Simpson’s in the Strand celebrates English Wine Week with great local produce
If you’d floated the idea of ordering a bottle of English wine over dinner a few years ago, you’d probably have been met with apprehension, confusion or even dismissal from your fellow diners. Fast-forward a few years and we’re here – at Simpson’s In The Strand during English Wine Week – sampling some of the finest bottles the country has to offer.
This venue has both history and reputation on its side as one of London’s most iconic restaurants. Last year it went under a major refurbishment to give the place an arguably long overdue revamp – a hint of modernisation while still keeping the old charm and grandeur intact. In the spirit of changing perceptions, they have been busy promoting their collection of English wines (17 variants as of this week) to both educate and inspire their clientele. After all, we have become a wine-drinking nation and with the increasing demand for local produce, it’s not hard to see why we now yield five million bottles per year on home soil.
On arrival, we were shown straight up to The Knight’s Bar and greeted with an English 75 – a patriotic twist on the French 75 – made with a blend of London gin and English sparkling wine. Now that we had been eased in, it was time for the sparkling wine tasting session.
First up was a glass of the Coates & Seely Brut Reserve hailing from the North Hampshire Downs. A blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir, it was dry and refreshing with fruity, crisp flavours cutting straight through. It also turned out to be a crowd-pleaser – getting appreciative nods and approval from around the room – and seemed to be going down very easily.
Next was the Balfour Brut Rosé – although we had to do a double take due to its seemingly pale hue – from the Hush Heath Estate in Kent. A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, this wine carried slightly sweeter tones with the tartness from the fruits lingering on the palate.
Finally, it was onto the Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs – a sparkling Chardonnay from Kent. The most complex of the trio, the citrus and tart flavours hit the palate in full force before beautifully evolving with each sip. This one definitely grows on you and as a result, I found myself unable to put it down.
After that, it was down to the dining room to sample the four-course food and wine pairing menu. Immediately aware of your quintessentially British surroundings, it’s worth taking a minute to note the opulent wood-panelled walls, the elegant chandeliers and the beautiful upholstered leather seating.
The first course came in the form of a trio of oysters served with a shallot and red wine vinaigrette. These were accompanied by the Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs – a Chardonnay blend from the titular Estate in Sussex. With hints of brioche and lemon, this zesty sparkling wine made a fine match with the smooth, silky oysters, getting the dinner off to a flying start.
Next up was the starter, Dorset crab salad served with apple and caramelised walnut. Beautifully presented, wonderfully sweet and with a coarse nutty texture running throughout. It was paired with the Ridgeview Blanc de Noir – a fuller wine with more depth and acidity to keep up with the rich flavour of the crab.
For the main we were served duck breast with spiced pear. This was paired with the Ridgeview Blanc de Noirs, which was more earthy and rich in taste, with just a hint of sweetness to compliment the rare meat.
To finish, we had the Simpson’s Cranachan which consisted of rhubarb, whiskey-infused Crowdie cheese, oat crumble and a dehydrated honey-crisped top, paired with the Ridgeview Rose de Noirs. The fruity and floral tones made a devilish accomplice to pudding, yet managed to playfully tease out the tartness in the rhubarb.
Overall, the food was faultless and the wine tasting and pairing experience really brought the whole night together. Simpson’s triumphantly succeeded in educating and changing our perceptions of English sparkling wine, and I now wouldn’t think twice about ordering a bottle.
Perhaps the most surprising thing was that, as our sommelier explained, “experiencing fizz throughout the entire meal” actually makes a lot of sense: sparkling wine is refreshing, cleanses the palate and complements any dish.
Winemakers of the world take note: English wine is here to stay.
Photos: Daniel Donovan
To book a table at English Wine Week: Bill of Fare at Simpson’s, 100 Strand London WC2R 0EW, call 020 7420 2111 or visit their website here.