I thought I recognised him. The American wine director at new London restaurant Pearl used to rule the roost at Chicago's Hudson Club in the late 1990s. I remember the place well. Not because of the food, but because of the wine carriers. The Hudson Club's thing was wine flights - tasting samples of wine served en masse to the diner to experiment with. It's a great way of introducing the diner to a grape variety, a region, or wine style. What a good idea, I thought, why doesn't someone do it over here?
Well, they tried - until trading standards told them off. Serving anything less than a 125ml measure of wine is against the licensing laws. Well, Pearl's wine director Michael Davis thought he would give it another go. But this time, to keep within the law, he would offer the minimum 125ml serving but offer three in one go.
Cue the carriers. Constructed of sterling silver, they were made by a silversmith in Lebanon (the interior designer's contact) to Davis's design - and they look great. There are five flights to choose from. I tried Aromatic Whites, which comprised a 2003 Albari¤o from Pazo de Senorans, a 2002 Grner Veltliner from Loimer's Kaferberg vineyard, and Yalumba's 2002 Mesh Riesling - all good wines. The only thing is, these flights are available only in the bar, not in the restaurant, which would be much more fun. And I don't know about you, but a 375ml pre-dinner aperitif is going some - even 250ml is too much for me. Nice idea, though.
Better still is the "wine tower" located in the restaurant proper. I should explain here that Pearl is housed in the Renaissance London Chancery Court hotel, and it used to be called QC. Thankfully, the interior is the only thing to have changed (and it needed it: diners rattled around in the cavernous space, but with some clever refurbishing from United Designers it works much better now); the talented Jun Tanaka is still in the kitchen.
Actually, it's more a wine room. Clad in walnut and holding up to 1,400 wines, it has both a red wine bit (kept at between 14¡C and 16¡C) and a white wine bit (5-8¡C) and is Davis's pride and joy. He's still building on his 450-bin list, which covers the globe. And here's something: Grner Veltliner (the one from Loimer) outsells his house white.
To complete the experience, there's Riedel crystal on the table - the Restaurant range for everyday drinking, and Vinum range for the posh bottles. Though I'm not sure what qualifies as posh - the entire list is five-star hotel pricing. And some.
Being American, Davis loves his food and wine matching. With the thinly sliced monkfish, herb risotto, gratin of clams, caper and lemon dressing he chose a 2002 Gavi di Gavi Vigneti Montessora, La Giustiniana; with potato blinis, morels and asparagus, soft poached egg and balsamic vinegar he went for an Aussie Semillon from Brokenwood. Both worked brilliantly. With a main course of roasted duck breast with caramelised banana shallots, kai lan and a reduction made of oranges, sugar and white wine vinegar, a red blend from Argentine producer Flichman provided an extra layer of fruitiness. All of these wines were plucked from a handsome Cruvinet system installed behind the bar offering 32 wines by the glass.
Bargain Bordeaux From next month until March 2005 the Bordeaux Wine Bureau and the Times have joined forces again for "Dine with Wine". The promotion allows a party of up to six people to scoff a two-course meal with a bottle of red or white Bordeaux for a tenner a head. More than 500 restaurants across the UK are participating. "Our aim is to raise awareness of the diversity, quality and finesse of Bordeaux wines at a modern price point," hopes the bureau's Tanguy Chatillon.
Cocktail read Top mixologist Alex Kammerling is the author behind Blend Me, Shake Me: 101 Hip New Cocktails (BBC Worldwide, £12.99). "For those who love to party", it contains 101 easy-to-follow recipes and reveals tricks of the trade. It is divided into six chapters, including A Sense of Occasion, Winter Warmers and Steamy Summers.
To the manor bornwww.waddesdon.org.uk for more information.