Monday, 28 May 2012

Rosé de Provence: a glamorous taste of summer

I've been waiting too long to write this piece. After an endlessly cold, damp, dreary spring, we are now basking in bright sunshine and temperatures in the high 20s. Back in April, on a cool evening, I braved it through heavy rain to the Bistro du Vin in Soho to taste some Provence rosé. These offer a chic and refreshing contrast to the deep coloured, powerfully flavoured rosés that dominate supermarket shelves. I've always been drawn to delicately hued, restrained Provence rosé, while visualising lavender fields, olive groves and yachts bobbing up and down on glinting water (without a noisy jet-ski in sight). There aren't many wines more perfectly suited to summer.

At the Bistro du Vin we heard about the work of the Provence-based Rosé Research Centre (apparently the only organisation in the world dedicated to this style of wine). The emphasis is on careful, controlled winemaking to produce such pale, clean, fresh wines and to preserve the fresh acidity. Three wines were presented that reflected this approach (and all of which I really liked):

Côtes de Provence Tradition 2011 from Domaine Sainte Marie (Baume les Mimosas, near Saint Tropez): a blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cabernet and Mourvèdre. Creamy strawberry fruit, aromatic and fragrant, with a whiff of minerality. Refreshing and stylish. (8 Euros ex cellars. Not available in the UK.)

Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence, Cuvée Aix Rosé 2011 from Domaine de la Grande Séouve. This Grenache dominated blend (Grenache 60%, Cinsault 20%, Syrah/Counoise 20%) has a tasty savoury complexity and aromatic fragrant fruit – a great food wine. (Majestic Wine £12; also available in magnums.)

Coteaux Varois en Provence, Perle de Margüi Rosé 2011 from Château Margüi. A Cinsault/Grenache blend, very pale (from 90 minutes' skin contact), dry, crisp, aromatic, with a particularly fragrant finish. Subtle and chic. (11.50 Euros ex cellars. Not available in the UK.)

We enjoyed these three wines with canapés and more Provence rosés were served with dinner. Although rosé is a versatile option, I selected lighter dishes at dinner for these subtle wines: firstly Cornish crab with toasted sourdough (although there was a lot of dark meat, so quite an intense flavour to take on), followed by fillet of bream, crab potato (an inspired idea) and parsley velouté.

Crab struck me as an ideal match for Provence rosé and some shone: Château du Galoupet Côtes de Provence Cru Classé 2010 (£13.08 for 50cl from London Wine Shippers) and Domaine Ott, Clos Mireille Coeur de Grain 2010 (£27.95 from Roberson Wine). I've always regarded Ott as a bit blingy, but here it was very dry and deliciously savoury. It tasted serious, as it should for the price. With the cheese, Vignelaure rosé (£11.95 Wine Society) did a good job, especially with the creamy, slightly tangy cabécou. Perhaps demonstrating rosé's versatility, further along the table, it was enjoyed with steak. With dessert we had another smart dry rosé Côtes de Provence (Château d'Esclans 2011 from Sacha Lichine £21.50 Bibendum Wine). This was not flattered by the redberry sorbets, shortbread and cream which made it taste bitter. For me, the fish and seafood and canapés were the best matches.

I attended the event as a guest of Provence Wines.

Top pic: courtesy of Provence Rosé/Hachette.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

When cooking goes wrong

Cooking can be a hit and miss affair. Over the years I've got much better at following recipes, particularly to expand my repertoire and to get a better technical understanding. But you still need to keep pushing boundaries and take the odd risk.

Not long ago I had a misguided experiment with some duck. I roasted the bird and then deglazed the pan with a generous slug of Campari, stirring in redcurrant jelly. To say this didn't work is quite an understatement. My husband who is not the greatest fan of Campari anyway (I love it!) observed all this, grimacing. I thought the aromatic bitterness would make a perfect foil to cut through the rich duck fat. But no, it just tasted bitter. Horribly bitter. And the bitterness seemed to intensify. So much so that I had to replate my food. Sensibly, my husband already had already done this by that point. I even recall blotting my duck with some kitchen roll to remove all traces of the sauce. (Bizarrely, it had tasted fairly balanced and interesting when I sampled it from the pan.)

The subject of when cooking goes wrong was suggested to me by my friend Ginny who lives in Greece who sent in the picture of the burnt loaf. She's a keen cook, very ambitious and (obviously) couldn't wait to try out a wood-fired oven that came as part of her family's new built-in barbecue. It looks like a lovingly prepared loaf and it's almost heartbreaking seeing it like this. However, she tells me that after much hilarity, her sons removed the charred crust and 'scoffed' the rest of the loaf. The flavour must have been fabulous. Not surprisingly, they are now on the look out for a decent oven thermometer – and still keep laughing about it!

Do please let me know if you've had similar experiences. We can learn from each others' mistakes...

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Brunswick House Café: a gem in Vauxhall

There is something unlikely about the Brunswick House Café in Vauxhall. Even on a cheerful, sunny day Vauxhall can seem a bit dreary (until you snatch a glimpse of the river). It's certainly not at its best in pouring rain, so on a cool, wet, grey late April day I came upon the unexpectedly cheerful delights of the Brunswick House Café. I was there for lunch with a rather special friend who worked nearby and who is moving to France with her family. She works for a notable wine company and she told me that, as well as being a customer, the Brunswick House Café had practically become a work canteen. (My only grouch with the place – and I'll flag this up now – is having some very decent wine served in a tumbler. It always strikes me as an affectation, so I wonder if her colleagues take their own glasses. Call me a purist, but I do prefer a stem on my glass!)

Brunswick House is home to LASSCO, the architectural salvage company, so, basically, the café is located within an extraordinary warehouse and the display starts before you walk in. You pass through a bar which looks ideal for early evening drinks or just a morning coffee and end up in a room full of interesting period furnishings.

Simply prepared seasonal food is order of the day prepared by chef, Jackson Boxer (grandson of food writer Arabella Boxer), so there were some early spring treats on the menu. My friend ordered a main course, porcini, artichoke and nettle risotto and I ordered two starters. My fennel and celeriac soup with wild garlic and buttered almonds was decadently creamy, garlicky, but not overwhelming so, and with a nice little crunch from the almonds. It was garnished with some garlic flowers and looked like spring in a bowl. Served with plenty of tasty sourdough bread and butter, it would have been ideal for lunch on its own. However, I was keen to try more from this tempting menu.

My second dish was smoked cod's roe, radishes, soft boiled egg and toast. I have a bit of a weakness for egg yolk, so could not resist the sound of this. And it was gorgeous. Again, another perfectly judged lunch dish – rich, unctuous, yet offset by the firm, tangy radishes. It was served with more of their delicious sourdough, this time toasted. My friend wasn't drinking, but I sipped some Semillon from Provence which worked well with both dishes - freshly and gently aromatic, with enough weight to tackle that egg yolk.

If I'd had longer, I'd also have gone for the white sprouting broccoli with romesco and anchovies. I've recently made romesco sauce, so was tempted to try their more expert version. These starter-size dishes cost about £5 and mains are from about £7. Great value for money. My glass of wine was £2.70 (£16 per bottle) from an excellent short list, with plenty of options under £30. Europe dominates and, if you are celebrating you could treat yourself to a bottle of Jacquesson Cuvée 734 for £55 (Champagne really doesn't get much better than this). Alternatively, they offer a Prosecco for just £21.20 which would be a versatile choice for spring. I do hope they have proper flutes for these. There are also some interesting beers and a Breton cider.

I'd love to go back for dinner. I imagine it's probably quite romantic in the evening, that's if you like vintage bits and pieces and the mellow tones of old wood. If not, there are always meatballs and lingenberry sauce at Ikea.

Brunswick House Café
30 Wandsworth Road
London SW8 2LG
Tel 020 7720 2926