Review: Texture & 28º-50º

(by peter)


The very word sounds delicious. It sounds naturally lazy, laid-back. It yearns for the word ‘long’ to be applied to it.

(The origins of the term itself are obscure; some sources delightfully trace it back to the Spanish lonja, meaning slice, which then became used in the sense of ‘thick piece’ or ‘hunk’.)

We’ve been lucky enough to experience lunch at a few fine places of late – partly summer holidays, partly celebrations, partly working lunch.

Two of these stand out. They were lunches at Texture and 28º-50º, restaurants run by the same team of Agnar Sverrisson and Xavier Rousset (28º-50º having been launched in June 2010 after the initial success of Texture, which now has a Michelin star).

Both are proud of their wine credentials, with Master Sommelier Rousset as part of the furniture. In particular, Texture has been feted for its imaginative sparkling wine list, 28º-50º for its down-to-earth booze pricing.

The thing about lunch is that, if you like your wine but tend to have commitments and obligations that extend beyond 1pm (so everyone apart from students), you need a good wine list by the glass, or carafe, or half bottle. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that any restaurant worth their salt these days should be providing good coverage of these areas as a matter of course.

This Texture and 28º-50º deliver in some style (much like Terroirs, though with very different concepts and results).

At Texture, we were celebrating. We kicked off – on the very sound advice of Master Sommelier student and head sommelier Erica Laler – with two glasses of Henri Giraud NV ‘Esprit’. A rich, bready style but with poise and elegance. A delightful way to whet the appetite.

It was also a suitably glamorous way to kick off a meal in what are notably grand surroundings. At night, Texture could risk seeming somewhat cavernous, with its high, frescoed ceiling, but at lunch it was impressive and airy.

(Although it was a little odd that, to visit the toilets, it was necessary to pass through into the hotel next door. While no doubt an unavoidable practicality for the restaurant, this tended to break the spell somewhat.)

But the magic at Texture is not easily dispelled. Especially when you’re paying £22 for a three-course lunch in beautiful surroundings – and what a lunch.

We kicked off with two dishes, as ever liberally shared, which were brilliantly conceived and executed. Regarding value for money, given they were part of the cheapie lunch deal, they were outstanding.

The kingfish carpaccio with fennel and seaweed dust was succulent and subtle – the word ‘texture’ meant a great deal in reference to this dish. The beetroot salad, complete with parmesan snow and pistachio, was just as impressive.

For main courses, the lamb with sweetbreads and beans was rich and fulfilling, while Susie’s cod with shrimps and grapefruit puree was clean, precise and very well executed. A signature pudding of Valrhona white chocolate mousse with ice cream, dill and cucumber lived up to expectations.

For wine, we eschewed the more pricey charms of Le Soula and went instead for a white made in a similarly nutty, succulent and savoury style, but half the price. Le Ciste 2005 by Eric Laguerre in Roussillon was on the list at £22 – a steal, we thought – and an opportunity not to be overlooked.

Erica then introduced us to the scented, rich charms of Welshriesling Croatian-style (Grasevina 2007, Izborna berba, TBA, Krauthaker). Overall, the diversity and value of the list was very impressive: Texture’s reputation on this front seems well founded.

Much the same theme is continued at 28º-50º.

This underground venue at the southern end of Fetter Lane is more bistro-like in feel. We were welcomed by Xavier into what was a half-empty (or half-full…) dining room on a Friday lunchtime. The decor is simply done, and had a pleasant feel, albeit lacking the rough-hewn charm of a Terroirs or the airy grace of Texture.

The place mat is a landscape A4 list of wines served by 75ml, 125ml or 250ml carafe. This is a good sign at lunch. There were about 20 whites and reds plus a smattering of fizz, sweet, fortified and rosé. This in addition to the very reasonably priced ‘collector’s list’ by the bottle.

I went for a glass of Slovenian Sylvaner (Marof, Prekmurje 2008 – whatever that means). It was dutifully herbal and citric, with a very pleasant balance. Nothing mind-blowing, but what can you expect at £4.60 for 125ml. Just great to see a bit of novelty on a wine-by-the-glass list (Savoie, Cairanne, Assyrtiko, Roter Veltliner and Grillo all featured on the same list, which also took in some classics).

But my white was knocked into a cocked hat by the red – a similarly adventurous Carignano del Sucis 2008, Grotta Rossa, Santadi. This Sardinian red was complex, silky and remarkably food friendly, one of the best Carignans I’ve tried for some time. At the time, I thought it was a real discovery – until I remembered a grand tasting we’d attended at Vinitaly this year entitled ‘Le Blue Chips del Vino Italiano’, at which we tasted this very wine (albeit a different vintage). My tasting note ran as follows:

Terre Brune, Carignano del Sulcis Superiore DOC 2005, Cantina Santadi 14.5%, (Santadi (Carbonia-Iglesias), Sardinia; Production = 80,000 bottles; RRP 35-40 Euros) – one of the finer Carignans you’re likely to find, this refreshing, juicy number from Sardinia was a real eye-opener. Santadi is a co-op in the south-west of the island; Italian winemaking legend Guillermo Tachis helped them revolutionise their winemaking approach and focus on quality (rather than the traditional bulk shipped to France…) On the nose it has expressive cherry notes, some raisined fruit and florality. The palate is fine and grippy, with olive and mineral character. Manages the interplay of fresh acidity and firm yet round tannins quite deftly. Intense, savoury finish. Susie rated it higher (7.75/10) than me (7/10).

And there’s not much I’d change from this on the second viewing. We’ll be keeping our eye out for Santadi in the future…

This being a working lunch, the wine consumption was not excessive (and, with the red at £5.40 for 125ml, hardly expensive).

The excellent value of the lunch was further cemented by our ordering from the set menu, which came in at a wallet-packing £15.50. The quality at this price was quite excellent.

I had the purple & orange beetroot with goat’s cheese, pistachio and mustard dressing (a variation on a similar theme from Texture). Though small, it was wonderfully flavoursome and ideal for a 2-course working lunch. An inspired combination of flavours using top quality ingredients. From my initial disappointment at its size, this dish managed to win me over completely – and this from a confirmed carnivore (with duck rillettes on toast being the alternative).

For mains, there had been a change to the featured chorizo with white bean stew – clearly there’d been a run on this option. But its replacement was an excellent leg of duck served with Mirabelle plums, red cabbage and pumpkin. Another simple but exquisitely executed dish, and quite wonderful with the Carignano.

While I may have emerged from both lunches in markedly different states (post-Texture, a nap was obligatory), the lingering impression was the same: great value, excellent wine lists, and with very decent grub.

For wine lovers, as for lunch lovers, these London restaurants are compulsory visits.