We love the chance for a cheeky BYO and we know you do too; it's one of the reasons we began our regular Free Corkage partnerships with selected restaurants some six or seven years ago now. It also gives us an opportunity to help our on-trade friends to put some bums on seats at times of year where demand is naturally reduced - January and August being prime examples.
But it's really about the wine. We simply wanted to give you fresh opportunities to drink, explore, enjoy and indulge in your hard-earned collection and with the New Year, it was time to find another great venue to partner with. The requirements were straightforward: the food had to be great, the venue had to be cool and the service had to be slick and friendly. We strived to find a laid-back but truly wine-focused establishment that would not only take great care of your chosen bottles - but would offer you the chance to discover their own exceptional collection. So it was that our first collaboration with MASH began. Many of you have bought into our idea: we have provided over 50 bookings resulting in over 150 covers in under three weeks! Not only have you taken a range of superb bottles, but many have made Head Sommelier Jess Kildetoft Soerensen very happy indeed by subsequently diving into their exceptional wine list - which truly is one of the very best on the London dining scene.
Not content to let you guys have all the fun, last Friday Buyer and Classicist extraordinaire Oliver Sharp and myself indulged in the scheme in the company of our great friends Alexandra and Aurelien from Chateau Margaux. Mr Boom very kindly provided a couple of unicorn bottles for us to share and we headed off to MASH with our appetites and palates ready for action.
As you might imagine from its full moniker, the Modern American Steak House is a red meat eater's paradise. Carefully chosen cuts of beef from around the world are aged to perfection in the restaurant's bespoke display chillers (the chefs taste every cut, every day, just to make sure they know exactly where every steak is in its development). We opted for two sharing options: an American Porterhouse (essentially a large T-Bone cut) and an Australian 'Tomahawk' – a rib-steak dramatically served on the full bone. Needless to say, both were superb, with the sweetness of the American perfectly offset by the savoury complexity of the Aussie.
However: as I said, it's really all about the wine.
Three bottles, all a point. We enjoyed the first ‘label out’, a superbly developed but still fresh Clos des Goisses 1980. This presented further proof that a) Clos des Goisses ages glacially and b) even in vintages which present a real challenge to most Champenois winemakers, CDG can produce something sensational. Initial notes of sourdough crust and baked lemon developed in the glass to richly smoked almonds and hazelnuts, with the citrus deepening to mandarin and blood orange. Perfect acidity and a real sense of mass on the palate kept the finish long and pure. Top drawer – (95pts).
The second two wines, one provided by us and one by our guests, we served blind (well, one blind, one semi blind...). After a 1.5 hour decant our bottle was singing with an incredible purity and focus. Mesmerising depth of aromatics and the total harmony of blackberry liqueur, damson and blackcurrant fruit counterbalanced with grilled, heavily peppered meat made it clear that this was a wine of real heritage and pedigree. The palate was the epitome of balance, still remarkably youthful in colour and retaining hints of its primary fruit, but with a smoky, savoury background and seamless travel across the mouth. You could just smell this forever. In fact, it was almost a shame to drink because then it was gone and you couldn’t smell it any more. Fully deserving of its 100 points from Herr Parker, this magical bottle was the one and only 1990 Hermitage La Chapelle from Jaboulet. (99pts – but only because I like the ’78 just that tiny bit more.)
The third bottle, unsurprisingly perhaps, was from Margaux’s own cellars. Our test therefore was to identify the vintage. Quite classically Margaux with a suppleness of texture and elegant perfume, but lacking the significant development that would put it much pre-1990. There was a hint of Pauillac gravel on the nose but not the foursquare tannins of the 1989; it didn’t have the opulence of the 1990 nor the firmness of the 1996; it didn’t have the slightly stern character of the 2002 nor the ‘Californian’ plushness of the 2003 - however it was clearly a serious vintage. We were hovering somewhere around 2000 but missed the obvious choice: the oft-overlooked Chateau Margaux 2001. Certainly our thoughts were more in line with Neal Martin’s 95 points than Bob’s 93; however by this stage we weren’t thinking scores or ratings – we were just enjoying ourselves. But for posterity’s sake – (94+pts).
If you are a steak fan and haven’t been to MASH, we highly recommend you give it a go (in fact, having enjoyed Friday so much, I went again yesterday...). They run a very fine organisation and truly, their wine list is phenomenal. Our Free Corkage partnership ended on the 18th February but there is no doubt that we will run it again – and in the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for our next restaurant collaboration.