Rot - Mayfair
5 Trebeck Street
BY NEAL MARTIN | JUNE 16, 2023
Bread & butter
Raw Maldon rock oysters and salted gooseberry
Diver-caught scallop and cauliflower mushroom
Roast duck and sauce Chambertin, potato and Cep gratin
Octopus & Vesuvio Tomato
Aged Parmesan & Preserved Lemon
and sauce Chambertin, Braised Beans & Liver Toast
ice cream with Gariguette strawberries
Domaine Guffens-Heynen Pouilly-Fuissé Tri des 25 Ans
|2014 Domaine Guffens-Heynen
Pouilly-Fuissé 35ème Vendange
|2000 Château de Beaucastel
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Hommage à Jacque Perrin
When ex-Island Records’ A&R man Dan Keeling and Master
of Wine Mark Andrew cut the ribbon on the first Noble Rot in 2015 in a converted
Holborn pub, they caused a shift in London’s gastronomic landscape. Under the
culinary nous of executive chef Stephen Harris of the bugger-to-get-to-but-it’s-so-worth-the-effort
in Kent, Noble Rot dished up “Franglais” cuisine that was elevated by fresh,
seasonal ingredients given a subtle Gallic twist. What set Noble Rot apart was
the meticulously curated wine list that rewrote the rulebook of what contemporary
lists should aspire towards. Ye olde Classics rubbed shoulders with hipster Natural
Wines. Rosy-cheeked youngsters commingled with bottles of pensionable age. Old
World was suddenly best pals with New World. The genre of wine was irrelevant
if it had it going on inside the bottle. The pair’s zeal for wine, placing it
at the epicenter of the restaurant’s raisin d’être, created a formula
subsequently copied though never matched across the capital, principally because
curating such a wine list and keeping it enticing demands constant replenishing.
Sadly, many restaurants, even the most lauded, are unwilling to put in the
effort and/or take the risk.
In 2020, Keeling and Andrew took over the historic but down-at-heel
Gay Hussar in Soho, and in spring 2023, they expanded into the West End. Noble
Rot Mayfair lies in the heart of warren-like Shepherds Market. It follows their
template of giving London’s heritage pubs a top-to-bottom makeover, the lucky boozer
this time “The Running Horse”, one of the city’s first LGBTQ+ friendly pubs. Shepherd’s
Market was once the red-light district for well-heeled gentlemen. This
relatively unknown enclave of the capital retains a bohemian air, differentiating
it from the most expensive square on the Monopoly board. A cursory
glance at the menu indicates that Chef Adam Wood, formerly at The Square, has
been allowed to introduce his own dishes in accord with Noble Rot’s culinary ethos.
Having dined at both Soho and Mayfair branches within days of each other, Wood’s
dishes are a little richer, indulgent and heartier in style.
My maiden visit to the Mayfair branch was a Friday night
around three weeks after it opened its doors and again a few days later.
Located on a corner spot with al fresco dining planned this summer, the
interior feels more spacious than Soho, housed on two floors with a couple of
hidden-away alcoves. Like other branches, the décor echoes the former premises,
not dissimilar to a smart gastro-pub with its dark wooden floors and tables, wall-stranding
banquettes and eye-catching artwork culled from the namesake magazine. It exudes
coolness that money can’t buy – you either have it or you don’t. Star-spotting
is a pastime. Between courses, I spy (no pun intended) a Bond baddie dining nearby
and resist castigating him for what he did to 007 in his last outing. Mayfair
is the liveliest (the noisiest) of the three restaurants and, consequently, where
I would opt to go as a group. I’d go to Soho or Lambs Conduit if I wanted to
chat without raising my voice too much, the former perhaps the most intimate of
the three. Certainly, each has its own ambiance. This isn’t a chain.
Roast duck and sauce Chambertin, potato and Cep gratin
There’s no need to analyze each and every dish. But I must highlight the roast duck with Sauce Chambertin, which, as I mentioned on social media, will likely become one of the capital’s must-eat dishes like Tomos Parry’s whole turbot chez Brat. I enjoyed two iterations of this sublime dish, the first served with potato and ceps gratin, the second with braised beans and liver toast. The burning question is whether said sauce is made from Rousseau or Leroy? Neither alas. I was told that the sauce is, in fact, a vinegar made out of a mix of Chambertin and Bordeaux, though they did not specify any particular producer. It’s a decadent dish without ostentatiousness, the kind of dish you want to luxuriate in that lingers at the forefront of your mind.
Hazelnut ice cream with Gariguette strawberries
Also, on the second visit, the braised octopus with Vesuvio tomato was
delectable, adding a bit of Mediterranean flair to central London. I must also
nod to the simple but perfectly executed hazelnut ice cream and Gariguette
I don’t need
to say that the wine list at Mayfair is awesome, but it bears repeating. It is
what you expect from owners whose restaurant won “Wine List of the Year”
at the National Restaurant Awards in 2021 and 2022. Perusing the pages, the Mayfair list is speckled with higher-priced
bottles to cater to the more monied clientele you tend to find here, thankfully,
without compromising the treasure trove at the more affordable end (sub £40 per
bottle). I must mention the cornucopia of grower-champagnes, including many
hard-to-find names. Those with a penchant for bubbles will be spoiled for
choice. On the first visit, we were allowed to bring our own wines. Noble Rot
has always exercised a flexible policy with regard to BYO, and on the second,
we plundered goodies on their list.
The 2005 Pouilly-Fuissé Tri des 25 Ans from Jean-Marie
Guffens is still firing on all cylinders. Taut and fresh on the crustacea-tinged
nose, it offers irresistible scents of white chocolate, stem ginger and lemon
verbena. Wonderful delineation. The palate has a slightly oily texture and
comes armed with a killer line of acidity, touches of nectarine and wild peach
towards its composed finish. It shrugs off its 18 years with aplomb and will
continue to give pleasure long into the future. The 2014 Pouilly-Fuissé 35ème
Vendange has a prettier nose with wild peaches, lemon curd and a dab of
lemongrass, again, beautifully defined and focused. The palate has a welcome
bitter edge, quite linear and saline, with perhaps just a little brevity on the
finish compared to some of “the magician’s” other cuvées. Still, it deepens
with aeration and gains complexity from the ether over the course of 30 minutes.
We shimmied over to the Southern Rhône for the exquisite 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Hommage à Jacque Perrin from Château de Beaucastel. Now at 23-years-of-age,
it has a disarming nose of blackberry and redcurrants, just a touch of Band-Aid,
courtesy of the 60% Mourvèdre, and a scintilla of Tuscan deli, one with sawdust
sprinkled over the floor. The palate is medium-bodied with white pepper and
clove, still quite youthful and nicely structured. With a brush of Provençal
herbs towards the finish, I admire how this Beaucastel exudes typicité. It will
continue evolving and repay cellaring over the next couple of decades.
One mature Petrus in a dinner is a treat. Two is an embarrassment
of riches. Three is just embarrassing, but hey, I’m not complaining.
The 1952 Petrus is a vintage that is rarely spotted
these days, and I have only one tasting note of a Vandermeulen bottling. This
château-bottled example is wonderful. The nose is typical of its age, with pressed
rose petals, incense and lavender oil infusing the vestiges of red fruit, just
a light chlorophyll scent that I also observed in the previous bottle. Like
many Right Bank 1952s, there is an element of Left Bank austerity here before
mutating into more estuarine/Japanese wakame scents. The palate is
framed by robust tannins, evincing the solid nature of the vintage. Fairly tannic
and refreshingly saline, this might be less precocious than the aforementioned Vandermeulen
bottling and perhaps just misses the roundness and depth of a tip-top Petrus.
But at over seven decades, this remains a marvelous Pomerol that continues to
give pleasure. The 1959 Petrus is rightly hailed as one of the best ever
made in the twilight years of owner Mme. Loubat. This bottle has a pixelated
bouquet with fine mineralité and red berry fruits with that hint of pain
d’épices. The palate is medium-bodied and fine-boned with tobacco and bay,
lightly spiced without perhaps the clarity on the finish compared to previous
bottles. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful wine that will keep motoring along for
many years. Now we were ready for the 1964 Petrus. Sadly, this was funky
on the nose, and the palate intimated that it had not received appropriate storage
at some stage. Personally, I think the Bond baddie had something to do with it.
It might sound odd, but I had hopes for my bottle of 1940
Latour, based on the stellar 1940 Pichon Comtesse de Lalande I encountered
a few months earlier and a half-decent note from Mr. Broadbent. Unfortunately,
this reflected a challenging wartime vintage. I write down “smelly socks” on
the nose, indicating some rot, and there simply is insufficient fruit. The
palate is actually more promising…for a fleeting moment…before volatile acidity
knocks it flat out onto the boxing ring floor. It was not undrinkable by a long
shot but was probably best drunk during victory celebrations five years later.
After two misfiring bottles, we needed a pick-me-up, and the
Sauternes delivered…and some.
The 1949 Yquem is a vintage that I have not encountered. I will quote
the official château website, which gives a succinct overview of the vintage… “This
year had record temperatures as well as drought conditions that caused the
biggest forest fire France has ever known. Showers in May and June limited
water stress, and light showers in early September gave rise to botrytis. The
whole crop was brought in thanks to just two passes [between September 27 and
October 17]. Yields were low, but quality high.” Well, this bottle was divine.
Iridescent in color, the bouquet explodes from the glass with a chorus line of Seville
orange marmalade, quince and a distant tang of an outdoor lido, a trait that I
often find in Sauternes in this era. The aromatics are brilliantly defined. The
palate is tensile and energetic, a Yquem with real edge, tangy marmalade and freshly
sliced apricot, a little drier on the finish than the 1947 but with otherworldly
persistence. It is a fabulous Sauternes that will gallop to a century-old without
breaking a sweat.
The second dinner took place just a couple of weeks later. On
this occasion, we ordered from Noble Rot’s list.
The 1986 Poujeaux represents everything great about
mature Claret when not paying through the nose for the pleasure, this bottle
the right side of three figures. Cedar, sandalwood and vestiges of black fruit
and a mahogany antique bureau on the nose convey the austere nature of this vintage
on the Left Bank, but with Poujeaux’s typical generosity. The palate is well
balanced with fine tannins, a little conservative in style but with freshness
and poise, gaining depth over the course of an hour. Dark berry fruit, leather
and plenty of freshly-rolled tobacco are on the pliant finish. What a
delightful Moulis-en-Médoc that is à point. The 1986 Climens is
ordered in a half-bottle, the perfect size for Sauternes. This is one of my
favorite vintages of the Barsac estate. It has a vivacious, energetic bouquet
with Seville oranges, quince and a touch of melted wax. The palate has a kind
of streamlined intensity that knocks you for seven, full of energy with a
captivating apricot-tinged finish that leaves you wanting more. It’s challenging
to think of a wine that offers better value than this. We actually finished with
a Brut Nature Blanc d’Argile from Vouette & Sorbée, though I
did not write a note for this Champagne.
Two visits to Noble Rot Mayfair will not be my last. On reflection,
it might be my favorite of the trio due to the ambiance and that duck. It represents Keeling and Andrew’s most ambitious opening thus far, given the higher number
of covers and the fact that Mayfair doesn’t have the footfall of Soho. Judging
by critics’ reception and the throng of diners on both nights, it is a
successful expansion, an instant magnet for oenophiles. It must be said, for
those wishing to dine earlier in the week, since, unusually in these post-COVID
times, its doors are open every day except Sunday.
The only question remaining is, where next?
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