JOURNAL : Caterer and Hotelkeeper
SUBJECT : The List: Aubergine
AUTHOR : Fiona Sims
SECTION : Chef
ISSUE DATE : 16/11/06
PAGE NUMBER : 34
COPYRIGHT : Free reuse
INTRO: This Michelin-starred London restaurant has led the field when it comes to matching food with beer. There are 14 on the list at the moment, priced from £3.50 to £32. Fiona Sims reports
TEXT: Everyone is staring at my table. It's groaning under the weight of wine glasses, but there's no wine to be seen. Each glass is filled with beer. Not your normal sight in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Aubergine, in London's Chelsea, has been offering a beer list alongside its 1,000-bin wine list for a couple of years now. And the press were quick to pick up on it - spluttering rather indignantly over a bottle of beer priced at £32.
But this was for Deus, the Champagne of bottled beers, and it rivals a fair few French bubblies in terms of flavour and finesse. Made by the Bosteels brewery in the tiny village of Buggenhout in Belgium, it even looks like a bottle of Champagne. The punchy blond ale, with its 11.5% abv, takes 12 months to mature - hence the price. "It makes a great aperitif, doesn't it?" says Thierry Tomasin, Aubergine's wine-savvy general manager.
He's got 14 beers on his list at the moment, though he did have a lot more - about 24 - but there were major supply issues. "We don't want to buy 20 cases of each beer. We're not a pub. The suppliers don't seem to get that. They should make more of an effort. Instead, I want 12 bottles of each beer," insists Tomasin.
And thanks to forward-thinking beer supplier Utobeer (020 7394 8601, www.utobeer.co.uk), Tomasin can pull this off. The Borough Market-based distributor has more than 2,000 bottled beers on its books and will deliver anywhere within the M25. The company has just opened a bar, too, if you want to sample any of the beers first.
Next up is Worthington's White Shield India Pale Ale - winner of countless awards and chosen by Tomasin to partner chef William Drabble's scallops and celeriac purée. "Try this one with it as well," suggests Tomasin, offering a glass of Belgian blond, St Feuillien (7.5%). Both work, for different reasons, but it's the latter that shines through, as the scallops have a few shavings of white truffle on them which ups the flavour ante considerably.
So does he actually drink beer at home, then? "I even cellar it," grins Tomasin. "And I've brought something special from home to show you," he adds, mysteriously. It's his all-time favourite: Rochefort 10, a Trappist beer with an 11.3% abv, which he pairs - when he can get hold of it - with Drabble's fresh herb-wrapped best end of lamb. It's a big, rich contemplative brew the colour of stewed tea - and my new favourite drink.
The Abbaye Notre Dame de St Rémy is one of the most traditional of the Trappist breweries. Located in the Ardennes near the border with Luxembourg, the abbey was founded in 1230 before becoming Trappist in 1887. The beers - there are three of them - get between seven and 10 days of primary fermentation, with secondary fermentation in the bottle. They improve after at least six months in the cellar and are drinkable for decades. And, yes, the monks drink it themselves - but only one a day, apparently.
Before you say, this is all very well, but can you make money out of beer? Tomasin offers this: "Of course I want to make money, but if I don't offer something a bit different, I won't attract new customers. There's so much variety out there, restaurants need to give a choice. Yes, the mark-ups on beer are less than wine - I just double the cost price - and you have to explain yourself more when offering expensive beers like the Deus, but I say to customers that if they don't like it, they don't need to pay for it. But that hasn't happened yet.
"We need to change people's mentality. Beer isn't just for drinking in pubs; beer works really well at the dinner table," he continues. At the moment his list is weighted in favour of Belgium, but he wants to add more British bottled beers. His current favourite everyday brew (Drabble's, too) is Corsican amber beer, Piétra. "I love the nuttiness of it," he declares.
Does Tomasin have an ultimate beer and food pairing? "I love red wine-braised ox cheek with Chimay Cinq Cents, and Worthington's White Shield with red mullet escabèche. And I love beer with dessert, too. Try peaches roasted with a little honey and pistachios with Timmermans Pêche. Fantastic," he enthuses.
* If you want to learn more about beer, why not attend a Beer Academy course at the White Horse pub in Parson's Green, London? For details go to www.beeracademy.org.
BOXTEXT: What's on the beer list
* Kronenbourg 1664, France, 5%, £3.50
* Timmermans Pêche, Belgium, 4%, £4
* Innis & Gunn Oak-aged, Scotland, 6.6%, £4.50
* Worthington's White Shield India Pale Ale, 5.6%, £4
* Hoegaarden's Forbidden Fruit, Belgium, 8.5%, £6
* Chimay Cinq Cents, Belgium, 8%, £15
* Bosteels Deus, Belgium, 11.5%, £32
* Liefmans Goudenband, Belgium, 8%, £6
* Piétra, Corsica, 6%, £5.50
* Gulpener Korenwolf, Holland, 5% £12
* St Feuillien, Belgium, 7.5%, £7
* Abbaye des Rocs, Belgium, 9%, £8.50
* Bourgogne des Flandres, Belgium, 5%, £9
CAPTION: Here for the beer: Aubergine's dining room, and (below) general manager Thierry Tomasin