Sunday, 15 May 2011

Gergovie Wines and Food

Gergovie Wines


The popularity of underground 'supper clubs' is evidence of the appetite for a different experience in dining out.  Eating in a stranger's private home, knee-to-knee with a bunch of people you don't know is proving a hit with some diners.  So what's the appeal of supper clubs? 

Well, I guess there's the thrill of the unknown, the daring to be different, and the hope that you will strike up new friendships.  It's adventurous, sociable and intimate in a way that a restaurant usually isn't.  Paying £25-35 each you don't know what the menu is going to be or how good the food will be yet you'll take along a bottle of wine in the hope it will be a reasonable match for whatever comes out of the kitchen.  The scene is changing though as some high profile chefs get in on the act by opening up their own homes and charging up to £100 a head.

There is a third way - take a south London railway arch, an open kitchen and bar, a welcoming and enthusiastic owner and a good professional chef, add carefully sourced ingredients and natural wines matching the food.  A run of trestle tables, a few vases of flowers, lots of candles, delicious aromas and adventruous people turn an unpromising Bermondsey railway arch into a cathedral-like dining space.  This is Gergovie Wines *Friday night dinners - SEE UPDATE BELOW.
Gergovie is introducing a new generation of natural winemakers from the South-East France/Northern Italy/Slovenia winegrowing areas.  Employing ethical methods of growing, some organically or biodynamically, with little intervention in the development of the wine, produces some interesting and surprising results.  The yield from these growers is small, hence the labels on offer at Gergovie are ever-changing as they find more good, artisan winemakers.

The ethos of the business is heavily influenced by Raef Hodgson's Neal's Yard Dairy/Monmouth Coffee background.  Hodgson, having worked with business partner Harry Lester (ex-Eagle in Clerkenwell and Anchor & Hope in Waterloo) and in the kitchens of similar beacons of straightforward cooking, has teamed up with Lester to set up a new venture in this Bermondsey railway arch.  When Harry isn’t cooking there himself, the talented Dave (with experience at Moro and Bocca di Lupo) is manning the stove.  Athough Raef leads the wine side of the business, he knows exactly what he wants from the food to complement his carefully sourced bottles.  The team is completed by brother Kit's skills in the kitchen and Harry Darby's front of house expertise.

The food subscribes to the admirable philosophy that if you are going to eat an animal you should pay it the respect of not wasting any of it (cf Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail Eating).  At a recent dinner we were welcomed with breaded deep-fried olives stuffed with minced pork over a glass of refreshing cidery, Pignoletto Frizzante from Alberto Tedeschi.  Around 40 of us sat down at two tables to a starter of chard with ewes milk cheese followed by warm salad of lamb "pluck" (the heart, liver, and  lungs - there may have been kidney too but, it being a communal dish, I possibly missed it).  Then the main course -platters of tender and sweet roast suckling lamb, new potatoes and spring greens.  Next came cheeses - all excellent but the Lincolnshire Poacher stood out.  Bowls of simple, zingingly fresh leaves of bitter chicory with an AgroDolce and olive oil dressing cleared the palate.  Caffeine cravings were satisfied by sensational soft, intense espresso biscuits served with a creamy hazelnut pudding with a contrasting jellied layer.

Taking Raef and Harry D's advice, we drank wines by the glass - apart from the Pignoletto, I don't recall the wine names but I enjoyed each well-matched glass.  A herby Grappa-like digestif brought the meal to a satisfying end.

The guys are lovely, the food and wine is great, the setting atmospheric, and the diners a mixed bag (which in my book is far more appealing than "just like us"). Oh, and it will cost you £25 per head plus wine (by the glass or bottle). 

On Saturday mornings you might find Dave at a trestle table rolling fresh pasta to make the most of anything which wasn't used the night before, married to fresh fruit and veg from Tony Booth's arch 100 metres away. Last Saturday, lunch at the bar included Corned Beef Hash, Pappardelle with Beef Cheek, Lentils with All-spice and Goats Cheese, a Frittata, and New Season French Peas in a basil-scented broth, as well as Gergovie's own charcuterie and Neal's Yard and Mons cheese plates.  All of the meats come from trusted sources, fruit and vegetables mostly from Tony Booth and bread from St John Bakery round the corner.

I love it and think you will too.  Book ahead for dinner as word is getting out, or turn up for a glass and a plate on Saturdays late morning/early afternoon, when lots of the food arches are open, and maybe take away a bottle or two, or more.

Gergovie Wines
40 Maltby Street
London SE1 3PA
Currently open Thursday and Friday evening
Saturday currently from about 10.00 to late afternoon (just turn up)
* Update: the format is now drop-in bar with food - now open Thursday & Friday evenings and 10-5pm Saturday.  No booking required.