Douglas Blyde visits Black Book, the subterranean Soho bar where he speaks to co-founder Xavier Rousset about how the venue has developed and finds a wine list with “no rules, no borders, no restrictions”. Taken from this year’s Wine List Confidential guide, available to buy now.
“Wines range from pocket-friendly to splurge-worthy, although thanks to the owners’ industry connections (hence the bar’s name), you are likely to find wines here that are priced lower than you would expect them to be – result,” appraised Square Meal.
Originally conceived as members’ club TRADE, for people working in hospitality, “who are often hedonistic, but not very rich”, according to co-founder, Xavier Rousset, the furtively located venue neighbouring Bar Italia has morphed into a more inclusive concept which sees its doors opened to the public. Beyond a mint green façade, it is named The Black Book in honour of the hand-written ledger of fine and rare bottles personally selected by Rousset and fellow master sommelier Gearoid Devaney.
The self-billed “boutique basement bar and kitchen” hosts masterclasses, tastings and events beneath its gold ceiling, including an anti-Valentine’s party, an investigation into the colourful and ever-expanding no/low category, and art-meets-alcohol evenings, whereby selected wines are accompanied by funky music and photography by Lindsey Barretto. This is now supplemented by a lively “ecosystem”, says Rousset, of resources, perks and tools available via a very reasonably priced extended membership programme called “TRADE VIP”, including reciprocal access to members’ clubs.
Rousset, who is powered by five espressos per day, loves the excitement created by the eagerly thumbed little black wine book, which might feature Latour 2001, Flor de Pingus 2008, Camartina 2004, Piedrasassi Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2017, and available by the glass via Coravin: Le Verre des Poètes, Pineau d’Aunis and Domaine Le Briseau.
Opening with the words, “No rules, no borders, no restrictions, just the simple passion for wine and the pleasure it brings,” the core list, which is also overseen by Mattia Bevilacqua, could feature Hundred Hills Preamble, from Henley; 4 Kilos Vinícola 12 Volts, from Mallorca; and from the section, “Your last chance to try”, Goriška Brda Malvazija, from Slovenia. Then there is the monthly “mystery wine” which, if deduced correctly, results in “a bottle on us”, says Rousset. There is also a black
book for spirits, which might include such sought-after curios as Chichibu Imperial Stout Cask.
Dishes overseen by executive chef Edward Boarland may include Sicilian raw red prawns with Maldon sea salt and olive oil, which could be matched with Les Alpes from Dominique Belluard, as well as late-night cheese and charcuterie boards. Take note, says Jacques Savary de Beauregard, wine director for GX Hospitality – which also includes Pinot & Chardo, Cabotte, Comptoir Café & Wine, Blandford Comptoir, Nocturne Prohibition Bar and Old Brompton Wine & Cheese – that the best tables in the house are the “intimate” alcoves – although, depending on the occasion, “the buzz of the main room” is inimitable.
Score: 93.2 Value: 94.5 Size: 92 Range: 93 Originality: 94 Experience: 92.5
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