Drink up

Tim Kitchener-Smith finds more than art at Tate Britain

Ok, I’m going to be biased about this one, but hey, why not.  Tate Britain have, according to Neville Blech’s ‘The Top 100 UK Restaurants Wine Lists’ the best list overall.  And of course it just so happens that a mate of mine, Hamish Anderson, buys their wines – happy days.  Thanks for lunch then Hamish, you tight-fisted…………!

One thing which sets them apart from most other restaurants quite simply is that Hamish buys the majority of his wine en primeur – sourced from Château when it’s in barrel, therefore before it’s even bottled and shipped over.  This way of buying wines is, if you have a bottomless budget, like the Tate has, much better value, so long as you have somewhere sensible to store it, which the Tate has as well - a wine buyers dream.  Seeing as the Tate’s very unlikely to be going anywhere soon, Hamish can buy wines now, knowing full well they’re not going to be ready for years to come yet, but today present wines which have been sleeping downstairs at prices which now seem atrociously reasonable.  He’s still making his margins, don’t worry.

One other aspect of the list I love is the mass of half bottles available.  In an era where sensible drinking is now cool, a selection of 70-odd have been listed encompassing everybody’s budget too.  Not only can you now enjoy a really decent glass and a bit with someone over lunch, but if you, like us, do the clever thing by taking the rest of the day off, you can get very comfortable in your black leather chair and waft your way through as many as your credit card allows.

Tate Britain is only open for lunch and whenever I’ve been it’s always full, full of a cross section of ages that is – youngsters like me, youngsters armed with parents on a day-out trip round the museum, a few golden oldies, professionals (and I don’t mean hookers), and the odd splattering of politicians.  It’s always fun then getting there early, ordering a glass of Champagne and soaking it all up.

The Tate Restaurant was decorated by Rex Whistler, whose specially-commissioned mural The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats makes an atmospheric and memorable setting for a meal, albeit one where you could imagine yourself to be seriously immersed in by the time you’ve ploughed your way through most of the half bottles on offer!  It’s always fun then getting there early, ordering a glass of Champagne and start soaking it all up.

So the food: six starters on offer at £6.75 each.  We had a Cornish crab, fennel and apple salad, sautéed mushrooms with toasted brioche and truffled hollandaise, and pickled sardines with a beetroot and horseradish remoulade.  Yes, there were three of us!  All were excellent, and for starters, very generous.  If I hadn’t had breakfast beforehand the mushrooms would have been more than plenty for lunch in its entirety.  All washed down with a bottle of Pieropan’s ‘La Rocca’ Soave Classico from Veneto in Italy.  At £31 and considering how clean and refreshing it was I almost completely forgot about the rest of the meal and ordered another.

Main courses have the same look to them as well: 6 on offer at £14.50 each.  We devoured a Gressingham duck breast and Toulouse sausage cassoulet, and two Tim Wilson oak-grilled sirloin steaks, with green peppercorn béarnaise sauce and fat chips.  Why is it though when two of you order the same thing one gets a really good looking generous piece of steak and the other gets the one which resembles a feeble rasher of bacon – typical, and guess which one of us got the rasher version???

The reds we had with mains and the cheese board/trolley, pushed by two strong men in toga’s – no, I exaggerate.  I love cheese boards though, especially when it’s one of those that’s so healthy in size you feel yourself getting bigger just looking at it!  Halves of Bandol, Domaine Tempier, 1999, £12.50, a Chorey-les-Beaune, Domaine Tollot-Beaut, 2000, £14.50, and a Clos de Marquis (the second wine of Léoville-las-Cases), St. Julien, Bordeaux, 1996, £26. 

Then, because we were now well in the mood for continuing where we’d started, and perhaps more to the point, now beginning to think that a boozy lunch wasn’t such a good idea after all, we finished with a bottle of Ségla, (the second wine of Rauzan-Ségla from Margaux, Bordeaux), 2000, £35.  You can pop that one back in the cellar Hamish.  Still pretty big…!

Overall view: get down there, and ask for Hamish!

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