‘Wine is a part of your meal and can’t be left to amateurs,’ says Brittany born head sommelier, Antonin Dubuis.
The romantic cherry blossom conservatory
Central Covent Garden
The 100 page wine list
The list opens with a quote from Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon – ‘Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing…’
Evoking a French Ben Stiller in profile, guardian of the list, Antonin Dubuis has led a starry career, including Maze, Yautcha Soho, Yautcha City (which he helped open), and, immediately prior to being headhunted by Clos Maggiore, The Greenhouse - which boasts circa 3,600 bins.
Clos Maggiore’s 2,500 listings are locked in the building’s temperature controlled fourth floor eaves. ‘There’s no lift, so a big delivery helps you stay fit,’ remarks Dubuis.
The Brittany born Dubuis has a clear idea of the role of the sommelier. ‘Wine is a part of your meal and can’t be left to amateurs.’ He particularly laments uninformed service. ‘Guests aren’t always getting the service they’re supposed to in London, mainly due to a lack of knowledge and can therefore be surprised when they receive attention having forgotten they’re there to be looked after.’
Dubuis is particularly proud of his work in making the considerable Burgundy section more accessible. ‘When I arrived at Clos Maggiore, all the big names were already there. So I had to fill the gaps, hunting wines which don’t require a mortgage to drink, with a maximum cost price of £25.’ The resulting sub-section, entitled ‘The Big Little Burgundy’ is popular, collecting Bourgone Blancs from top domaines (Domaine Leflaive) as well as rising stars (Domaine Pernot Belicard Merusault) for £100 or fewer, ‘so people are not frightened to go for a bottle.’
Another of Dubuis’ missions is to include mineral, balanced Italian Sangioveses ‘which are far from Parkerisation,’ such as Rocca di Montegrossi. ‘Technically, Sangiovese shouldn’t be picked overripe because after 10 years it will be dead compared to the likes of the fine grained Biondi Santi.’ And on Massetto, Dubuis shares his assistant sommelier’s comparison to whisky. ‘An amazing marketing product, it’s not the Italian Petrus – that’s a lie. It doesn’t have the finesse.’
In terms of the new world, perhaps on account of Dubuis’ French accent, some guests show surprise when they encounter North American wines via the matches on the tasting menu. ‘They say, “but you’re French? Are you sure?” Indeed, Dubuis notes, if a guest wishes to part with £400 on a bottle, it is more likely to be spent on Bordeaux than California, ‘but maybe they should try California?’
Dubuis also relished the recent re-discovery of Australian wines such as Tapanappa’s Foggy Hill Pinot Noir. ‘I am impressed by how these wines have become more refined with a dramatic increase in quality while remaining kindly priced, which leads me to believe Europe needs to wake up before it’s too late. I love Burgundy, but my salary doesn’t increase, and the older you get, the more you drink because you become more and more resistant to it, and look for alternatives you can afford on a regular basis without making a compromise on quality!’
One of the most substantial re-orders Dubuis makes, which has suprised the owners of Clos Maggiore (The Big Easy group) is of Vin Jaune to pep cheese. ‘And, unfiltered, Warre’s ‘04 LBV is amazing with a medicinal, herbacious, freshness.’ Dubuis is also a big fan of sherry, Madeira and Marsala, offering the option of smaller serves (75ml) with, or instead of, puddings, ‘to allow competitive pricing, smaller glasses mean guests can justify treating themseselves.’
On seriously smarter wines, Dubuis applies a cash margin, ‘not GP, otherwise the cellar becomes a museum. What’s the point in having one of the biggest wine lists in the UK but not being able to sell it?’ Compared to his previous employer, The Greenhouse, Dubuis believes his list, which includes a vertical of Jacquesson, Bollinger’s Vieilles Vignes Françaises, Moutard 6 Cépages which is ‘very unique for the price’, and Moet et Chandon back to 1964, ‘is a bargain.’
Taking influence from Provence and Tuscany, dishes, by head chef, Marcellin Marc may include octopus salad, with lime, basil, and pig’s trotter croquette, roast turbot with cockle, squid, romanesco and spinach, and shoulder of milk fed Pyrenees lamb for two, followed by pear poached in tonka bean syrup, perhaps with a golden chaser of Inniskilin Riesling Ice Wine.
By Douglas B
Theatreland’s most romantic restaurant can still boast one of the largest lists in the UK. Its 2,500 listings from 18 countries include some extremely impressive verticals of first growth Bordeaux, Super Tuscans and Romanée-Conti. It has also been particularly strong in its Californian selection for some time.
Some might find it quite intimidating when this hefty, 100-page tome is placed on the table. It could even be deemed 'anti-social' given the silence that can drop while the list is examined. It is nevertheless a spellbinding collection to complement delicate dishes such as native lobster, scallop and king prawn tortellini poached in langoustine bisque, and roasted Wagyu beef from Kyushu Island, Japan.
By Zeren Wilson