One of two (soon to be three) establishments bearing the 28-50 name (the name refers to the two latitudes - 28º and 50º - between which most wine grapes are grown), this restaurant occupies a fairly prominent corner position (it used to be a button shop, of all things) on Marylebone Lane, a very short walk from the bustle of Oxford Street. A large glass frontage affords an excellent view of all within, and I knew we were in the right place when I spotted a diner, seated right up against the window, fondling (and believe me, that is an honest and appropriate description of the activity within) a bottle of 1990 Clos de la Coulée de Serrant. Deeply engrossed in conversation with his dining companion, he could have been talking about cricket, European economic meltdown, the Syrian crisis or maybe Aunty Kevin's forthcoming sex change surgery for all I know, but I had an immediate suspicion that the topic was more likely to revolve around biodynamics, sulphur dioxide, botrytis and oxidation. It's de rigueur with such an aged bottle of Nicolas Joly's wine; although, at 28-50, perhaps such detailed discussion of any bottle of wine is de rigueur.
You don't need to understand the relevance of the aforementioned latitudes to viticulture to recognise that this is a restaurant with a strong focus on wine; this much should be evident to any passer-by curious enough to take a peek inside. Hanging over the central bar, where some diners chose to sit - couples lingering over long, drawn out meals and loners washing down shellfish with Champagne - was rack after rack of upturned glasses, in every shape and form. Big deal, I hear you say, all restaurants have wine glasses. Alright, if that doesn't convince you, then perhaps the towering wall of wine cases at the back of the restaurant - used as temporary storage for bottles but also providing a visually imposing statement on the restaurant's wine philosophy - might just seal the deal. No? Then just take a look at the wine list, which although rich in attainable cheap-'n'-cheerful bottles, is also dripping with affordable yet also fairly priced and in some cases quite aged wines, with vintages as far back as 1990.
I started the evening with a ham hock and black pudding terrine, which was nicely done, both the ham and black pudding components showing good flavour but also retaining a moist texture beneath the lightly crisped outer surface. Sitting atop it came some potato salad, made using some very finely diced potato and flavoured with a little horseradish. Against the meaty richness of the terrine, the soft creaminess of the salad provided a welcome contrast, although the creamy nature and more importantly the heat of the horseradish was a little awkward when it came to the wine I had chosen. In fact it probably would have been awkward with any wine, which is surprising given the winey focus at 28-50. It was, however, more interesting than the prawn cocktail which took 1970s classicism to an unmodified extreme, the only lift here being a little pickled cucumber. For a moment, thoughts of the harmonious matching of wine and food went out of the large glass window just behind us,
After a considerable delay, sprinkled with the occasional apology for the slow service, our main courses arrived; mine, a lightly pan-fried 28-day-matured onglet, was top class in terms of flavour, the meat dark and richly textured in keeping with the longer aging, and the triple-fried chips requested as a side dish were delightful. These were piping hot, which unfortunately was more than could be said of the otherwise delicious onglet which was luke warm at best, and was in fact decidedly cool around the edges. Bearing in mind the delay, I concluded that my dish had lost out in a timing slip up in the kitchen, perhaps languishing to one side while our other chosen dish, was finished. This second dish was a pea risotto, a deliciously bright and fresh dish flavoured with garlic (subtle) and parmesan (a bit over the top), and dressed with pea shoots.
At the end of a long day we forewent pudding and moved straight onto espresso, and then spent half an hour nursing our glasses, half-filled with our choice for the evening:
Le Dôme (St Emilion) 1999: Opened and decanted on the spot, this wine took an hour or more to open up, and reaffirms for me the importance of decanting older wines, and the difficulties that can be had when ordering such wines when dining out. The first aromas seemed really quite mature, little notes of tobacco and leather, the texture a little lean, but there was much evolution in the glass yet to come. As it did so, the wine seemed to travel backwards in time, first displaying some cherry leaf and rose petal nuances, before finishing up with a really appealing violet perfume, with a tense, slightly crunchy style of fruit including red cherry and cranberry. The palate also developed texture and composition along the way, so it ended up balanced, with appropriate if slightly chalky texture, correct acidity and really well absorbed tannins. By the end of the meal, this had turned out to be a wine to really savour. 17/20
Service was thoughtful throughout, and free of fuss. Overall, although clearly not glitch-free, this was an enjoyable dinner, and a welcome discovery for those looking for affordable London dining, and especially for those interested in an affordable London wine list too. I would be very surprised if I did not return.
Prices: There are two wine lists, the first featuring the staples, red white and rosé, with bottle prices kicking off at £21 per bottle, with a large range of options, and pricing for 75ml tasting pours, 125ml glasses and 250ml carafes. A second somewhat pompously christened Collector's List features older and more eclectic wines, and is rich in fairly priced (and one or two decidedly inexpensive) older bottles. The prawn cocktail was £6.95 and ham hock and black pudding terrine £7.95, both as small portions, with larger portions available for about double the price. The onglet was £14.95, the pea risotto £13.95, and the 1999 Le Dôme was £99. (5/6/13)