Mark Dorber is no stranger to the pages of Caterer. His pub, the White Horse in Parson's Green, west London, is on hand whenever there's a beer-tasting (as well as being a magnet for beer anoraks). And he's personally always on hand as a voice - a particularly booming voice - for the craft beer industry. It's just a shame that the wider public haven't really heard him yet.
Dorber's thing, apart from championing quality beer - and wine, for that matter - is beer and food matching. He trailblazes the practice regularly at his pub (owned by Mitchells & Butlers), matching up each dish on the pub menu with a suitable ale to match.
He's also hired out to further the cause whenever a brewery wants to focus on its beer's affinity to food, a hot topic right now - but it's not the industry he needs to convince. Perhaps his new restaurant will do it. Called Upstairs at the White Horse, it's where his beer and food matching skills really come into play.
Finding a chef on his wavelength proved more difficult than he thought, but after some searching, he's recruited chef Liliana Tamberi - Lily to her mates - who hails from the Maremma in southern Tuscany, where her family have a vineyard and restaurant. She's also done time with Giorgio Locatelli, Jamie Oliver and, more recently, at Matilda's in Battersea, London, where ES critic Fay Maschler described her cooking as "one of the nicest, most vivacious meals I have had in a long time".
It's not quite there yet. A waiter brings a pint glass of Kuppers Kolsch, which Dorber has paired with Baronia handmade mozzarella, rocket, cherry tomato, and a balsamic peach reduction (£7.50). "I don't want to see pint glasses up here - it's all about serving the beer in the right glass," he remonstrates.
"The whole point of this restaurant is to give the right attention to beer, which means serving it in the right glasses, and talking knowledgeably about beer to our customers. By presenting the beers well, the sheer beauty of what they are will come through," he hopes. All staff have been on a one-day Beer Academy course, which just happens to be held at the White Horse on the first Monday of every month (www.beeracademy.org).
We try a Blanche de Bruxelles from the Lefevre brewery in a Champagne glass as an aperitif - its delicate, lemony freshness perfectly suited to the long-stemmed flute.
The first match on the menu is white Devon crab, celery and trout caviar salad (£7.50) with Hoegaarden's classic wit beer, which works brilliantly. Dorber has also given each dish on the menu a wine match - this one gets a manzanilla.
He has 75 bottled beers on his list and 15 beers on draught, including five weekly-changing keg beers. "Though I'm doubling that number of bottled beers soon - I've got loads of room in my cellar," says Dorber.
Dorber can shift just about anything - including fruit beer. The White Horse now sells four 30-litre kegs of Liefman's Kriek every week. "We get the alcopop crowd drinking this - and people who don't normally drink beer," he explains.
One of the most popular dishes on the pub menu downstairs (which Tamberi also oversees) is the drunken risotto (£5.75/8.75) made with red wine, homemade sausage and beetroot, paired with a kriek from revered Belgian brewer Cantillon (£4.75/375ml), which points up the sweetness of the beetroot and meat.
Like the upstairs menu, the pub menu also gets a corresponding wine match - this last dish gets an Argentine Malbec from Alamos (£4.25/175ml), plucked from the list at Bibendum, which along with Adnams, are Dorber's sole wine suppliers. He has a total of 90 wines on his list, with 18 by the glass - thanks to a Le Verre de Vin preservation system. A Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from Forrest Estate is his best-selling white, while D'Arenberg's Original Shiraz is flying the flag for the reds. Wine makes up 17% of overall sales to beer's 44%.
I try another successful match of quail in crosta di pane (with mixed leaf salad, cherry tomato compote, £12.75) with Chimay Blue, finishing with a sensational pairing of Brooklyn Chocolate Stout made by New York brewer Garrett Oliver, and a wickedly dense double chocolate tart with chocolate truffle sauce (£5). Dorber is good at this.
What's on the list
Cantillion Gueuze, 37.5cl/£4.75
Rodenbach Grand Cru, 33cl/£3.95
Westmalle Tripel, 33cl/£3.97
St Peter's Brewery Lemon & Ginger, 500ml/£3.75
Lees Harvest Ale, 25.5cl/£3.75
Hop Back Taiphoon, 500mla/£3.25
Fullers 1845 Celebration Ale, 500ml/£3.75
Schlenkerla Rachbier, 50cl/£3.50
Craigmill Brewery Fraoch, 500ml/£3.25
Traquair House Ale, 33cl/£3.75
Goose Island Beer Co Liberty Ale, 5.9%, £3.50
The White Horse, 1-3 Parson's Green, Fulham, London SW6 4UL.
Tel: 020 7736 2115