Wine List Confidential: Stem and Stem

Douglas Blyde stops and smells the roses at restaurant and florist Stem and Stem in the City of London. Fittingly, he finds dishes “accented in chlorophyll hues”, and a “bouquet menu” that “borrows the language of a wine list”.

“A restaurant that doubles up as a florist you say? Possibly the most perfect combination for a springtime meal out. Go for a slow-cooked duck croquette, come away with a bouquet of peonies,” wrote Lottie Woodrow in The Handbook.

Design

As depicted by the venue’s logo of a leafy plant with a corkscrew root, partners in life and business, Dee Reid, a geneticist turned fashion buyer, then florist, and Cabotte chef, Edward Boarland have combined floristry and food across two halves of a double fronted venue on Bow Lane. Ecclesiastical details of St. Mary Aldermary, the regimental church of the Royal Tank Regiment, which is also home to Host purveying fair trade coffee, are echoed in Stem and Stem’s interior, realised in collaboration with Raven Collective (Restaurant Story 2.0, The Cheese Barge). These include arches framing mottled mirrors, and handmade, pew-like benches. Plants of course predominate, including a hedge of indoor jasmine lining a window, and unique posies on marble effect tables, themselves barely big enough to fit all the dishes one might hope to eat here. Flowers even spill onto the busy street. For solo diners, a long counter faces the glowing backbar of bottles and urns, leading to the open pass.

Drinks

This is the first restaurant manager role of sommelier, Xavier Sockeel, whose roots reach from Belgium to Flanders, and the Basque Country. Sockeel discovered a fascination for the wines of Burgundy while studying theatre production in Dijon. He went on to open Bruno Loubet’s eponymous bistro (RIP) at The Zetter, Clerkenwell. Other roles took in L’Atelier de Marc Meurin in Lens in France, and, back in Britain, Skye Gyngell’s Spring, and Maison François. At the latter he worked with Stem and Stem’s assistant manager, Joy Norman, whose menu suggestions are well worth adhering to. He also “sourced and curated” the bins for “the wine boys” at The Remedy.

Sockeel

Given Boarland is also head chef at the Burgundy-led Cabotte a five-minute stroll away, which is co-owned by two Master Sommeliers, Xavier Rousset, and Gearoid Devaney, who is director at Flint Wines, a strong friendship predominates with the wine supplier.

With the exception of carefully chosen English wines, Stem and Stem’s list pulls focus on the Old World, particularly the wines of L’Hexagone.

By the glass, options range from oak-free Chinon, Cuisine de ma Mère 2021 from the Grosbos brothers at £6.50 per 125ml, to, via Coravin, Viña Tondonia Reserva 2005 (£21), and Domaine Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin 2014 (£38), with J.J. Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling 2021 at £15 per 75ml from a cute, sweet and fortified selection.

Given Boarland’s fascination for Champagne, the rich selection, priced at less than double retail, includes Marie Courtin’s 2016 Efflorescence (£130), and reaches to Henri Giraud Argonne 2013 (£800). Another notable bottle is Clos des Goisses 2008 from Philipponnat (£600).

Still bottles include the chirpy Côte de Brouilly, Les Sept Vignes 2021 from Château Thivin (£60). Big, and bigger Burgundies include Corton-Charlemagne 2017 from Domaine Rapet & Fils (£240), while, from Bordeaux, a reasonably priced pick would be the 2016 Moulis-en-Médoc from Merlot-dominated, Château Mauvesin-Barton at £60, though if you’ve thrice the budget, £180 will gain access to a 2008 St. Julien care of Langoa-Barton. There is also the odd Italian, in the form of Barolo Mosconi 2018, Chiara Boschis E. Pira e Figli at £165, reaped from octogenarian vines. A handful of dark spirits include Âge des Fleurs 15 Carats from Léopold Gourmel, a style-led Cognac house founded by Olivier Blanc, who spent five years at the head of Chanel’s perfume division.

Meanwhile, the bouquet menu borrows the language of a wine list, with the “full bodied” option celebrating the “loudest colours the seasons has to offer,” while “subtle notes” is “understated” with “muted hues and whimsical grasses.”

Dishes

Alongside, whenever possible, seasonal flowers, ephemeral ingredients are prepared by a team led by Edward Boarland, who previously worked with Alain Roux, Clare Smyth, and Gordon Ramsay in the UK, and Simone Zanoni in France.

Given carte blanche with the liquid assets, Sockeel opened lunch with the fully ripened 2019 Blanc de Noirs from boutique Chilterns producer, Hundred Hills, to dovetail with oysters from Carlingford Lough. Such is their dedication to these treasures of the sea that Boarland, head chef, Dan Gonçalves Lourenço, and sous chef, Piluntana Chompupun, made a weekend pilgrimage to the glacial fjord in North East Ireland, a weekend which also involved depleting an impressive volume of Guinness, according to Norman. Impeccably shucked, these were presented on a bed of smooth pebbles, both naked with optional, high quality Merlot vinaigrette, and lavishly dressed with smoked oil, smoked herring Arënkha roe, and dill.

Small plates (a.k.a. starters) comprised a comparison of croquettes, being confit pork shoulder and sage sharpened with cider, and even better, sweet leek and quality Red Leicester and chive with a comfortingly smoked mayonnaise. Scentless sea bream tartare gained from a smoked eel emulsion, and eye-catching trout roe which popped on the palate. Evoking a dish one might find at the likes of Heckfield Place, beetroots were licked with honey and orange, gaining sweetness from pickled raisins. With these, Sockeel poured Benjamin Dagueneau’s Pur Sang 2017 Pouilly-Fumé “from clay, limestone, and flint,” he said, being “herbaceous, saline, oily, precise, with nervy acid.” Having described Sauvignon Blanc as “controversial”, Sockeel noted the variety can be “truly delicious on the right terroir from the best winemakers.”

Building on the interest of the “small” plates, a large plate (a.k.a. main course) of roast wild pheasant, its flesh translucent, basking in its cooking juices, awakened a new interest in the not so placid bird, with a new season morel which got stuffed with leg meat and chestnut mushroom. Alongside, Stem and Stem’s Cornish salt dusted fries with Parmesan and garlic mayonnaise will be craved from here on. Vinously, Sockeel stayed in France, selecting, via Coravin, the plush Mortet Fixin 2017, “with good extraction” which was snug with the smartly-treated bird, and Colombier Hermitage from 2007, replete with “black leaf and tapenade” notes for the morel.

Dishes to this point were often accented in chlorophyll hues, though the signature “chocolate garden” referenced the soil. Evoking the flavours of a really posh Jaffa Cake, a splendid chocolate cream and blood orange jam met the just rousing enough coffee ice cream. Although he finds chocolate “a nightmare to pair with,” Sockeel succeeded in enacting a classic pairing of chilled Port, being “Ruby Dum” from Dirk Niepoort, which bore a strongman on the label. “It says drink me, and is fun, fresh, generous,” he noted Also from the Iberian Peninsula, though unfortified, Sockeel chose La Bota N.º 117 de Amontillado “Montilla”, selected by Eduardo Ojeda and Jesús Barquín. With over two decades of graceful ageing under its belt, the blotting paper dry wine brought a plethora of hazelnut, caramel, and tobacco notes to a confident cheese plate of fine, almost faecal of aromatics, Irish Gubbeen, spreading Baron Bigod, and unpasteurised crumbly Colston Bassett Stilton, spread on intriguingly bumpy sourdough crackers.

Last word

City workers of old, with their fascination for cocktail sausages and a predilection to steal away into dark, sometimes subterranean wine bars, will find the light, fresh, unpretentious Stem and Stem confusing. It is a venue which leaves one feeling brighter on exit, than entry. And if a guest really engages with the carefully authored wine selection to the point of losing track of time, the apology, explicit in the gorgeous flower selection, is easily made.

Best for

  • French wines, particularly Champagne
  • Flower arranging workshops
  • £15 daily lunch special

Value: 94, Size: 91, Range: 90, Originality: 96, Experience: 96; Total: 93.4

Stem and Stem – Restaurant and Florist – 12 Bow Lane, London EC4M 9AL; 020 8050 7532; [email protected]; stemandstem.com

This article originally appeared on the drinks business.

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