Just off of Queen Victoria Street, in the heart of the City, this culinary offshoot of the well-established wine bar in Leadenhall Market promises the seasoned oenophile food to match the excellent opportunities for imbibing.
The scene is set when you enter, confronted with the words of Charles Baudetaine: "One should always be drunk. That's all that matters... But with what? With wine, with poetry or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk". So the tone is certainly in keeping with the City tradition of post work libation. Skip downstairs and you find a restaurant-cum-wine bar-cum-wine merchant rolled into one. Wall to wall wines from all corners of the globe greet you, and you get the feeling that if the food isn't to your taste then at least you're sure to find a decent bottle of plonk to keep you entertained. Happily, thoughts like that aren't needed.
Judging by many of the tables, the wine clearly is the main dish of the day for many, though you get the impression plates are ordered as evenings advance – nobody wants to do have too much of an empty stomach when drinking with City colleagues. The slightly naff signage takes the pun too far (it’s in typical B-movie slanting font) and actually does the venue a disservice, as it’s actually a sophisticated spot. The low lighting wine-cellar feel and the rows of wooden tables create an atmospheric, warming atmosphere – an atmosphere that crescendos through the evening as the temptation to experiment with what’s winking at you from the walls becomes ever more irresistible.
Run by a couple of serious wine enthusiasts, the ethos here is taken seriously, and explained with the gusto of a pair intensely proud of their offering – a pride that is entirely justified.
Starters can be an individual plate (between £7 and £9) or a four piece tapas selection for £28. The tapas plate is a very decent size selection for two, and offers a cracking introduction into the excellent food making its way past the pass. Creamy chicken croquetas with a rich aioli are one highlight, as is the chistorra chorizo (a smoky, tangy chorizo from the Basque Country) on a bed of sweet potato mash: it’s the kind of dish you talk about for days.
Mains (£12-£24) are a solid offering of Barbary confit duck leg (rich, impeccably cooked and served with roast and sweet potato with a lovely port jus); grilled yellow fin tuna (seared to perfection); a romanesco, cauliflower, raisin and comté gratin; and a char-grilled sirloin steak. The latter is plentiful but despite impressive marbling, a touch on the tough side. However, the triple-cooked, hand-cut chips are a more than worthy distraction: dry crisped on the outside and perfectly light and fluffy within.
Desserts are devilishly good. Eton mess is deliciously chewy with a big thwack of fruit flavour, and the chocolate torte every bit as rich and velvety as it should be. Alternatively, sample one or two of their excellent dessert wines, with the 2011 En Rama Manzanilla really, really worth trying.
Obviously this place is pretty serious about their wines with over 300 available. However, the best thing is that there’s only a £10 mark up on all wines, regardless of price – so your bottle of Louis Roederer N.V. Champagne will set you back £50: an absolute steal in comparison to pretty much any other London establishment.
If you’re looking to match then the 2009 Chateaux La Croix de Grezard is a full-bodied Bordeaux perfect for the steak but the selection is so incredibly wide and varied you’ll be able to find pretty much anything to suit your palate and pocket. Other highlights include a fantastic 2010 Bourgougne Pinot Noir from Vignerons des Terres Secretes, and a typically aromatic, light Albarino from La Liebre y La Tortuga.
The Last Word
For an operation so enthusiastic about their wine, it’s admirable that every bit as much effort seems to have been put into the food, too. Planet of the Grapes offers a genuinely splendid evening out for food and wine connoisseurs alike – and one that proves Baudetaine had it just about right.