Friday, June 19, 2009

L’Ortolan take II

I made it to the l'Ortolan restaurant last night for a meal with a fellow wine geek from the USA, it was a good evening although we talked about work far to much and not enough about wine!

I had a set menu which was part of a mid-week offer that the restaurant is running currently at a fixed price of £38 per head although the final bill came to over £100 in the end as we got through a couple of bottles of wine, one good and one awful (more on that later).

So the food, overall very good, proceedings got underway with an amuse bouche of cold (fishy) vichyssoise, ok but not memorable, then the starter consisted of pressed confit of pork belly with parsley, shallots and grain mustard, I'd give it 8/10 the pork was well prepared and had a nice savoury-sweet thing going on which tweaked the appetite nicely. For the main course I had roasted rump of veal, sweetbreads, morel mushroom ravioli and truffle oil, I really liked this dish easily 9/10, beautiful presentation the flavours complemented each other well and although the portion was quite small it was a satisfying dish. Next up was a little sorbet (apricot or something like that) and I chose to take the cheese course rather than a pudding, I ended my meal with some Pont-l'Évêque, roquefort and brie.

Wine-wise we tried a bottle of Mas de Daumas Gassac red 2006, not a wine I have had before but have always wanted to try. It comes from the south of France (near Montpellier) not quite a proper cotes du Rhone perhaps more Languedoc. The wine is primarily cabernet sauvignon 80% and then 20% blend of all kinds of other grapes including syrah and petit verdot. They must do a pretty harsh selection because the concentration is great, a serious wine that would probably age very well. Upfront nose of dark fruits and wood, silky smooth on the palette, dense, minerals, slightly funky in a good way (must have some mourvedre in it?), fairly long finish, I must buy some of this!

The second wine we had was a little more down market (expense accounts bulging slightly at this point!) we went for the Stump Jump red a GSM blend from the d'Arenberg stable, this was awful, not faulty but just poor, it tasted weedy and acidic with way too much alcohol and frankly worth avoiding, stupid name, pointless wine.

The only thing that really lets this restaurant down is the wine list, for a 1 star establishment the choice is really poor and the prices are simply ludicrous, the Mas weighed in at £60 (£20 retail) and the Stump £25 (£8 retail) so a roughly 3X mark up on both wines, this kind of thing really sticks in my throat.

I was so disappointed by the second wine we had that we retired after the meal to my house where I raided the cellar for a lovely bottle of Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1 Cabernet (2005), a sumptuous and rich wine full of black currents, blackberries, meaty, vanilla and toast flavours with a typical minty and long finish, in fact I can still taste it now!


Elizabeth said...

Good reporting. Was it crowded or does it seem like the recession has hit there too?

The food sounded great. Being an American, I have no appreciation for fine wine so will have to take your word for it.

No wonder you had a bad head this morning!

Steve Borthwick said...

E, yes surprisingly around 75% full.

Being American is no excuse for appreciating fine wine!!, did you know that the most famous & powerful wine critic in the world is an American! (Robert Parker) and you've got California producing some pretty decent wine, unlike poor old England!

Elizabeth said...

Yeah, I know about Robert Parker but that doesn't mean I can understand a thing that he writes. Put a glass of horse wee in front of me and tell me it was a fine year, and I'll believe you.

Steve Borthwick said...

I meant "being an American is no excuse for not appreciating fine wine"..

Steve Borthwick said...

E, I'm sure a keen student of scepticism like you wouldn't "just believe" anything without evidence, quite a few glasses would need to be evaluated surely?


Lisa said...

*I'm* an american with a bit of an appreciation for fine wine, but then my mother collected fine bordeaux all my life, and as children we had little cordial glasses of the stuff on holidays, so that may have helped. :-)

Now, I HATE that resturants jack up the prices of wine so much. There's no necessity to make such a grand profit from something to which you have added no value.

AND it doesn't even seem to be an issue of demand price, since people who are price conscious will just order a cheaper wine, not decline to order altogther - and why would someone creating lovely cuisine wish to have that happen? Why not have the whole experience be the best that it can be, including the libations that complement the food (of course I realise there are wonderful cheaper wines, but I am making an overall point)?

Having said that, once I was in Paris with a friend who doesn't drink alcohol, and when he ordered a coke, the waiter replied: Ah, oui, le vin americain!

Steve Borthwick said...

Lisa, exactly right!, the mark-ups on wine have gradually been creeping up over the last few years as margins elsewhere in the restaurant business have been squeezed. It is coming to a point now where most of the time I just feel ripped off, and find myself eating at home much more because of it.

You are also right that there are some bargains to be found out there (that's half the fun of being a wine geek!), but I have seldom found value at the cheaper end of restaurant wine lists; I reckon most of them are "supplied" from distributors who look to maximise their own margins rather than hand picking the wines based on someone's tasting experience.

PS. it sounds like your mother had the right approach!