Category Archives: Eating out

Fine wine and magnificent food at The Walnut Tree

Food and eating out is a great passion of mine but this is a blog about wine, and very rarely do I write restaurant reviews unless there is a very good reason. My experience this last weekend offered not one good reason, but two superb ones:

An exquisitely chosen and well priced wine list
The cooking of a real superstar chef

The Walnut Tree just outside Abergavenny is a culinary legend, which was run by Franco Taruschio for over 35 years, until he sold up in 2000. It became known as one of the best restaurants in Wales during that time and its wonderful to see it back where it belongs after some difficult times (anyone remember seeing it on the awful Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in 2004??).

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The restaurant is now run by the brilliant Shaun Hill, who since taking over the reins in 2008 has won the restaurant a Michelin star and was awarded UK restaurant of the year in 2009. Shaun has worked in some fantastic kitchens but rose to fame at Gidleigh Park, where he even appeared in one of Keith Floyd’s brilliant TV programmes! However it was The Merchant House in Ludlow where he gained huge critical acclaim, cooking single handedly every night for 24 lucky diners… It’s my biggest culinary regret that I never got to eat there.

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But no point in regretting the past, at least we can all now enjoy Shaun’s cooking at the wonderful Walnut Tree. Recently Shaun appeared on Simon Hopkinson’ excellent cookery programme where his food was described as “simple”. His response was brilliant:

“It takes 6 chefs 10 to 12 hours a day to make it this simple.”

The biggest difficulty here is choosing what to have as everything on the menu sounds amazing. Luckily the four of us all went for different options – was dining with The Fish and the in-laws – the event was Den’s birthday. For starters we had Steak Tartare and chips, Quail with grapes, sweetbreads with sour kraut, and a salad of courgettes and sugar snap peas. It was all delicious and really got the tastebuds going.

Main courses included skate with pancetta and broad beans, suckling pork with morcilla and empanada, sea bass with mussels in a spicy broth, and skirt steak with Provençal tomato. Everything was cooked to perfection and the combination of ingredients and flavours were spectacular. I also have to give a special mention the dauphine potatoes that came with the beef – they were like potato doughnuts and possibly the best carbohydrate side dish of all time!

There wasn’t really room for dessert… But we didn’t let that stop us. Chocolate and raspberry torte, strawberry pavlova, gooseberry jelly crumble, and chocolate and pear tart. What’s not to like? Well nothing actually, it was all tip-top and we were just left smiling and shaking our heads at the skill of the kitchen. Everything was sublime. And the real beauty is there is no pretence whatsoever. The staff are delightfully friendly yet unobtrusive, there are no smears and foams on the plate; everything is just as it should be. Brilliant food in a wonderful environment.

Oh, and there was the wine too!

The last time I wrote about a restaurant wine list it was to praise the amazing value of the list Ye Olde Bull’s Head in Beaumaris… Well it seems that Wales is the place for excellent value wine as The Walnut Tree also boasts a wonderful selection at very agreeable prices. The list is also organised in an extremely logical format:

Essential wines – varietal wines that everyone will recognise
Core wines – exciting newer stuff and shining stars that are good value
Classic wines – plenty of famous wines at nit so famous prices

There’s a lovely piece on their website talking about how wine service in restaurants can be quite elaborate, but their approach is straightforward; offer you a taste to check the condition, pour a small glass for each diner and then leave it up to you. Wonderfully simple and exactly what most diners crave, I know I hate it when waiters are constantly topping up glasses.

I wanted a bottle of white and a bottle of red and I like to go for one from the old world and one from the new. I’m a bit more experimental with my white wines but its probably no surprise that I selected a Riesling from New Zealand and a red Burgundy. But i could’ve gone for any number of combinations as the selection is beautifully considered and put together. Mark-ups are around 100% up on retail prices which I consider to be very fair, especially when so many places in London are upwards of 300%.

Here’s what we enjoyed:

Spy Valley Riesling 2011, Marlborough, NZ (£34.00)
If I didn’t know I would’ve thought this wine came from Western Australia – it shares that wonderful pithy lime character which just gets the mouth watering. There’s just a hint of the tropics in the background and a bone dry, almost chalky finish. An excellent wine for the starter courses or maybe just as an aperitif. 92 points

Domaine Marechal Pommard 2009, Burgundy (£64.00)
Delightfully delicate and silky for a Pommard. Having said that there is plenty of leather and animal hiding beneath the delicious red currant and wild strawberry fruit. I love these Pinots from the Côte de Beaune and this is another cracker – I will certainly be on the lookout for more Marechal offerings. 93 points

Vivat Bacchus South African Wine Festival

There are a few wine fans where I work and they tell me they enjoy reading my ramblings about the subject. On a Monday we’ll often have a chat about what was drunk over the weekend (obviously I’d never let on that I sometimes have a tipple on a school night!). John is a South African who only seems to drink South African wine, and Michelle loves big gutsy reds; so when I got an email from Vivat Bacchus about their South African wine festival, we decided to go for it.

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Vivat Bacchus describes itself as “a celebration of rustic, robust food, artisan cheeses and great wines” and I would say its not far from the truth – however the food is definitely on the polished side of rustic! The festival ran for three days, with a tasting of 8 South African winemakers followed by a wine dinner, with different wine makers featured each night. We went for the dinner on the Tuesday as the producer of one of my favourite white wines, De Morgenzon, was on the bill.

First of all the tasting was quite an eye opener. I was expecting a lot of Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, but what was delivered was almost a homage to The Rhone Valley – Viognier and Roussane whites and Syrah and Mouvedre reds. It’s an exciting time for South African wines and there were some excellent wines on show. However I did feel many of the wines were a work in progress and I’d love to have had a few more Chenin, Cabernet and Pinotage based wines as a benchmark. When we got to a Cabernet/Syrah blend, John muttered the immortal words “I cut my milk teeth on wines like this!” – here he is telling us about it!

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But as I’ve already said, there were some excellent wines, and these were my picks of the night:

De Morgenzon Garden Vineyards Rose 2012, Stellenbosch (£11.25)
The smell of summer. Lots of red fruit with wild strawberries and red currants. Mouth-puckeringly dry, simple but tasty. 88 points

High Constantia Sebastiaan 2003 (unavailable in UK)
A Bordeaux blend with lots of red fruit, smoke and earthy minerality. I was surprised that the wasn’t more than 30% Cab Franc in the blend as it was very aromatic. Quite tannic upfront but melted away to reveal red currants and spice. Good length. 91 points

Mont du Toit Kelder Le Sommet 2003, Western Cape (£62.50)
The blend isn’t divulged but I suspect there is a high proportion of Cabernet and Syrah. Lots of dark cherry, plum and black currant and warm spices. There is a wonderful balance of smooth tannins and lively acidity. A damn good wine. 92 points (we also tried the 2002 which ad been decanted but it didn’t have the elegance or balance of the 03)

Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2011, Elgin Valley (£17.50)
Beautiful peach and melon fruit with just a hint of the tropics, all snugly held together with beautifully judged oak. Very fresh with razor sharp acidity. 90 points

Paul Cluver Riesling, Elgin Valley (£13.50)
See note in dinner section.

Rustenberg Straw Wine 2011 (£12.50 375ml)
See note in dinner section.

Spice Route Chakalaka 2009, Swartland (£16.00)
Blend is 37% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 18% Carignan, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Grenache and 4% Tannat. This matches up to many Chateauneuf du Papes at twice the price! Lots of brambly fruit and spice, so smooth and delightful balance with superb acidity. An excellent wine and magnificent value. 92 points

After that it was onto the dinner. Five courses of South African inspired food, each matched with one of the wines from the earlier tasting. You’ll see from my notes above that 2 of my favourite wines were included, but the 2 other wines were so much better when matched with their food partners.

Chicken Liver Terrine with Spiced Mango Chutney
Paul Cluver Riesling, Elgin Valley (£13.50)
Aromas of lemons and limes that come through on the palate with real style. Superb balance of fruit, acidity and sweetness (just off-dry). Ripe, fruity and delicious – a great match for the chicken livers and the best value wine of the night. 91 points

Crocodile Medallions with lightly Pickled Vegetables
De Morgenzon Maestro 2011, Stellenbosch (£17.50)
First time for me to eat crocodile… And yes it is a bit like chicken! The wine us a blend of Rousanne, Chenin, Chardonnay and Viognier. Peach and apricot fruit with a hint if oaky vanilla on the nose. Nice reach and creamy palate, with almost enough acidity to balance. Finish a bit short but a good wine. 88 points (De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc Reserve 2011 is one of my very favourite white wines. Unfortunately it is now all on allocation and my local merchant can’t get good if it anymore. Aaarrgghh!)

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Lamb Osso Bucco with Ratatouille, Croquette Potatoes & Red Wine Sauce
High Constantia Cabernet Franc 2006 (£21.25)
Lots of red fruits and green herb aromas with just a hint of smoke. Red currant and cranberry fruit on the palate, maybe a bit green on the finish but quite charming. 89 points

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Cheese – Pont d’Yeu (France), Taleggio (Italy), Goats Cheese (sorry don’t like the stuff!)
Spice Route Mouvedre 2009, Swartland (£11.25)
Autumn Hedgerow fruit with lots of warm spicy goodness, with hints of gamey, roasted meat. If you like the Rhone you’ll like this – to me it could have been 50/50 Syrah/Grenache. Simple but delicious. 89 points

Milk Tart with Koeksister
Rustenberg Straw Wine 2011 (£12.50 375ml)
Koeksister are basically deep fruit doughnuts which are then rolled in cold sugar-syrup and John describes as “better than sex”! They are very good indeed! The sweet wine is a blend of Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Crouchen Blanc – a new one to me. The grapes are laid out on straw mats and allowed to dry for 4 weeks after harvest to concentrate the sugars. I couldn’t believe there was no Riesling in there! Apricots and nectarines, lovely freshness and deliciously viscous body. A superb way to end a superb meal. 92 points

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I can’t wait to return to Vivat Bacchus – check out their website.

Sometimes the wine isn’t so important

If you’re here to read about wine I apologise. I will mention wine. Not very good wine. Because sometimes it really doesn’t matter. Well it does matter; but sometimes great food is enough, and wine is simply the sideshow.

My place where this is the case is Hanako in Watford. It is my very favourite place to eat. It is run by an amazing couple; the husband used to be the head chef at the Japanese embassy, his wife is the perfect hostess. There is no wine list but it just doesn’t matter. When we’re asked what we want to drink we simply say “a bottle of white wine, please”. It’s usually a bottle of Kumala branded averageness, or this last time a Pinot Grigio/Trebbiano blend of not muchness. But when food is this good… So what!

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Whether you like sashimi, sushi, tempura, noodles or curry, there’s something here for you. This last visit we had prawn and cuttlefish tempura and beef tataki to start. The prawn tempura is the best battered fish anywhere, the cuttlefish is amazing and the rice wine/soy sauce dressing with the tataki is sublime.

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Then we had the mixed sashimi & sushi plate. Bloody brilliant. The salmon, tuna, scallop and sea bream sashimi. The amazing hand rolls and nigiri…it’s all so good. And compared to anywhere else in London, its very decent value (Japanese is never cheap!)

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I know I should give the saki a go, or should suggest a few decent bottles, but do you know what? When the food is this good, don’t whine about the wine!

A great Good Friday

Aren’t Bank Holidays great? Good Friday may be the best of all – you don’t have to go to work today or tomorrow! I have to admit that quite often I do very little on a bank holiday and then spend the following days thinking “if only”. Today I decided it would not be the case this time around, so here’s my 3 step guide to a great day off.

Step 1

Get a haircut. The afro was getting a bit out of hand so £7 at Tony’s was my bargain start to the day off. Only three months to go until the next visit!

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Step 2

Make the most of the Easter supermarket deals. I mentioned this in the newsletter this week, but to me the Waitrose 25% off fine wine promo is not to be sniffed at and not to be missed. After stopping for a nice bit of brekkie at Coco in Croxley Green, I headed to pick up some great deals:

Joseph Drouhin Chorey les Beaune £11.99 from £15.99
Felsner Moosburgerin Gruner Veltliner £8.59 from £11.49
Brazin Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel £9.74 from £12.99
The Hedonist Shiraz £9.74 from £12.99
Oddero Barolo £17.99 was £23.99
Vouvray Clos des Nouys £10.99 – wasn’t on promo but hey ho!

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Step 3

Go to the Tapa Room for an early dinner. I love the casual and sharing nature of the Tapa Room on Marylebone High Street. I also love how every dish sounds like there might be 3 ingredients too many but when each dish arrives the balance is perfect. Me and The Fish enjoyed a fair few dishes including:

Onion & kohlrabi bhaji
Pear, onion and Stilton tart
Paprika spiced squid
Scallops with chilli sauce
Duck rillettes
Lamb spring rolls
Beef brisket “pizza”

It was all fabulous. And even better was a bottle of Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir 2009… If anyone knows where I can buy a case please let me know!

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I hope your Good Friday was a Great Friday too!

Half Term Hijack – guest blog by The Fish!

Apart from incredible job satisfaction, one of the best things about being a teacher is that you get a whole week off in February. So, when Wine Geek went back to work on Thursday, I headed into London with fellow colleagues and ladies who lunch, Vics and Rochey. This time, our destination was Bubbledogs on Charlotte Street.

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As with many of these fashionable fast food places, Bubbledogs does not take bookings. Luckily, it was only a short wait for a great table and we easily idled away the minutes taking in the cool décor (all exposed brick and blackboards) and eyeing up the menu (not extensive but all very tempting). There was a sticky moment when we were asked to give up our table before we even got it to a family who had arrived shortly after us. Luckily, Vicky doesn’t take any crap from Year 9 or cute French waiters so the family behind us just had to wait a while longer.
As the name implies, Bubbledogs is all about champagne and hot dogs, a fabulous combination. The wine menu features a wide range of fizz, arranged under sub headings such as ‘a lick of chalk and stones’, ‘ripe fruit bowl’ and ‘touch of spice.’ We selected a 100% Chardonnay blanc de blancs from the ‘so fresh, so clean’ section and it certainly lived up to its billing – delicate bubbles and a pure crisp taste. Fortified by fizz, we studied the menu with care and concentration, finally opting for one New York Original (onions and sauerkraut), one Reuben (sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss Cheese) and one BLT (bacon, lettuce and truffle mayo). In the interests of research, we also ordered all three of the sides on offer (tots, sweet potato fries and coleslaw). The food was all delicious; we left one tiny potato tot to be polite.
Having finished the bubbles and the dogs, it felt like a natural progression to cross the road to the stylish Charlotte Street Hotel for a few afternoon cocktails to finish our lovely lunch. Oh, and don’t feel too sorry for Wine Geek; I picked up a Baker Street lamb samosa for him on the way home!

Cornwall #2 – Sunday Best… With a little Rick Rant

Time moves slowly in Padstow; I love it. Everything happens in s-l-o-w motion. You have the time to compute and digest; time to enjoy the little things. I’ve never been a fan of walking – anyone who knows me will tell you I’d rather hear about it in the pub! This morning we went for a stroll along the cliffs and back long the beach. It was spectacular, even with the wind blowing sand and salt into our faces and stinging our eyes. It was fresh and bracing… And do you know what made it better? I felt like I deserved my lunchtime pints of Trelawny ale! There’s nothing quite like sitting in the pub at lunchtime on a Sunday.

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Oh, and a pasty overlooking the harbour is a pretty good feeling too! One of my favourite views in Padstow is these three pasty shops in a row… Magic.

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But we’re here to talk about wine so lets get to the action; lets get back to Bin Two. Here’s a link to their site – it’s a must-do for any visit to Padstow (Bin Two website).

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I was dead-set on a bottle of white wine from the New World and was ready to plunge for a NZ Chardonnay… But The Fish was in French mode so we agreed on a compromise… And what a belter it was!

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Domaine Larue Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Les Cortons 2008 (Bin Two £24.00)
Apple and savoury buttered crumble with custard spiked with nutmeg and vanilla. Delicious aromas. Buttery, toasty savouriness combines with a beautiful acid steak of apples as well as some tropical fruits. The oak is beautifully judged and integrated through the finish, which is delightful and lingering. This is a massively underrated Burgundy appellation. 92 points

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Our dinner appointment was at St Petroc’s, another Stein establishment. This is a bistro with a really bustly feel and a more meaty menu. Starters of prawns in ouzo, tomato and feta for The Fish, and crab and gruyere tart for me, were excellent. The wines by the glass were also delicious:

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Rick Stein Champagne Blanc de Blancs NV (£8.50/glass)
Biscuity and yeasty with a delightfully creamy texture. A bit of peach and touch of gooseberry but this was all about the patisserie character and was a real knockout. 90 points

Rick Stein’s Spanish White 2011 (£5.75/glass)
Peaches and nectarines, with a bit of pink grapefruit bitterness and honeyed sweetness. Really bright and fresh. Made with Verdejo grapes from Galicia, this is a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. Simple but delicious. 87 points

For main course we shared the Chateaubriand and it really hit the mark, accompanied with an excellent Bordelaise sauce and superb pommes coq D’Or. The wine we chose was a great a compliment too:

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Chateau Bauduc 2009 Bordeaux Supérieur (£27.00)
Lashings of strawberry from the predominant Merlot and a lick of cassis from the Cabernet Sauvignon. All of this was supported by a wonderful kick of pepper and some nicely tuned tannins. A really enjoyable claret. 88 points

The rant

I love Rick Stein. I love his TV shows and I love his books. One of the things I really enjoy is when Rick goes on one of his rants… So Rick, here’s one for you…

The wine list at St Petroc’s is short and well judged. Almost everything is under £30 a bottle and there are delicious choices from France, Spain, Argentina and Australia. But £27 for a bottle for a Guigal Cotes du Rhone I can buy for £7.99 in Majestic? I love this wine, but not at £27! And if I’m going to buy a half bottle (which doesn’t happen that often in all honesty!), I expect to pay half the price… Not £20.90 when a whole bottle costs £27.10! I ask myself why???

Apart from that, it was great!

Cornwall #1 – Bin (Two) dreaming about this

It’s holiday time and the destination is Padstow, Cornwall. There are certainly worse places for a wine and food lover to be cooped up for five days! The agenda is tough but I’m prepared to give it a go:

Saturday – wine at Bin Two, dinner at Rick Stein Fish & Chips, couple of pints
Sunday – lunch, wine at Bin Two, dinner at St Petroc’s, couple of pints
Monday – lunch and tasting at Camel Valley, dinner at Outlaw’s
Tuesday – sod all, dinner at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw
Wednesday – lunch & tasting at Knightor Winery, home

I’m looking forward to it all and hope you enjoy reading about it… Here’s episode #1!

Bin Two is the most fantastic wine shop/bar in the middle of the almost perfect seaside town that is Padstow. There are a number of interesting wines by the glass as well as a fine selection of Billecart Salmon Champagne, but the real delight here is the vast selection by the bottle, any of which you can buy to take away, or for a corkage charge of £7.50, drink there and then.

I really fancied a fantastic bottle of red to kick off the holiday in style. Amarone, Coonawarra Cabernet, Hermitage… But of course, I reached the Burgundy selection and knew that’s where Saturday afternoon would begin. And what a fine selection there is. I decided on a Beaune 1er Cru from the wonderful Domaine DeMontille (check out the tasting notes!) and was rewarded with a fine bottle to get things started.

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Domaine de Montille 1er Cru Les Sizies 2005, Beaune, Burgundy (Bin Two £45.00)
First stop an obvious choice… But a good one. Cherries and raspberries jump out of the glass, with that gorgeous leathery Burgundian aroma, along with a dash of violet. Good texture with a bit of chew even though the body is very light. Red cherries, Kirsch even, on the pâté with an interesting animal note, and fine, gentle tannins. Good length and got better after 30 minutes. Still a few years left here. 91 points

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Next port of call was Stein’s chippy. I’ve been here a couple of times and really enjoyed it, but today was a new level. To start, me and The Fish had a couple of battered scallops each and my lord were they good! Big, plump and just so sweet… Why can’t you buy these in more chip shops? But the star of the show was my main event. The Fish went for locally caught squid, which was served calamari style, deep fried in breadcrumbs and was truly delicious. But not a patch on my battered bream. It’s not often you can recognise the species of fish in a fine beer batter, but this was like eating a fillet straight from the shores of Portugal. Magnificent! And to accompany, a couple of large glasses of Muscadet:

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Chateau du Cleray Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Reserve 2009 (£8.50 250ml)
Beautiful aromas of grapefruit, pear and sea salt. The fruit and salt comes through on the palate but the yeasty goodness on good Muscadet is missing. I’m a big fan of this very under-appreciated wine, but this just falls a tad short. 86 points

And to finish, a couple of delicious pints of St Austell Tribute and Doom Bar… Then bed and preparation for another tough day!

Best value wine list… No Bull

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Going back home to Anglesey for New Year, what I had really been looking forward to was a visit to The Loft restaurant at Ye Olde Bull’s Head in Beaumaris. I hadn’t been there for a few years as we never seem to be on Anglesey for long enough to squeeze it in. So on the first night on “The Rock” me, The Fish, Mum and Peter headed off to Beaumaris for a culinary feast. The food was superb and every bit as good as I remembered (sample menu here!) but what was of more interest to me was the wine list. Below is a sample from the offering:

Domaine Gérard Duplessis, Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillon” 2007 £27.00
Domaine Dujac, Morey Saint Denis, 2001 £52.00
Château Talbot, Grand Cru Classé, Saint Julien 2001 £49.50
Domaine de Vallouit, Hermitage 1999 £43.50
Sori Ginestra Conterno Fantino, Barolo, 2000 Piedmont £56.50
Henschke Julius Dry Riesling 2005, Eden Valley South Australia £24.50
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough NZ £36.50

You can view the whole list here

A very nice list of wines but just look at the prices. This is not a retail price list, this is a restaurant price list! At first I thought they had printed their purchase prices! I was so astounded by this that I did a bit of investigating for these wines on winesearcher.com as well as looking for their price in some top London restaurants. I won’t name the restaurants but they all have at least one Michelin star.

The Chablis (tasting notes later) retail price is around £17 – I couldn’t find the same wine on another restaurant list but a £10 mark-up is definitely acceptable. Domaine Dujac has a fine reputation and rightly so; £52 for a decent vintage from Morey Saint Denis was enough to make me go for it. The cheapest I could find this bottle on sale to the public? £66.67. How do they do it?

How about Bordeaux? The 2001 Chateau Talbot, yours for £49.50 at The Bull or £43 from Fine & Rare. If you want to buy this wine in a London 2-star establishment then expect to pay a whopping £175! The only bottle with more than a 100% increase on the retail price was Cloudy Bay. £36.50 at The Bull or £18 online. I would expect this as Cloudy Bay is a recognised brand that will draw the crowds and 100% mark-up isn’t ridiculous. Expect to pay over £60 in London!

Needless to say, this is the most impressive and value for money price list I have have ever come across. And with 10 reds and 10 whites by the half bottle also at great prices, it is a must visit if you find yourself on Anglesey or anywhere near North Wales. Don’t forget the food is also top-notch!

But it makes me realise that I’m being taken for a ride in London. I know that wine is the tool for money making in the restaurant business, but please be reasonable or I’m just going to go for the house wine and save my money and buy four bottles of what I actually want online!

Domaine Gérard Duplessis, Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillon” 2007 (£27.00)
Lots of apple with a fresh citrus streak on the nose. The wine has good body, quite “fat” for Chablis but very good nevertheless. The appley fruit is very pronounced but so is the cool, dry limestone flavour, which is beautifully integrated with the fruit. Very decent, especially at this price. 88 points

Domaine Dujac, Morey Saint Denis, 2001 (£52.00)
I’ve had plenty of good bottles from the Burgundy 2001 vintage this year and this is no different. Lovely cherry and raspberry fruit aromas and flavours. In fact, for a wine of its age the fruit is very prominent. Hints of undergrowth and mushroom but pretty linear and very delicious. 90 points

Brown Brothers Orange Muscat & Flora Special Late Harvest 2010, Australia (£12.50)
A great all-rounder to go with our selection of desserts. Lovely orange blossom, tropical fruit and honey sweetness. Simple, fun and nothing here to dislike! 86 points

Ducks don’t quack, they sing

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I apologise. I did my “best of 2012” a week early. I did it before I went to the Hand & Flowers on Friday night. I did it before the best meal I’ve eaten in 2012.

We’ve wanted to go here for quite some time, since first seeing Tom Kerridge on the Great British Menu I think. And I’ve wanted to eat his signature duck & chips since that day too. And I wasn’t disappointed. The Hand & Flowers is a beautiful pub in Marlow; it looks like a pub, it feels like a pub; and it holds two Michelin stars. What I love is that you get the impression they haven’t gone looking for 2 stars, more like the stars have found them.

The staff are superbly knowledgable and friendly and the food and wine selection is very tough… You want to try everything! We started with a couple of glasses from the by the glass list. Fish had the Balfour Rose from Kent (wild strawberries and lovely smooth bubbles – like a drinking a super-mousse… Remember them?) and I had the Mittnacht Pinot Blanc, which was lovely citrusy, full and round. For starters I had the crispy pigs head and Fish went for the blow-torched scallops. They were delicious – and delivered so much more than the simple menu descriptions. I had to have the duck for my main course and Fish went for the beef fillet. Wonderfully cooked, beautifully seasoned and just about perfect in every way.

We enjoyed a very nice bottle of Volnay from Domaine Regis Rossignol-Changarnier from the excellent 2005 vintage. The wine was deliciously elegant and improved when paired with the food, not something I expect from Volnay but hey-ho!

We finished off with dessert (Tonka bean pana cottoa, Chocolate cake) and pudding wine, again delicious. The other great thing about the Hand & Flowers is the pricing. Most of the starters are under £10 and main courses around £25. For this level of cooking and service that is spectacular.

I promise not to turn the site into a restaurant review site, but thought you should know about this one!

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