Enter husband and wife, Christopher and Khadine Rose, the latest crusaders of corkage. Launching this month, their well-intentioned initiative is the unambiguously titled ‘Bring Your Own Bottle’ club (BYOB). For an annual fee of £100 (£75 for early subscribers) members may enjoy the fermented fruits of their cellars at selected times in participating restaurants.
However, depending on the whims of the venues, which pay nil for promotion, a modest corkage may still be charged. So far there are 45 London locations including ‘Boisdale’s of Belgravia’, which lawyer, Christopher part owns, ‘Angelus’, and Michelin-starred ‘Apsleys’ at The Lanesborough.
Demonstrating the risk averse mentality of his profession, Christopher’s rules forbid homemade or boxed wine (known in the trade as ‘bladder packs’). And offering the sommelier a taste is considered ‘nice’.
The Rose’s introduced the scheme to the press over four suppers at ‘Rasoi’, ‘Tom Aikens’, ‘Baltic’ and Boisdale’s. Curious to see what wines my hosts would match when faced with spice and heat, I chose Rasoi Vineet Bhatia’s eponymous eatery. Beyond the Chelsea townhouse facade, the Michelin-starred Indian wove a decadent decor with innovatively presented, sometimes provocative, fragrant dishes.
Released from a perspex cloche, smoke dissipated a starter of tense tandoori salmon. This was partnered with what Colin Thorne of BYOB’s wine merchant partner, ‘Nicolas’ described as ‘Graves meets Marlborough’ – the blowsy ChÃˆÆ’teau Brondelle ’07.
Also from the tandoor, chicken breast, blackened with spices, contrasted flecks of gold. Allowing the complexity of the dish full expression, ChÃˆÆ’teau de la Rouliere rosé d’Anjou proved refreshing against its delicately rising heat.
I ended with a numb mouth. Served in two halves of a capsule, arranged as a giant pill, dessert of cumin-scented dark chocolate and hazelnut brownie was balanced by the other half of white chocolate and betel nut kulfi ‘Malai’. Rasoi’s German MÃˆÆ’itre’d explained that betel is banned back home on account of its nicotine like effects. Tasting a little like peppered vanilla, the ground nut not only acts as an aid to digestion, but, making my jaws sluggish, effectively rendered me temporarily mute. This was matched with a reasonable Banyuls from Mas Guillaume (’05) which added further notes of caramel. Incidentally, for authenticity, Khadine had couriered me the bottle the previous day with instructions to bring it in a discretely branded neoprene bag.
Thinking away from the Rose’s hospitality, I still liked their idea. It should remove the potential awkwardness one faces when bringing wine to a venue. When all corkage charges are stated on the club’s website, it should also avoid surprises such as the £50 corkage which Mayfair’s ‘La Petite Maison’ recently charged me (£5 more than the ‘Fat Duck’ restaurant). Supplemented by regular newsletters, members only banquets and possibly a forum, the club could also engender a sense of community.
But I have concerns, should the idea succeed. Some restaurants, even at the top of their field, are under-staffed for attentive wine service. Others may not retain the wealth of appropriate glassware – an important consideration for what is likely to foremost be a connoisseur’s club.
Furthermore, the idea will be of little use if venues impose straightjacket measures, such as only allowing corkage at peculiar times and/or levying a brutal corkage fee. Conversely, if a sommelier sets corkage too low then the restaurant suffers. Comparable to a government offering income tax cuts whilst levying stealth taxes elsewhere, in the absence of income from wine (and mineral water), a restaurant will simply raise it elsewhere.
Find out more – www.byowineclub.com
Rasoi – 10 Lincoln St, London. SW3 2TS