Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Buckets of Fun on the Wine-List; Food & Drink

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Buckets of Fun on the Wine-List; Food & Drink

Article excerpt


WINE should be fun. Few statements, I know, could be more wretchedly obvious. Strange, then, that so many of those involved in serving wine appear to have had their fun gland removed under local anaesthetic shortly before you walk into their restaurant. The logic, I suppose, is that it's you who should be having fun, not them; theirs is a vocation of discretion, of invisibility, of gliding efficiency. Especially where stars and gastronomy are concerned. Well, maybe.

Anyway, I'm very glad to say that there is at least one Michelin-starred London restaurant where the sommelier, on every occasion I have visited, seems to be having a rollicking porpoise of an evening. Since Jason McAuliffe's own fun gland appears to have grown twice as large as most people's, I'm sure he won't mind me saying that there's just a touch of Frankie Howerd about his style. He rockets about the intimate Chez Bruce with noisy and slightly dangerous exuberance, like an tightly wound clockwork toy.

He's old friends with at least half of the customers, and quickly on terms of ribbing intimacy with the new ones. He's very local ("St George's born and bred"), and can discuss wines with unforgettably earthy informality. Quite why the TV producers haven't discovered him yet, I don't know.

Are we always sure that sommeliers love wine? We are not. Jason, though, we can be sure about. He's been Chez Bruce since day one, when there were six whites and six reds. Now there are almost 400 wines, all Jason-assembled (so to speak), laid out in the list in strict price order, and thus in complete stylistic chaos. There are no descriptions, which is fine when Jason's there since he'll give you the glowing lowdown in a trice, but it can be tricky when he isn't. Thirty-three wines by the glass, plus a choice of 19 desert wines by the glass, is a grand spread, so three of us stuck to this range for Bruce Poole's set three-course dinner (fine value at [pound]27.50). We drank nine wines and there wasn't a dog among them.

They all had character, and very nearly as much as Jason. Wine of the evening for me was the brilliant Austrian 1998 Gruner Veltliner "Ried Grub" from Schloss Gobelsberg at [pound]6. …

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