LONDON - If there are days when nothing seems to go right (computer breakdown, a corked bottle, lost my lipstick), there are others when the world seems a kinder place. Early autumn sunshine, listening to the great violinist Christian Tetzlaff playing unaccompanied Bach and an invitation to dinner from an extremely generous person rank very high on the Geiger counter of pleasure. It is pure luck to be a beneficiary of such delight when the law of averages could so easily have cast one in a war zone, or in the eye of any passing storm. Instead, my husband and I were summoned to The Ledbury, London’s best restaurant at the moment, to have dinner with this remarkably kind host and two of his wine-loving friends.
Brett Graham, Head Chef at The Ledbury in Notting Hill.
Maybe the very best part of all is that in spite of the grandeur of the bottles and the two-Michelin star setting, the whole dinner was enormous fun, not always the first word that comes to mind with some over-intense winey occasions. When you can relax among people who approach wine as you do, seeing it as a life-enhancer rather than an object to be dissected, it always seems doubly delicious. There are others who ‘worry’ a bottle, rather as a terrier with a bone, and this subtracts from the enchantment. Compare and describe, by all means, but don’t kill it with analysis. And, when all this is accompanied by smooth-as-silk service and utterly enticing flavours, you have nirvana.
Our host had a theme and, for him, themes involve red wine! He did allow us to launch ‘la soirée’ with a meltingly beautiful Champagne, Salon 1997, followed by Haut Brion Blanc 1985 which slipped down a treat. Then, quite simply, he gave us Latour 1961, 1959, 1949 and 1900 – nothing complicated you see. The 1961 remains one of the greatest Bordeaux ever, still stunningly well-knit, in all its grandeur. The 1959 is seductively rich, but this bottle was a little ‘volatile’ which takes away a bit of the cedary fruit. The 1949 had a bouquet of pure perfumed bliss, indicating the beauty and elegance of the year – the taste was pretty good too. And the 1900 put on a show of strength, at the same time impressive and surprising, but very satisfying as well. I don’t remember what the others chose to eat, but I had a little concoction of green beans, hazelnuts, peach and grated foie gras, some mouth-watering roast partridge with walnut milk, cepes and figs, followed by lamb with dried olives and an aubergine glazed in black sugar and garlic. Just the sort of repast I often throw together at home.
The steep slopes of the Quinta do Noval vineyard, wherein lies the Nacional parcel.
Then, heaven, no pudding (although theirs at The Ledbury are inspirational and never too sweet), but cheese with……OMG, one of the all-time treasures of the wine world, Noval Nacional 1931. This extraordinary Vintage Port, made from ungrafted vines and produced against a background of economic depression, knows no equal. It is a complex symphony of spices and fragrant intensity, lingering eternally on the palate, teasingly sweet and alluring, full of star anise and freshness. It is a conversation-stopper, even in this company.
What can one say after a treat like this? ‘ Thank you’ seems a bit tame. When Peter Rabbit binged on lettuces, French beans and radishes, he ‘then, feeling rather sick, went to look for some parsley.’ There is not much parsley in Notting Hill, so we went home and bounced up in the morning feeling – TERRIFIC!