Wednesday 24th October – Luncheon near Tower Bridge, London.

To London on the 10.00 Eastbourne to London Bridge, change at Haywards Heath. The Southern Rail train, which had come from Hastings, arrived crowded and left overcrowded. Your M.A.E. managed to get a seat. Despite it being half-term with many families heading for the capital only four carriages were available. At succeeding stops many passengers failed to get on the train at all. I managed to force my way off at Haywards Heath, and joined an altogether more comfortable Thameslink train. Southern really are a disgrace.

Purpose of visit was another reunion with former colleagues, this time from a previous life in the London Wine Trade. After an aperitif at the Horniman Pub, Hay’s Wharf, which has a good range of real ales we walked in the late October sunshine to our lunch spot, Tom Simmons’ eponymous restaurant, in the shadow of Norman Foster’s City Hall (2002). One of our party opined that because of its unusual lop-sided shape it was very difficult to clean its plate glass windows. Tom Simmons is a Welsh chef who gained fame on T.V. cooking show “Masterchef – the Professionals” in 2011 at which time he was a chef de partie under Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s. Having read glowing reviews I had high expectations and these were not disappointed. Tom himself wasn’t there that lunchtime but his assistants in the kitchen did not let him down. His girlfriend Lois Thomas is Front of House, and was ably assisted by the charming and knowledgeable waitress Rodika. We ate on the ground floor in a light and airy room with floor to ceiling windows.

Now down to the serious business, the food and the wines. Whilst trying to make up our minds we enjoyed some mushroom croquettes with tarragon aioli and what was described as crispy pigs head –again a sort of croquette but filled with small pieces of moist pork. Both were suitably light and tasty. Mr. Simmons’ cuisine might be described as Welsh/British/French fusion. Where possible he uses the highest quality Welsh produce. Somewhat counterintuitively I began with tender Orkney king scallops which came with a rectangle of tender pork belly. Other options included a beautifully served mushroom veloute, rabbit and pistachio terrine and Welsh black beef tartare. For my main course I fell for the fillet of Welsh beef. This consisted of two prefect rectangles of beef, cooked medium rare, a beef short rib, mushroom puree and girolles. The pleasure of autumn on a plate. There was also Welsh lamb loin of course, Shetland salmon, and Creedy Carver duck breast (from Devon). All of the crew were very enthusiastic about their choices.

Desserts were equally tempting. I chose a sort of deconstructed apple terrine, which was ideal with the dessert wines. There was also panna cotta with espresso jelly, roast figs with white chocolate rice pudding, dark chocolate fondant, or a selection of four perfect Welsh, English and French cheeses.

As you might expect with former members of the wine trade we brought some of our special bottles to share. We started with the restaurant’s Falanghina – suitably fruity and refreshing. (87 points – this diary uses Robert Parker’s 100 system, widely used in wine literature). We then moved on to Chateau Montrose 2001 kindly brought by the Bearded Swan Warden. 2001 was a good year in the Medoc. Montrose is one of the two greatest chateaux in St. Estephe. The first bottle was delicious, rich yet elegant with just enough tannin to keep it balanced. Sadly the second bottle was leaner and firmer, almost astringent. This might be thought strange given the two bottles came from the same case, but you would be surprised how often it happens. (94 point for the first bottle). We then had Chateau Pesquie Quintessence Rouge 2005 en magnum from the Ventoux in southern France, brought by the guida esperta di Finchley. I’ve known Chateau Pesquie’s excellent wines for many years. Indeed their Les Terrases red is a sort of house wine chez your Man. However when tasting the Quintessence in its youth I’ve always wondered how well it would develop. The answer is splendidly. A blend of syrah and grenache at this age it could be mistaken for something much grander: a Gigondas perhaps, or even a Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Some chose the cheese option to continue to enjoy it. (92 points).

Your M.A.E was pleased to provide two classic Sauternes in half-bottles from the fine 2007 vintage to enjoy and compare: Chateau Coutet and Chateau Rieussec. Tasting the two alongside each other, initially the Coutet (actually a Barsac) was the more impressive. It was a deeper gold in colour, with a rich butterscotch nose and full and rich (even sweet) on the palate. (93 points) The Rieussec was at first much more reticent (unusually), but with a bit of air began to show it was the better balanced wine: less rich perhaps but displaying greater complexity and structure. It would also be the more useful food wine, better able to stand up to the various tasks Sauternes has to fulfil, matching foie gras, Roquefort cheese and tarte tatin with equal ease. (95 points, perhaps more). Before excellent coffee we sampled a Colheita port by Feist (effectively a tawny port from a particular year, long aged in wood) from the outstanding 1977 vintage. Far from being “feisty” this was a gentle old lady, light reddish - brown in colour, just a little cloudy, with an enticing nose of spices and orange peel. Only a little bit sweet now, it was the perfect digestif – the antithesis of young vintage port and much more suited to conclude a very special lunch. 93 points for the port. ***** for the lunch. Thanks to all present. We must do this again sometime, says M.A.E.

Trains better on the way back and home for a light supper.

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