Like many other people, I also have a love affair with France and of course, her main courtesan, Paris. I believe that the man who successfully resist the sweet perfume of Paris’s breasts and succulent fruits of her thighs, is not a real man.
Forging a national identity through food is one of the few things the French are still victorious at. It’s their notion of terroir — the idea that the French soil defines the inimitability of their produce, which they believe keep them on this culinary pedestal.
Actually that’s nonsense. The concept of terroir creates an uncomfortable suspicion with me. It is petit bourgeois in full glory and a thin disguise for the French saying to the rest us: Mine is better than yours!
I don’t care much for such comparisons.
However, walk through the doors of Terroirs Wine Bar & Restaurant in Covent Garden, London, and flick through their wine list (of biblical proportions!), and you’ll soon realise that you have arrived in a much better place than what most of London’s restaurant scene has to offer.
‘They’re known for their wine’, my companion says. I frown with further suspicion. That claim has been made before by many budding restaurateurs. However, my cynicism soon drowned when I saw the choice and variety of cultivars bleeding from the wine racks.
The wines on their list are sourced from small artisan growers who work sustainably, organically or bio-dynamically in the vineyard and with minimal interventions in the winery. The vines are farmed labour-intensive, often with horses rather than tractors and all of the picking and selection happens by hand. Fermentations tend to be with wild yeasts and several of the wines are made without adding sulphur dioxide and are unfiltered and unfined.
Wine that’s not over-produced. How refreshing.
“Our objective is to present wines that most sympathetically reflect the place from which they originate, the nature of the vintage itself and the personality of the grower — in short those wines that encapsulate the notion of terroir.”
I read that bit twice. Put those words in a bottle and I’ll eat my hat! And thus the duel between my taste buds and the sommelier begins.
I choose a bottle of Foulards Rouge, Octobre, by winemaker Jean-François Nicq from Côtes du Roussillon – a Syrah /Grenache.
With the first sip of heavenly nectar I’m struck by a fatal blow of excitement and infatuation. My mouth fills up with a farmy taste that hints at wild raspberry, chocolate and cinnamon. Yet, it’s light and seductive, like a lady of the night alluring her suitor before disappearing into the fog.
On to the menu.
It was difficult to justify making a choice from the selection of dishes, but guided by my dinner date we end up grazing on a perfect steak tartar, Jambon de Bayonne with Celeriac Remoulade, Roast Autumn vegetables, pickled walnuts & fresh goats cheese curd, and a piquant French cheese board with Bonde de Gatine, Schlossberg (the name provided much entertainment) and Reblochon goats cheese.
The flavours of each dish are carefully and delicately balanced. Near perfection. Most memorable is the Celeriac Remoulade with a sexy suggestion of anchovies and a subtle creamy texture.
‘Touché’ is all I can say… Or as we say in Britain: ‘Well Done.’
Who’d ever thought that a tiny piece of Paris was hiding in the heart of London?
As for terroir? In this instance, I stand corrected.
Image: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes