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Burgundy in Blighty: Master Sommeliers Gearoid Devaney and Xavier Rousset on their new opening Cabotte

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Burgundy in Blighty: Master Sommeliers Gearoid Devaney and Xavier Rousset on their new opening Cabotte
Written by:

Master sommeliers Gearoid Devaney and Xavier Rousset are bringing the best French wines to the City of London, via their new restaurant Cabotte. Fiona Sims was there on opening night

Teetering piles of warm gougères sit on a work surface at Cabotte. The newly opened London restaurant is preparing for an influx of guests for its launch party. “We’re expecting 230 tonight,” grins co-founder Xavier Rousset, nicking another cheesy choux bun. The addictive gougères hail from Burgundy (locals proudly claim), so there’s a clue right there to the restaurant’s theme. And here’s another couple of hints – a large copper relief
of vines hangs on the end wall, and two of Cabotte’s co-founders, Rousset and Gearoid Devaney, are both master sommeliers. Yes, it’s all about Burgundy at Cabotte.

There’s more. With the help of Burgundy expert Jason Haynes, the team has persuaded 12 Burgundy wine producers to invest in Cabotte, including Sauzet, De Montille and Gouges. The rest of the funding, from 35
investors in total, comes from a line-up of Burgundy fans who can’t wait to swap vinous tales and plunder through Cabotte’s impressive list. The location makes sense. Cabotte is a stone’s throw from the Guildhall – a fair few
of Cabotte’s investors work in the surrounding streets – and is housed where a cocktail bar once stood. It offers 50 seats, with a further 25 upstairs across two private dining rooms, one with a window onto the kitchen, the larger with tall windows that look out over Gresham Street and beyond. “It was essential for us to have private dining rooms for winemaker dinners and special tastings,” explains Rousset.

The interior is by Rosendale Design and offers artfully distressed walls and mirrors, clubby panelling and sumptuously upholstered banquette seating. “I met them through a chef friend of mine, Jun Tanaka. I really liked the lighting at his restaurant the Ninth,” explains Devaney. “I think 70% of a restaurant’s design is the lighting. And we wanted it well-lit, but with great atmosphere, and I think they’ve manage to pull it off,” agrees Rousset.

Hit list
So back to that list, which doubtless will be the main reason diners will come. Rousset and Devaney scoured the country’s Burgundy specialists to build it. “Some bottles came from private cellars,” says Rousset, whose years
spent working in hospitality has led to some strong bonds with wine collectors, many of whom have become regular customers. But just because they have some famous Burgundy wine producers as investors, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee them a vertical of their wines on the list. “Some of them have so little wine that they couldn’t give us any at all for the restaurant – but they are excited about the project and want to be involved anyway,” explains Rousset.

Diners are helpfully offered two wine lists – the Short List, a 53-bin selection on a double sided sheet, which will change regularly, and a 600-bin weightier tome, encased in soft brown leather, for those who want to spend more than a few minutes perusing, and ogling the most expensive bottle – a Domaine de la Romanée Conti, La Tâche 1999 at £6,700. But lest you think this list is just for the fatter wallet, you can think again. There is also
a selection of well-chosen wines with more modest pricing.

“That was by far the hardest part of the list to source,” admits Rousset. Indeed, of the five cheapest whites, only two at the moment are from Burgundy – William Fevre’s Saint-Bris Sauvignon Blanc (£5.30/125ml), and Alexis Paullier’s Macon Blanc (£5/125ml). The other three come from the Rhône and there’s one from Mosel, Germany.

Wines from Burgundy make up around 75% of the list with the rest from France and a few beyond. “We don’t want anyone to feel alienated,” say Devaney and Rousset. They buy wines from up to 20 different suppliers, with
Flint (who Devaney still works for), OW Loeb, Howard Ripley, Justerini & Brooks and Berkmann Wine Cellars key sources. Thanks to the Coravin wine preservation system they have in place, Cabotte can offer
some more serious Burgundies by the glass – even a Grand Cru, Domaine Taupenot-Merme Mazoyères-Chambertin, at £46.79/125ml.

And this should please both Burgundy novices and collectors alike – diners can choose Burgundy by the glass from the same producer, in the same vintage, but from different terroirs – they list three from Domaine Ballot-Millot, from £21/125ml.

Cabotte offers 35 wines by the glass, including 13 whites, 13 reds and two Champagnes. “I think these will be the bulk of our sales,” says Devaney. “We both wanted a restaurant with great wines by the glass, with cash margins across the list. We’ve tried to be as soft as possible with our mark-ups. There are some great-value wines on every page,” he promises.

French connection
So why the Burgundy theme for this venture? “We both love the region. In fact, we first met each other there,” says Devaney. “As young sommeliers, we were on a trip to Burgundy organised by Jason [Haynes]. After that we
were hooked. It’s a never-ending story in Burgundy. Vineyards are always changing hands, always evolving.”

Saint Etienne-born Rousset says: “I was 21 years old back then, and we were lucky enough to visit some of Burgundy’s greatest producers. The quality just keeps on getting better and better, with more and more accessible, younger wines. The majority of the wines we have on the list at Cabotte are between two and five years old and all delicious. That’s why Burgundy is so popular, and that’s why the prices have crept up. Though they’ve had a lot of difficult harvests, too, plagued by frost and hail, so supply is often down because of that, which doesn’t help prices either.”

The pair expect an average spend of £60-£70 per head for three courses including wine. “Though we will offer flexibility at lunchtime with a dish of the day for diners who don’t have much time,” promises Rousset. He is currently offering six oysters and a glass of Chablis for £18.50, which is already proving popular in the early days of opening.

The cuisine, like the wines, has its roots in Burgundy, but French-speaking British head chef Ed Boarland has lightened up the recipes a tad, using less cream and butter. Boarland is a Gordon Ramsay protégé, spending two years under former Royal Hospital Road head chef Clare Smyth, and a further four years under Simone Zanoni at Gordon Ramsay au Trianon in Versailles. Before that he worked at three-Michelin-starred Berkshire restaurant the Waterside Inn, where he first cut his teeth on the classics after no formal kitchen training.

“I moved back to London six months ago, wanting to find my first head chef position so I could start making my name – London is so buzzy with an energy that you don’t get anywhere else,” says 28-year-old Boarland.

Gearoid was doing wine training in the restaurant I was temping in and he discovered my passion for the classics, so it kicked off from there.”

Boardland recently returned from two weeks in Burgundy, where he immersed himself in the cuisine. Any particular favourites?

“I didn’t visit any Michelin-starred restaurants; just local places where I came across amazing dishes, such as poulet Gaston Gérard – chicken in a mustardy, creamy, cheesy sauce. I tried lots of poached eggs in red wine sauce, which I’m offering at Cabotte with a slightly lighter sauce. I’m also doing other classic dishes, such as boeuf Bourguignon – but I’m not messing around with that,” promises Boarland, who makes his with beef cheeks.
In fact, the gentleman in the kitchen making those gougères is not actually a member of Boarland’s brigade at all, but none other than Burgundy chef Jean Gouges, a cousin of one of the producer investors, Henri Gouges.

“I’m giving the kitchen a gougères masterclass, just for this week,” grins Gouges. Boarland and his team reckon they’ve mastered it, which is just as well, as it’s the first thing diners will taste at Cabotte.

Meet Cabotte’s two master sommelier co-founders

Gearoid Devaney made his name as head sommelier at London restaurant Tom Aikens, winning numerous awards for the wine list and later winning UK Sommelier of the Year in 2007. In 2009 he became a master sommelier, one of only 200 people to pass the exam. Most recently, Devaney made a career switch to look after restaurant clients for Flint Wines, before teaming up with Xavier Rousset for Cabotte.

Rousset won UK Sommelier of the Year in 2002 while working as a sommelier for Hotel du Vin, later becoming the youngest master sommelier in the world. Then, after a position as head sommelier at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Rousset co-founded Texture in London in 2007 with business partner and head chef Agnar Sverrisson, which later won a Michelin star. The pair went on to open 28°-50° Wine Workshop & Kitchen in
London, which expanded to three outlets. Two years ago, he teamed up with Devaney for the first time to open the Greenwich Kitchen on Peninsula Square. This year, Rousset struck out on his own to open Blandford Comptoir in London’s Marylebone.

Cabotte wine list highlights

• NV Crémant de Bourgogne ‘Pure’ Albert Bichot £6.50/£39 

• Criots-Bâtard Montrachet Grand Cru, Fontaine Gagnard 2011 £37/£220

• Bourgogne Blanc Domaine Etienne Sauzet, Burgundy 2011 £46 

• Gevrey-Chambertin, Domaine Duroché, Côte de Nuits 2013 £13.50/£80

• Mazoyères-Chambertin Grand Cru Domaine Taupenot-Merme 2002 £46.70/£280

Burgundy wine – so what’s all the fuss?

Getting your head around Burgundy is no easy task – even for a wine buff. It has the most complicated of all the wine classification systems, which you need to get a handle on if there’s any hope of understanding the labels. If you take away one thing from reading this, it should be that the classic French region is home to three famous grape varieties: silky, strawberry-ish Pinot Noir, intense, nutty Chardonnay and juicy, fruity Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais. Red Burgundy is the most difficult wine in the world to make well. This is a northern wine-growing region, where full ripeness is often a gamble, where hail can strike at any time, and where spring frosts are
lurking around the corner.

Pinot Noir is thin-skinned, rot-prone, and virus-susceptible, and its vinification is a tightrope walk over various scenarios of failure. Chardonnay-based white Burgundy is easier to produce – yet you can still mess things up in the vineyard and winery. Now, that wine classification system. Put simply, there are general appellations, such as Bourgogne Rouge, and regional appellations, such as Chablis. Village wines come next, naming the best villages, such as Meursault.

Next up is Premier Cru, the second-best vineyard within each village – the village comes first on the label, like Meursault-Charmes. Finally, Grand Crus, the top wines in Burgundy, from the top vineyards – they even dispense with the village name on the label.

The uniqueness of Burgundy is the complexity of its geology, with startling differences between wines grown in close proximity. Red Burgundy varies from light, perfumed redcurrant fruit from villages like Santenay, to full, sturdy, blackberry fruit, from Gevrey-Chambertin and Pommard. The best white Burgundy achieves great structure, from the graceful, intricate, lush Meursault to the flinty Puligny- and Bâtard-Montrachet.

Cabotte menu highlights

• Jambon persillé – ham and parsley terrine with apple and raisin chutney £9 

• Oeuf en Meurette – poached duck egg, red wine and lardons £9

• Poulet Gaston Gérard – roasted chicken breast, confit leg and Epoisses mousse £17.50

• Beef cheeks Bourguignon en cocotte, Savoy cabbage and smoked free-range bacon £19 

• Apple tarte tatin with Cornish clotted cream (for two) £12

 

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