Levan and Larry’s
12-16 Blenheim Grove, SE15 4QL
WLC Rank : 60
Cuisine: Wine bar
Glass from : £ 5.50 (125 ml)
BEST FORJura, Vin Jaune and Burgundy
Comté fries with saffron aioli
A soundtrack of vinyl records
“We nearly called it Jura but thought people might confuse us with the Scottish island known for whisky,” says co-founder, Mark Gurney. “We also thought about calling it Trousseau but learnt that as well as being a grape, a trousseau is the apparel a bride collects in anticipation of marriage…”
Using the same pudgy, fashion-defying typeface which appears on Jura wine bottles, Levan is a play on the words, “Le Vin” while paying homage to the late USA DJ, Larry Levan, famous for his decade residency at Paradise Garage, New York City. One of his well-thumbed records appears on a unit bowing with “a treasure trove” of Jura wines, arranged by the producer. Mind behind, Mark Gurney explains his fascination with the territory, “which has Triassic clay exposed by the pressure of the mountains giving wines tension and texture.” Renditions include a Poulsard made by Frederic Cossard and a line-up by luminaries, Bénédicte et Stéphane Tissot including sparkling Indigéne.
Rather than call himself a “sommelier,” Mark Gurney describes himself as a “wine investigator.” With Nicholas Balfe and Matt Bushnell, Gurney launched Levan in Peckham half a decade after the hugely successful Salon wine bar, restaurant and off-licence in Brixton’s Market Row. 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 realised by Irish-raised, Lithuanian chef Jurgis Merksatis (formerly of Hoxton’s Cub) may include from the set lunch, duck hearts with egg and wild mushrooms, or from the main menu, chilli beef tartare with miso, togarashi and kale, and main of turbot with bisque, fennel, lovage and black olive – as well as impeccably raised Alpine cheeses such as Beaufort from Savoie with optional verre of Vin Jaune. Be sure to nibble on the monolithic Comte fries with saffron aioli, too.
Gurney, who originally worked in music, and recalls selling a bottle of Flaccianello to Coldplay’s drummer at Levan, has never been a fan of the term, Fine Wine. “It’s quite an exclusive term, but I still love to offer older vintages from interesting worldwide producers who are broadly more ‘classic’ in style and approach.” Hence Super Tuscan 2004 Ornellaia is offered at the bargain price of £230. “That would be £600-700 in most central London restaurants!”
Gurney’s tastes are ever-evolving, “with my experience and exposure to new things.” Those things can be people, places or culture “and that’s the best part! I’m as excited about discovering new young winemakers as I am about drinking dusty old Burgundy. I’m also interested in regions undergoing a quiet renaissance such as Cahors – with bags of history or a reputation for a certain old-school style. But which has a new-wave of winemakers breaking away from ‘traditional’ approaches.”
Day-to-day, the list is looked after by one Colin Grandfield who worked at Rules as a cocktail bartender before opening Café Murano with Gurney. As well as wine, expect wine barrel-aged beer.
And beside Levan you will find the team’s most restrained, diner-like offering to-date. Taking the first name of DJ Larry Levan, expect a stripped-back wine list at Larry’s scribed on a lightbox with keg house wine, “and five guest wines.” Inspired by Pompette, Copenhagen and Buvette, Paris, the former bakery has a few bright green seats and orange tables and a small menu of Italo-Jewish dishes which Gurney calls, “simple and slutty including banging salt beef sandwiches, XO cabbage with clams, and a daily changing cheesecake.” A duo of cocktails includes the tongue-in-cheek rye and Cynar, “Larry’s Horn”, named after “a speaker box created by DJ Larry…”
By Douglas Blyde.