London Michelin Stars and Hungarian Wine
by Elizabeth Gabay MW and Lilla O’Connor
Now that more and more Hungarian wines are available in importer’s books, we have been working with London’s top restaurants training sommeliers to learn more about Hungarian wine.
Last month, the Wines of Hungary team visited the Michelin starred restaurants Ellory in Hackney, and Le Gavroche in Mayfair as well as the dedicated wine-club 67 Pall Mall.
We wanted to investigate different London dining experiences. A stylish and elegant French restaurant in the heart of Mayfair, Le Gavroche was the first restaurant in the UK to be awarded three Michelin stars. A smart, classic decor with a cosy feel, where service is formal and structured, but also full of charm. Head Sommelier Remi Cousin and his team welcomed us. Remi joined the Le Gavroche team in 2016 from The Fat Duck at Bray where he had served the wines of St Andrea, one of Hungary’s leading lights.
Ellory is located in the fashionable London Borough of Hackney in Netil House, also home to 100 studio spaces for creatives, a rooftop bar and a market. The restaurant has a contemporary style characterised by neutral tones, polished concrete floors, simple sanded wood tables, soft globe lights, a small uncluttered bar and an open kitchen at the back. Owner, Ed Thaw and his team gave us some useful insights.
67 Pall Mall, with a large team of sommeliers under the leadership of Ronan Sayburn MS, focuses on education for both its staff and members. (Wines of Hungary will be hosting an Hungarian wine event there in March). Sommelier Klearhos Kanellakis answered our questions.
All restaurants have good Hungarian wines on the menu (mainly from Tokaj), and were eager to know more about what else this hidden wine world has to offer. Remi had recently been to Hungary, but most sommeliers in both teams had not visited Hungary as a wine destination, nor for holidays. We introduced them to a completely new wine destination and we learnt how important it is to connect to sommeliers and build these relationships.
Elizabeth Gabay MW was keen to find out some more and asked whether the renown of sweet Tokaj Aszu hides the potential of other Hungarian wines?
Remi from Le Gavroche didn’t think so. “Usually customers who know something about wine will know
there is more than Tokaj. However at Le Gavroche we serve a range of sweet wines from Royal Tokaj.” Remi had recently been to Hungary with Chris Donaldson MW of Royal Tokaj and loved the wines he tasted, especially the Szamorodni wines, in particular Samuel Tinon’s Szamarodni. Le Gavroche customers rely on the advice of the sommeliers, who do a great job of showing a beautiful diversity of wines. Klearhos felt that the sweet Tokaj wines were established as premium sweet wines, but they were also successful in launching the dry white wines from the region.
According to the team at Ellory, dry Furmint has been growing in reputation for a while now, thinking particularly of the wines from Mad. Ed Thaw has long been impressed by Kékfrankos from the likes of Peter Wetzer and Franz Weninger. “Certainly there needs to continue to be work done to talk about Hungary as a serious maker of dry wines, both white and red.” he adds.
But what about the red and white wines of Hungary? Remi liked the fresh wines of Villany and Szekszard, while Ed Thaw Ed says: ‘I’m still learning, but the diversity is impressive. The quality of winemaking is very good and I love wines made on volcanic soil. There is plenty of that in Hungary. I am also an ‘acid fiend’ and there is no problem with that either. Hungary can do elegance and it can also do power and everything in between. I’ve got an oxidised Furmint on the list at the minute which is excellent.’ Remi adds “Many will necessarily know that Blaufränkisch and Kékfrankos are the same or how Kékfrankos can be expressed in different ways. The soils are diverse so there is really a whole lot more that can be done.” Klearhos admitted his knowledge was mainly restricted to sweet Tokajs and knew little of other Hungarian wines.
All sommeliers had thought that Hungary had lost the image of bad quality wines that had once been produced during Communist times. ‘I don’t think that customers equate Hungarian wine to communism! People don’t know about it that much to be honest, which I think is a massive plus. It’s not like where a customer says they hate Chardonnay or Riesling because they had some crap at a house party in their teens! In my little bubble of East London, we are lucky to have a local audience that are up for something different. Being unknown is an advantage. We can tell the story with no baggage.’ – says Ed. Klearhos pointed out that the labels were sometimes a little old-fashioned which did not help in reflecting the growing energy of the country.
Elizabeth was keen to find out whether interest and knowledge are age related: ‘Do you think younger customers would be more likely to try Hungarian wine? Do older customers go for the classics?’
‘At the Ellory we’ve deliberately made our short (two page) list full of obscure grapes to encourage people to drink something different and to force them to have a conversation. – says Ed – ‘Our list is also all Old World. So no Kiwi Savvy B and only the odd safe haven like a Meursault from Jobard. I get so much more pleasure from surprising a customer with something delicious that they haven’t seen before and I think Hungarian wines are perfect for this – a blank slate!’