20 - 21 Newman Street , W1T 1PG
WLC Rank : 85
Glass from : £ (175 ml)
Upbeat playlist and DJs
Art rich environment
South America interpreted by sommelier, Melody Wong
Melody Wong focuses on the wines of South America at the revived restaurant at the sometimes provocatively art-rich Mandrake Hotel.
“I want to offer amazing value and bring energy into modern dining,” says Melody Wong, who is the sommelier at the reimagined “Yopo” (previously Serge et Le Phoque) with control of wine throughout the 24-bedroom Mandrake Hotel, including the minibars. Pronounced “Jopo”, it takes the name of the seeds which Incans would grind into a form of snuff to help them foretell the future – and its shape is echoed in the irregular holes punched into the spine of menus.
Wong, who took over from the previous sommelier, Bert Blaize, is busy amassing a selection of 250 bins, predominantly from South America, including the “fantastic, approachable” Intipalka Syrah from a Peruvian oasis (Vinas Queirolo) which she likens to a St. Joseph, “but more fruity.” She discovered a few heavy hitters in the walk-in cellar from Burgundy in the form of white Nuits-Saint-Georges by Henri Gouges, a heat-wave Gevrey-Chambertin by the late Denis Mortet, “and a couple of bottles of Angelus and Palmer.”
Billed as “modern European with South American touches” (and the occasional incursion from Asia), dishes from by New Zealand-born and Australian-trained chef, George Scott-Toft (formerly of Le Clarence, Paris, and Serge et le Phoque in Hong Kong – and previously here) may include chargrilled octopus with tortilla tacos, aji panca and avocado, and tenderstem broccoli with XO sauce.
Wong remembers a recent dish focusing on asparagus, which is traditionally a challenging ingredient for wine matching, though both “cooking techniques and peoples palates have changed.” Hence, she enjoyed matching blanc de noir Cabernet Sauvignon from China’s Château Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia with new season white and green asparagus, carrot and sherry. “On a slightly warm day, it was very exciting to share the spring dish with winemaker, Lenz Moser’s floral, almost vegetal wine.”
Bold, sometimes pornographic art, including fresco-covering ceilings, and a leafy bar terrace in the hotel’s courtyard help capture the “Newman Street vibe,” says Wong, who notes “Facebook’s HQ is at the end of the street.” From sedate morning coffees made from South American beans, the atmosphere gradually builds throughout the day, with “jazzy lounge pop from the 1970s,” at night, and, come the weekend, DJs including British-born, Iraina Mancini and, from Denmark, Fiona Jane, perform from a booth beside a driftwood bird sculpture and the service wine fridge. Wong believes music softens the perception of tannin in wine and reducing the impact of oak. “It’s an interesting combination: wines feel lighter, even a heavier, oaked Pinot Noir becomes fresher.”
The Mandrake strives to be a haven for artists, featuring an in-house tattooist, notes the tattoo-free Wong, “and a beautiful, elegant drag queen.” Although she is well equipped with vinous kudos (having worked at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal before the highbrow Ten Trinity Square), Wong says the Mandrake largely employs based on personality and mentality first, with body piercings and facial hair encouraged rather than frowned upon. “It’s a modern, five-star hotel for the future which respects personality.”
Wong recalls a recent trip to Italy’s Marche, where, for five full days she solely tasted Verdicchio, “which is never going to be a sommelier favourite, but I saw it in a different positioning, learning it’s a really fashionable thing in LA and New York.” During an unrestrained exhibition of greenish wines in the company of growers, she remembers the harvest hail storm which descended. “Hail larger than Ping Pong balls! You could see the winemakers faces turning. We proposed to pause the tasting, but all the winemakers insisted the show must go on. It reminded me when judging wine that it’s all about mother nature. We should show producers more love and appreciation!”
By Douglas Blyde.