A very quick report here on a flying visit to Terroirs in London, which once again turned out to be the perfect quick-lunch venue. Arriving at close to one o’clock I was pleased to find a seat free at the bar. It was, in fact, the only empty seat in the entire venue, as good an illustration of the popularity of this establishment as any other, I guess. Taking the seat with pleasure, I plonked myself next to a silver-haired businessman who was deeply engrossed in his copy of the Financial Times.
Feeling the effects of having risen very early (I had caught the red eye flight to London that morning), comfort food was what I was hankering for. Rolling my eyes over the menu they fell immediately onto the rillettes, which I ordered straight away. “Would you like these at the same time as your friend?”, the barman enquired. As I was alone in London for the day it took me a second or two to grok what he meant, but I soon realised that he thought that Mr Businessman and I were taking lunch together. Being perhaps more quick-witted than I (or maybe just more awake), Mr Businessman explained to the barman that we weren’t together. I simply nodded in concurrence.
My rillettes arrived in record time, a good thing as I did have yet another airplane to catch. With a smaller pile of cornichons, and a larger pile of sliced bread, it was just the ticket, not quite the standard you might find at your favourite charcuterie on the back streets of Angers but top-notch for London, and delicious all the same. I chose an unusual wine to wash it down with, the 2013 Melonix from Jo Landron. This cuvée is a Vin de France Melon de Bourgogne from the Muscadet vineyards, fermented en barrique, and then put through 100% malolactic fermentation. I thought I should try it firstly as I don’t always agree with playing safe when it comes to wine and food and secondly because I wanted to see what the wine was like out of its typical context, which for me is usually in a tasting at the end of a long line of acid-rich Muscadets and I have often wondered if this might have a negative effect on my perception of the wine’s acidity and balance. Maybe it has; certainly, in this setting, the wine showed more energy and substance than I expected, and I enjoyed it. It was perhaps not the perfect match, but it was good enough for me.
Jo Landron Melonix (Vin de France) 2013: A polished straw-lemon hue. Quite a soft and plush sense of fruit to the nose, white peach, grape and citrus, with a lightly honeyed, musky edge to it that I like. Full, supple palate, the malolactic fermentation showing through in the substance and texture of the wine, although there is still a nice, fresh sense to it. Tasted against other Muscadets this always seems overly soft, in this context it works rather well. The richness of the peachy fruit also appeals. 16/20
Having been lost in my own Muscadet-fuelled world for a little while, it had escaped my attention that Mr Businessman had left. “Oh that’s a shame”, said the barman who appeared that moment, “your friend had to leave early I guess”. I didn’t bother trying to explain my solitude to the barman for a second time, and instead I asked for the bill. I was relieved to see, when it arrived, that I was paying for lunch only for one, and not for two. Mr Businessman missed a trick there, I think.
Prices: For the rillettes, £5 for a small portion, but I went large (naturally!) for £9.50. There are lots of similar good-value alternatives. The Melonix 2013 was £8 for a 175ml glass, £21.50 for a 500 ml carafe.
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)