With an elating playlist and flavour-packed dishes, Peckham’s Levan, the sister site of Salon in Brixton, offers a window onto France’s increasingly en vogue Jura region.
“The word, ‘Sommelier’ makes my skin crawl – it’s not the setting I’m in. I’m more like a ‘wine investigator’ trying to figure out what the hell people want!” says Mark Gurney, co-creator with Nicholas Balfe and Matt Bushnell of Levan in Peckham (formerly the trailblazing Peckham Refreshment Rooms) which is the sister site to Brixton’s Salon.
“We nearly called it Jura but thought people might confuse us with that lovely island off the coast of Scotland known for whisky,” says Gurney. “We also thought about calling it Trousseau, but Google revealed that as well as being a grape in the Jura along with Savagnin and Poulsard, a trousseau is the apparel a bride collects in anticipation of marriage…”
Using the same chunky typeface which appears on Jura wine bottles as their logo, Levan is a play on the words, “Le Vin” while paying homage to the late American DJ, Larry Levan, famous for his decade-long residency at New York City nightclub, Paradise Garage. Gurney pulls out a record of that name from a unit which also features a vinous line-up by Bénédicte et Stéphane Tissot – part of a three-page selection from the often steep Jura département between Burgundy and Switzerland. These are enthusiastically supplemented with “Jura varietals from around the world” including Patagonian Trousseau (Bodgea Miras).
Inspired by what Gurney refers to as the “bistronomy” movement and the team’s favourite haunts in Paris, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Stockholm and Berlin, punchy dishes may include silken house-cured sardines, monkfish crudo with ponzu and pickled chilli, particularly sumptuous truffled roast cauliflower with crisped kale and Parmesan, and impeccably raised Alpine cheeses such as Beaufort from Savoie with optional glass of Vin Jaune. Be sure to secure the blocks of Comte fries with saffron aioli, too.
Gurney, who recently sold a bottle of Flaccianello to Coldplay’s drummer at Levan, has never been a fan of the term, Fine Wine. “I feel it’s quite an exclusive term, but still love to offer interesting producers with older vintages who are, broadly, more ‘classic’ in style and approach. For example, we have a stunning super Tuscan 2004 Ornellaia on for the bargain price of £240. That would be £600-700 in most central London restaurants!”
Gurney’s tastes are ever evolving, “changing with my experience and exposure to new things. Those things can be people, places or culture and that’s the exciting part. I’m just as excited about discovering new young winemakers as I am about drinking old vintages of dusty Burgundy. I’m also really interested in regions undergoing a quiet renaissance. Bordeaux, Champagne, Cahors – with bags of history or a reputation for a certain old-school style. But who have a new-wave of winemakers breaking away from ‘traditional’ approaches. Super exciting!”
When not at Levan or Salon, you may well encounter Gurney winding down at The Winemakers Club, Westerns Laundry, or Nest, “a tiny place run by a young hungry team focusing on every part of an animal.” His girlfriend, Aimee Hartley is founding editor of the wine-led magazine, Above Sea Level, meanwhile.