Douglas Blyde gains access to Mayfair private members’ club Oswald’s and discovers how wine director Tim Parkinson has turned the exclusive establishment into a haven for “icon bottles”, especially those from prestigious South American producers. Taken from the 2022 Wine List Confidential guide.
“The most exclusive of London’s private members’ clubs that has continued to lure in the great and the good throughout the pandemic, Oswald’s on Albemarle Street is considered Robin Birley’s choice for wine connoisseurs, where guests can cellar their own wine or buy in-house before enjoying a bottle on the small rear terrace,” wrote Annabel Sampson in Tatler.
Oswald’s was born out of a discussion on the often vertigo-inducing wine prices in London restaurants. “So many of the world’s great wines disappear from wine lists as they become more collectable and valuable, so we wanted a club environment which allowed these icon bottles to be offered at more sensible prices,” says Australian-born wine director Tim Parkinson, who previously worked at Annabel’s Cellar before opening 5 Hertford Street.
Located opposite the Faraday Museum, Oswald’s magnetises the most well-heeled, discerning and pleasure-seeking of wine lovers. It takes the name of founder Robin Birley’s royal portraitist grandfather, Sir Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley. Within, Murano chandeliers, country house-like fireplaces and a cupola soaring to the cigar terrace, bring interest to an interior opulently realised by designers Tom Bell and Bruce Cavell who overhauled the formerly minimalist Michael John hairdresser to Birley’s exacting vision. Meanwhile, a curvaceous, deeply carpeted staircase leads to a lounge bar where, at near retail price, bubbles such as Krug flow from ornate ice buckets.
In addition to the very comfortable main restaurant, where dishes may include vitello tonnato, risotto Milanese, Josper roasted veal T-bone to share, and a selection of freshly made pastas, is the newly opened South American-inspired restaurant La Loma. Here, on the second floor, icon whites from the territory, such as White Bones from Catena, work with tiradito and barbeque seafood, while magnums of several vintages of Almaviva meet charred meats. “We opened with a feature page of South American wines by the bottle and glass and the take-up was high,” notes Parkinson, who has seen wines with “serious Burgundy links”, such as Liger-Belair Massoc y Parra Aristos Duquesa d’A Grand Chardonnay and Bodegas Chacra Chardonnay by JM Roulot depleted.
Parkinson is pleased his members continued to support the club when it has been allowed to open in between lockdowns. “Generally, it felt like everyone was making up for lost time! Every day a mini reason to celebrate, and the standard of wines being drunk was at a level I’ve not seen before,” he says. “Great vintages of top Burgundy estates have been drunk more regularly, mature Bordeaux is more popular than ever, which means sourcing more of these wines direct from the châteaux and domaines.”
Membership is similar to that of sister company 5 Hertford Street, notes Parkinson. “Applicants need to be recommended by existing members and there is a waiting list.”
- Fine house wines from magnum
- Estate-sourced bottles
- Wine-friendly dishes
Score: 95.8, Value: 97, Size: 96, Range: 96, Originality: 93, Experience: 97