Ever since a mischievous wine writer imported the French word terroir into the English-language wine lexicon, we have been arguing about it. The word, while enchanting, seems to provoke ire in some quarters. The battle cries of the jobbing wine blogger and point-dealing wine critic will probably be familiar to you......
There's no such thing as terroir!
Terroir is irrelevant; it's what's in the glass that counts!
Terroir is a fallacy invented by the French to reinforce a false sense of vinous superiority!
Let's open a wine bar called Terroirs!
Alright, clearly I made that last one up. Nevertheless, proprietors Ed Wilson and Oli Barker must have said something similar at least once, because in 2008 they opened the doors to Terroirs on William IV Street in London, just around the corner from Trafalgar Square. Backed by the eclectic merchant Caves de Pyrene, their new venture seemed to go from strength to strength, because in the years that followed Wilson and Barker went on to open Brawn (2010), Soif (2011) and The Green Man & French Horn (2012). The latter, with its pure Loire Valley focus, has always been of obvious interest to me. Terroirs, however, was the original.
Spread over two floors, the focus on the ground floor is the bar, and arriving one Saturday lunchtime the place was already packed out. Downstairs it is a little quieter, if that is what you prefer. Sliding into a bar seat I realised I was in need of comfort food; an early morning flight down to London, followed by the usual sequence of railway journeys from airport terminal to city centre hotel, meant my eyelids were beginning to feel heavy. Fortunately, I had come to the right place, and I kicked off with a glass or two of a non-vintage (but surely 2013) Pét' Nat' Chardonnay from Noëlla Morantin, which lifted my spirits as well as my conscious level, up from Glasgow Coma Scale 12 (that's more serious than it sounds, y'know) to somewhere much closer to 15. Bright, happy, with a fine prickling mousse and sweet orchard-fruit flavours, this was just what the doctor ordered. Literally.
The dishes at Terroirs are small, and ideal for sharing, mixing and matching with wines from the list, by the glass, the carafe (or by the "pot" as they say here) or by the bottle should you be sufficiently thirsty. First up was a little plate of fried crispy violet artichokes, baby artichokes lightly battered and then deep-fried, bringing all the slippery-yet-crunchy delights that sort of treatment can deliver. Alongside, a platter of cold mackerel with a horseradish dressing was surprisingly good. It was a surprise in more ways than one, as I thought I had ordered smoked haddock, but it was my mistake. As I said though, I had been dangerously close to slipping into a insomnia-induced-coma upon my arrival, which seems like a reasonable excuse to me. The mackerel was a very large chunk of what must have once been an even larger fish, and thanks to its smoky character it worked well with the accompanying horseradish, and with a little watercress on the side I even had one of my five-a-day. They clearly look after your health here at Terroirs.
A glass of Pierre Gerbais Réserve Non-Dosé Champagne helped keep my spirits high while waiting for the next course to come along. The first was a platter of succulent duck rillettes, accompanied by a slice of and pork and pistachio terrine. The former was oozing character and gras (just how it should be!), the latter a pâté in the campagne style, not overly moist but correct, and I enjoyed both greatly. Unsure what to drink with them the staff behind the bar were happy to pour a taste or two of the many reds they currently had on the go, which I thought was a nice touch. In the end I settled for the 2013 Saumur-Champigny from Domaine des Roches Neuves; never had this wine seemed more appropriate than in this lunchtime charcuterie moment. Suddenly you realise just how wrong it would be for wine's glorious diversity - in colour, texture, grape variety, philosophy, alcohol concentration and every other conceivable variable - to be eradicated and replaced by one person's view of what wine should be. Vive la difference. Vive la Terroirs!
Two espressos later I made my way back to my hotel for a nap to recover. And why not? I had a table booked at the RSJ at 7:30, so I had some serious digesting to do first. Reflecting first on lunch, the quality of the food at Terroirs is delightful, simple, homely and tasty, with an occasional twist. The portions were more than adequate and - bearing in mind this was meant to be a light lunch - my hunger would have been sated with just one of the two dishes I so gladly scoffed. And as for the wine list, there is abundant choice and plenty of great names to pick from. Terroirs is one London dining venue that I will certainly return to.
Prices: The duck rillettes was £5 for a small portion, the pork and pistachio terrine the same price, again for a small portion, large portions would be £9 and £9.50 respectively. The artichokes were £7, the mackerel £8.50. By the glass, my Morantin Pét' Nat' was £7.50, the Pierre Gerbais Non-Dosé Champagne was £9.50 and the 2013 Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny was £8.75. The bill for two, including 12.5% service charge, was just shy of £67. (3/8/14)