Review: Terroirs 9/10

(by peter)

Prior to my lunch date at Terroirs with Susie (plus dozing baby), I had been attending an event at the Royal College of Physicians in which the UK was described as being in the grip of a ‘raging epidemic’ attributable to alcohol, a substance branded ‘a corporate-borne disease like mosquitoes carry malaria’. (More of which scientific harrumphing you can read on my immediately preceding blog entitled ‘Corporate-borne disease’.)

Time for a drink, and a meditation on the positive, life-affirming, profoundly civilising side of alcohol.

Which is precisely what Terroirs delivered – with aplomb.

This classic French eatery, modelled on Parisian natural wine bars, is situated in London’s West End, yards from Charing Cross station and Trafalgar Square.

When we arrived, lunch service was in full swing. The sunken levels were packed full, with jawing city types rubbing shoulders with young couples and professional noshers, all set against a backdrop of a buzzing open kitchen.

It was an eclectic, eye-catching tableau, full of life, which spilled out onto the pavement like froth from an overly exuberant beaker of champagne.

Sitting down, the environment felt agreeably hugger-mugger, like a rustic Club Gascon (in Susie’s words), with a stylised French decor that isn’t so overdone it feels oppressive.

We, plus dormant infant, were accommodated with grace and efficiency. In fact, all round the service was superb. For example, our young waiter proved to be exceptionally well informed about both the wines and food – not afraid to admit when his knowledge reached its limits, and resisting the urge to impose his views too much. This was rare excellence.

We kicked off with a glass of Philipponnat Royale Réserve Brut NV (£8.50 per glass) – a perfect antidote to an excess of science (and the perfect answer to a warm summer’s day in London).

Our waiter had suggested a glass of slightly sparkling Chacoli for the same purpose – an inspired idea, but it usually takes a few more wild horses to get Susie to see past the champagne list. But it’s this kind of deliciously off-beat vision that permeates this place, its food and its wines, and what ultimately makes it so enjoyable.

Our first morsels of Terrroirs came courtesy of a selection of charcuterie, including pork & pistachio terrine, duck rillettes and Saucisson ‘Noir de Bigorre’, served with cornichons and pickled onions. It was a good size, and the terrine and rillettes in particular were outstanding in their succulent meatiness and sublime seasoning.

We ordered a couple of glasses to go with it. One was the pleasantly summer-fruited VdT Gamay de Raisins Gaulois, Dmne Marcel Lapierre (£6.40), the other a more disconcertingly cloudy, cider-scented white, VdP de l’Ardeche Viognier/Roussanne, Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet (£9.70). The latter was fascinating, if not particularly to our taste, with aromas of baked apricot and clotted cream, and a mouth-coating, spicy, pithy palate – like swallowing a piece of warm brioche soaked in Armagnac and smothered in apricot jam and clotted cream.

Clearly, this was no ordinary wine list.

This fact was later confirmed when we ordered our last, but best, glass: the wonderfully off-beat ‘Le Cousin’ Grolleau Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Olivier Cousin (£7.50).

For a supposedly lowly grape variety, this particular Grolleau delivered princely elegance, with aromas of fresh-cut flowers, graphite and meaty, savoury edges. On the palate it was light, juicy and refreshing, perfect for summer lunch time, but with lovely succulent rusticity and character. In Susie’s words, it was like the Gamay’s naughty younger cousin – a maverick, but irresistibly so.

All three wines worked as versatile matches to the smorgasbord of dishes we tried.

By far the most impressive of these was the absolutely sensational smoked cod’s roe with pickled cucumber and soft boiled egg. I don’t much care for cucumber, nor Susie egg, but this was the kind of dish that makes the room go quiet and the clock tick slow. We’d suggest that it is one of London’s defining dishes – it has to be tried to be believed.

Our other dishes, in order of preference, were: Lincolnshire smoked eel with celeriac remoulade, steak tartare, champignons a la grecque and Hampshire buffalo mozzarella with lemon and mint. Only the last two were somewhat underwhelming – the mozzarella in particular a bit too chewy and lacking in flavour (we’d had some from Laverstoke Park recently which was delicious – see this post for more details).

Before we left on our gastronomic high, we had a word with some of the senior staff, one of whom mentioned that advanced negotiations were underway concerning a new venue for the Terroirs stable in London, and that positive news was expected soon.

Given the extremely high calibre of Terroirs, this is excellent news.