Question. When is a shop, not a shop?
Odd question I grant you when this post is about lunch in a wine shop, but it is something I pondered over a glass of very nice Champagne a couple of weeks ago as we got ready for a five course “Mother’s Day Lunch” at Berry Bros and Rudd in St James. We had been escorted down several flights of stairs into a cellar underneath their flagship London store, where it was explained that this is no longer a shop. It’s a front. A front that has been on this sight since the 17th century, and which remains little changed. Obviously back then it sold wine (to the likes of George III, Lord Byron and William Pitt the younger) but in more recent times the shop itself moved around the corner from St James’s to Pall Mall. Such an iconic building though the “front” has been retained and it now acts as a reception area and a mini museum.
Seeing a need to find other ways to generate revenue streams, and wanting to make the most of the historic site, a BBR team set about transforming the network of cellars that sit underneath the property. And what a stunning job they have done. Leaving some areas as obvious cellars for wine storage, some of the network of chambers have been turned into “entertainment spaces”. They can be hired for corporate events or private tastings, or they provide the backdrop to one of many wine events that Berry Bros themselves now host.
Which is how we found ourselves in the Napoleon Cellar a few weeks ago. A gift from my parents for Christmas they knew this would be a magical way to spend an afternoon, and they weren’t wrong.
Lance, our host, explained over that glass of Champagne (a Berry Bros and Rudd Rose by Marguet, Grand Cru since you asked) that Napoleon III hid in the cellars for three days which is why this space is now named after him. The very same Napoleon who is buried just a couple of miles away from us in Farnborough (Mr B wrote this blog post about it: Napoleon is buried in our back garden back in 2016).
But onto the lunch:
Hot smoked salmon with horseradish creme fraiche and watercress
2015 Pouilly-Fuisse, Sur La Roche, Olivier Merlin, Burgundy, France
Roast fillet of beef with grilled white aspargus and truffle Hollandaise
2008 Ch. Batailley, 5eme Cru Classe, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Cheeseboard: Comte / Brie de Meaux / Fourme d’Ambert
2015 Vacqueyras, Pavane, La Bastide St Vincent, Southern Rhone, France
Salted Caramel tart with poached Champagne rhubarb and white chocolate ice cream
1997 Ch Coutet, 1er Cru Classe, Barsac, Bordeaux, France
Lance explained a little more about each of the wines as they were served (the food needed no introduction, it was all superb). There was no pomp to it, or talking down to us as though we knew nothing about wine. And for those of us that really don’t as much about wine as we pretend we weren’t in any way made to feel stupid. Or to smell the gooseberries, or taste the terroir. And with the snippet about the wine done we were left to chat to our other guests (just 22 of us in all). This wasn’t a masterclass, there were no questions asked, other than “would you like some seconds of cheese?”, something that Mr B was blown away with more than anything else on the day. He has already told several people that seconds of cheese is quite possibly the best thing to have ever happened to him.
All too soon lunch was over and we were allowed to wander the corridors before emerging back into the late afternoon sun. It was easy to imagine how the building appeared in the 1800s to a hiding Napoleon, or to any one of his contemporaries.
If you love your wine and really want to do something a bit different this would be a great place to spend an afternoon or evening.