There are undoubtedly labours of love… and a day spent researching wine bars in London was a toil that I embraced with more than a little passion.
I’ve been banging on for ages about the need for Birmingham to get its first proper wine bar – and now it’s happening.
On my very doorsteps. In Moseley. And I’m grinning.
The opening of Cheval Blanc is the latest project of Keith Marsden, boss of the Prince of Wales and Dark Horse in Moseley and the recently-acquired British Oak in Stirchley.
It’s due to open alongside the Dark Horse in late May and will serve interesting wines and small plates.
I’ve been asked to help – presumably on the basis that I’ve been known to neck back a few glasses now and then and that I’m gobby enough to talk loudly about the new place.
First task was a tasting evening when a bunch of us sampled over 30 wines to get a feel for what might work and what mightn’t.
Then a day in London checking wine bar food offerings with Keith Marsden, his development chef Paul Maders, former Carters sommelier Abigail Connolly, who’ll manage Cheval Blanc, and other members of his team.
Toasted – a hip and trendy place in East Dulwich at which wine can be bought from steel tanks – served some fabulous small plates.
Buffalo mozzarella with heritage tomatoes, garlic and oil was as good a version of this classic as I’ve eaten.
A home-made curd cheese, creamy and zingy from its freshness, was equally good.
Brawn was a proper blokey slab of meat. Duck hearts, still pink and served with polenta fritters, was a brave dish to serve.
Crab with sweetly-pickled carrots was a delight, as was a simple salad of red and white chicory with blue cheese and crumbled biscuit.
Next came the more traditional, typically Spanish wine bar Iberia in Farringdon, where padrón peppers provided char-grilled pleasure and the gooey croquetas were irresistible.
The enthusiasm and knowledge of the young staff at Sager and Wilde on the edge of Shoreditch was disarming – and the wines absolutely gorgeous.
A simple plate of cheeses provided a bit of salty and satisfying ballast as we sampled various bottles.
A late-night visit to a wine bar in Mayfair provided a more traditional experience, with the large plump oysters a real treat.
All of which provided plenty of food for thought about what Cheval Blanc’s menu might look like.
I’ll let you know what to expect as the project progresses.