Friday, 15 March 2013

Lunch with a difference in Borough Market...

From the first days of January, mid-winter 2013 has been long and cheerless, made harder by the loss of old wine friends - Frank Prial, John  Radford, and mostly recently the beloved Henri Krug, a mentor to me in the early1990s. So I am doubly grateful for an interlude, an epicurean experience that was quite unexpected. Out of the blue, a week ago I was asked to Sunday lunch by Francis and Bronwen Percival at their flat over the Neal Street Dairy, where Bronwen is the authoritative cheese buyer. I've admired Francis as a food writer for some time, his column in Fine Wine giving me something to think about and always penned with wit, erudition and passion. One knew the couple were fine cooks, but boy was I blown away by the lunch and its theme - cheese, cuisine and wines (especially) from Europe vis-a-vis California. Its conception reflected the couple's merged background and studies: Francis, after Cambridge working at the cutting edge of the British culinary revival; Bronwen, the daughter of a Californian musicologist, going to college at Wellesley near Boston, where she studied biochemistry, so she would later have a head start when thinking about starting yeasts for cheese-making.

The lunch which went on until dusk was actually no grande bouffe but an exhilarating mix of the cerebral and the sensuous. As we gathered for aperitifs, two beautiful Neal's Yard cheeses were offered, with the best match there is, aged vintage champagne. The Innes Log was a subtle blue-vein, incisive and crisp, but the Duckett's Caerphilly was magnificent, making me proud that I have some Celtic blood (Cornish, on my mother's side)

with Pascal Doquet (right) in Le Mesnil

 With these, two cracking growers' champagnes in 2002. Pascal Doquet's Mesnil was just plain delicious, with a purity of ripe peach and apple fruitiness typical of the lower slopes of the village. Eric Rodez's Ambonnay was something else, an exceptional expression of (mainly) great Pinot Noir, which when it hits the spot in a perfect terroir and vintage has no peer for flavour and complexity. Ravioli of boudin noir and Kirkham's Lancashire in a sleek wine-blessed sauce was the best pasta I've tasted for months, the flavour contrasts of wines from the Santa Cruz mountains and those of the Jura so marked and fascinating. The hedonism and patisserie -like aromas of Ridge's Montebello Chardonnay 2004 added to its rich vein of sunny Santa Cruz fruit made a riveting comparison with Benedict & Stephane Tissier Arbois Chardonnay 'Les Graviers' 2010, the tenacity of the rugged stony Jurassien terroir making its presence felt in every corner of the wine.

The centrepiece of lunch was the seven-hour slow roasted shoulder of lamb, easing from the bone with a gentle touch of a spoon and so succulent, served with gratin dauphinois. The two wines were very different. The Montus Madiran, 'La Tyre' 2000 from south west France was an imposing rich  mouthful, a little international in style for my taste and Cathy Corison's lovely Napa Cabernet Sauvignon1998, so open, friendly and elegant that it quite won my heart. I think this is enough for  the natural length of a post. More, another day, about the dessert wine from Kracher, with pudding.  A big thank you, Bronwen & Francis.

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