In what was once a McDonald's, restaurateur Rowley Leigh has created a new venue with a very personal list. Fiona Sims reports
There's a buzz surrounding Rowley Leigh's new London restaurant, Le Café Anglais. It's a great space - part art deco grand salon, part ocean liner - situated on the second floor of Bayswater shopping centre Whiteley's, where a McDonald's used to be.
When Leigh opened his Kensington Place restaurant more than two decades ago, it was part of a new age of dining in the capital, putting the produce first and letting us see what was being done to it via the open kitchen. The kitchen also forms the centrepiece of his latest venture, and the menu is a summation of all the things he most likes to eat and cook. That also goes for his wine list, which contains 120 bins from 10 suppliers.
Leigh loves wine, and he'll never forget his first posh bottle. It was 1973 and his father, a farmer, bought four cases of 1959 and 1962 Latour and Margaux from a neighbour, who was an alcoholic. "The 1962 Latour sticks out particularly - a real epiphany," he remembers. "I got progressively more interested in wine after that."
He still loves claret, Burgundy, and many other countries' wines, but he had to focus his list at Le Café Anglais somehow.
"I've been quite disciplined, actually," he says. "There's nothing outside France, Italy, Germany and a little bit from Austria. When it came down to it, I realised that I never order a bottle of Australian wine when I go to a restaurant. I like the lower alcohol and restrained fruit of European wines."
The list opens with a large selection of apéritifs, including wonderfully retro combinations such as Campari and soda and gin fizz, through to a selection of Lustau sherries and a spätlese Riesling from Maximin Grünhauser.
Leigh says that he doesn't like to be pigeonholed on his wine tastes, yet he's plainly a Riesling man. It's the only grape variety to get a specific mention on the list, alongside other categories such as Italian Varietals, Rhône & Similar, Tuscany & the South, and Loire & Beaujolais.
"It's tricky with the categories," he says, "but I tried to identify certain temperature levels, so there's a logic to Tuscany & the South, and I figured customers would look to Loire & Beaujolais for lighter reds."
He adds: "And I do love Riesling, yes. The Grünhauser is already selling very well [£6.50 for a 125ml glass £36 a bottle], though I'm struggling to find good Riesling at the lower end." That Riesling will also come in a 250ml carafe (£13) when the ordered carafes finally arrive, but don't expect to be served in a 175ml glass.
Leigh believes: "They're gross and vulgar - 125ml is just so much more civilised. And people can share a couple of 250ml carafes, right?"
Expect the wine list to change, however. Leigh says that he might even make it a little smaller, offering a fine-wine list alongside it. "I want to get people thinking about fine white wine, especially with cheese," he says.
You might see some more from Alsace in the near future - if Leigh can get away from the restaurant. He hasn't been on a wine trip in ages, despite enjoying them, but Alsace is at the top of his list.
What's on the list
- 2002 Chapel Down Brut, Kent, England, £27
- Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée NV, Champagne, France £50
- 2006 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes, Domaine Ostertag Epfig, Alsace, France, £28.50
- 2006 Riesling, Loimer, Kamptal, Austria, £26.50
- 2006 Petite Arvine Les Cretes, Valle d'Aosta, Italy, £35
- 2005 Vouvray Sec, Jean-Claude & Didier Aubert, Loire, France, £24.50
- 2004 Meursault Caillot, Burgundy, France, £45
- 2005 Saumur Champigny, Domaine Le Petit Saint Vincent, Loire, France, £26.50
- 1978 Château La Lagune Ludon, Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France, £75
- 1999 Hermitage, J-L Chave, Rhône, France, £150
- 2004 Teroldego Foradori, Alto Adige, Italy, £30
- 2006 Morellino di Scansano Le Pupille, Tuscany, Italy, £27.50
- 1999 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, JJ Prum, Austria, £55
Le Café Anglais, 8 Porchester Gardens, London W2 4DB. Tel: 020 7221 1415. Website: www.lecafeanglais.co.uk
Wine+, the UK's only event exclusively for the on-trade, will take place on 16-17 January 2008 at London's Olympia.
If you buy or select wines, spirits, stemware or water for your restaurant, hotel, pub or other catering company, Wine+ will help you to increase your profitability.
For more details go to www.wineplus.co.uk.