1 Mar 2013

Restaurants: The Lamb Inn

MY room is named after The Glenlivet, and part of a spent cask from the Speyside distillery protrudes a wall. This is The Lamb Inn, fifteenth century outpost of the Boisdale group. Ranald Macdonald, whose clan is from the remote Outer Hebridean port, Boisdale, founded his first whisky and cigar focussed bar in Belgravia in 1988. The business expanded to Bishopsgate in 2002, with the especially opulent, purpose built Canary Wharf site opening in 2011 The signature green ceilings, blood red walls and slightly salacious art works work well in The Lamb, although here, combined with four blazing fires and the lack of live music and mobile phone signal makes the ambience especially romantic. 
‘We wouldn’t buy anything we wouldn’t drink,’ says Boisdale’s Wine Buyer, Ercan Mutlu, who has driven down from London to re-stock Rhône reds for shooting parties, one of which has brought their catch for chef to cook tonight. To accompany his rare breed Red Poll sirloin steak, Mutlu is delighted to have found a “stash” of South African Shiraz in the cellar from ‘04, the year Macdonald bought the pub.
Of Turkish origin, Mutlu, who it later transpires is a mean arm wrestler, originally studied not wine but IT and maths. However, following the collapse of the bank in which he was destined to work in 2001, he went from part-timer at Boisdale to full-time, simultaneously studying the WSET at London Bridge. “The job chose me,” he says. With an attractive starter of semi-sweet, golden heritage beets, goats cheese and walnut crumble (£6) Mutlu selects Simonnet-Febvre’s Petit Chablis ‘08 (£28.50/bottle). Still fresh and vivacious, and with a touch of gunflint, it over delivers and cleanses the cheese clear from the palate.
Next, Mutlu pushes the boat out with his accompaniment for the ‘Beast of the Day’, a surprisingly plump pheasant given the local roads, on and off the bones, with caramelised red cabbage and double-cooked chips (£16). The last bottle of Château Lalande Borie ‘06 St-Julien (£57.50/bottle), from an estate owned by Bruno Borie of Lillet and the owner of Ducru Beaucaillou, brings complimentary dark cherry and tobacco flavours to the gamey bird, landed locally. 
Next, with a tall wedge of Bourbon, vanilla and lemon cheesecake (£5.75), my companion chooses a dram from the 15-page whisky list, alphabetically arranged. “Glenrothes ’88,” guesses Mutlu correctly on hearing her description of the 43% Speyside Scotch (£19/50ml) - “warm orange and vanilla.” 
Cheese follows, including tasty and often overlooked Red Leicester (£8.50). With this we sip Port from the millennium from Quinta de la Rosa (£13.50/100ml). Mutlu mentions he worked the ‘11 harvest at the property. He also recounts the gamble he took on buying an unmarked case of Taylor’s ’55 for £1,000. Fortunately, when correctly identified on opening, he was then able to sell it for £800 a bottle. 
Before retiring, Mutlu mentions that he and MacDonald will soon head to Havana to share their love of whisky and cigar matching. But, from this cosy Wiltshire haven, where the dark of the night tightly engulfs all, the brass of Cuba seems an especially long way away...

For Harper's Wine & Spirit magazine