guests of Keith’s as he opened two of his very favourite wines for us.
Chave Hermitage 1988 is Keith’s go to reference point for Rhone wine of first quality – he is pretty much right on that. Made by Gerard Chave at the height of his powers, it is a silky, elegant, poised Hermitage of exquisite balance and magnificent complexity. Still charged with plenty of life and lovely fruit, it had developed a great earthiness and showed no excess, indeed virtually no, Brett at all. Perhaps Chave 1991 is my favourite Hermitage of that period, ! Effectively the perfect mature Hermitage.
Allemand Cornas Reynard 1998 is to Cornas what Gerard Chave’s wines of the 80s and 90s were to Hermitage. This was a sleek, svelte Cornas. It certainly had a good tannic structure, as one expects from Cornas, but crivvens what a silken, polished structure that was! There was a good earthy character and, whilst Brett was present, it was not something that really entered one’s mind as an important character. Indeed, one did not really think of individual components of the wine as if they had been bolted together. Rather, it was a seamless expression of great Cornas as a slick, complete entity in itself. I think only great vintages of Noel Verset are on a par with this.
I was thinking “Not Tonight Josephine”.
The 2020 of Duncan Savage’s straw wine, to be exact, blessed with the epithet I gave above. Hell’s bells what a wine! Keith was labouring under two delusions about this wine. Firstly, that it was enormously sweet. Secondly, that the good Mr Savage had added a load of sugar to the wine. Neither are true.
This was the least sweet straw wine I have ever tried, both in terms of actual sugar in the wine and the way sugar would be perceived by a drinker. It had spectacular levels of acidity; it made you feel there were scintillating glisks of laser light playing across your palate. Acidity of this level would hide a lot of sugar on its own.
However, there was not a tremendous level of sweetness to the wine. Much as in Germany a lot of people make ‘Kabinett derived Eiswein’ (Ernie Loosen says he makes ‘Auslese derived Eiswein’, and they are shit), the pre-drying condition of the grapes must have been that they did not have a massively high potential alcohol level.
Was it not all the better for that? Yes, yes it was. It was intense, thick, concentrated, viciously (but deliciously) acidic and undoubtedly had the required terror balance for an extraordinarily fine wine. Despite all this, it was not an exhausting wine to drink that blew away every thought of the meal and wines preceding it. OK, it was not exactly an easy drink, but it left you feeling energised and prepared for anything that could possibly follow (in The Editor’s and my case, a 97 minute journey to Winchester on the train) rather than crapulent and generally shagged out.
I finished my (and Keith’s) slug of this precious nectar and felt highly animated on the journey to Clapham Junction. What a wine! Probably the best straw wine I have ever drank, easily up there with Jean-Louis Grippat’s Hermitage Vin de Pailles of old. Amazing.
I could not possibly choose a single wine of lunch… hmmm… but I will choose three wines of lunch and if you flip a three-sided coin I will agree that the wine for that side is the best. Tempier Cabassaou 1999 for its heaven-scented, softly-perfumed delights. Chave Hermitage 1988 simply for being as good as Hermitage (one of my favourite wines) can possibly get. Finally, Duncan Savage’s Not Tonight Josephine 2020 for expanding the boundaries of what is possible with straw wine whilst revelling in the delights of that style. You let me know my favourite when you have tossed for it!
Penultimately, a few comments on the food component of lunch. The service was polite, friendly but unobtrusive, the food cooked and composed with rarely-matched skill and the dining environment quite delightful. The entirety of the ‘dining’ part of our lunch was truly wonderful – I heartily recommend The Glasshouse at Kew to all my readers.
And finally, if we had just taken three courses for our lunch it would have cost £45 a head. Once again this demonstrates that, as far as extreme and engaging aesthetic experiences go, it is pretty hard to beat carefully chosen fine dining for value. Chapeau, The Glasshouse.
Many thanks, Keith xx