The Charles - a brandy and sweet vermouth-based number I've enjoyed in numerous drinking dens - is a prince among cocktails. In honou...
Thursday, 12 September 2013
Sager + Wilde, Hackney
One bad mistake aside - a winter sun week in Arenal, the boil on beautiful Majorca's backside - my parents didn't do package holidays. Where my childhood chums were deported to the building sites of the Costas, we were discovering another side to Spain. Drained by the drive from Scotland, my father had stopped off in Zarautz, a small seaside town 20 miles beyond the border with France. Nominally Spanish, the Basque Country - with its impenetrable language. beret-toting hombres, pelotta frontóns, and the added frisson of knowing that a separatist's bomb could go off at any minute - was, and still is, a curious place where 'full English breakfast with a free can of Carling' and GB car number plates are rarer than pink unicorns. Contemplating exuberant, colourful locals en familia in buzzy alfresco bars enjoying pinxtos (as we did not yet know them) as the sun set on surfers riding in on Biscay breakers towards a glorious sweep of golden sands, Dad decided we need not venture further. Zarautz would be a holiday destination we would return to several times after my parents' initial coup de foudre (or whatever the Basque term is). This year, holidaying in the French Basque port of St. Jean de Luz, I revisited Zarautz. Some smart new apartment blocks aside, the old place looks and feels exactly the same - the children who'd been snacking on pinxtos all those years ago, now grown up with kids of their own, were hanging out in those self same cafes and bars. What has this to do with a new gaff in Hackney? I'll explain. Aged 9, hot chocolate and churros were my Spanish fixes. But this year, I got to grips with Basque wines - "wersh (i.e. 'acidic' in Scots) gut rot" according to my father. As with Catalonian Cava, production methods have come on in leaps and bounds.I fell in love with ruby rich Alavesa riojas, French Basque Iruléguy, and summery young white, Txakoli. Light, slightly sparkling, with a crisp bite, it's produced in the lush Pyrenean foothills around Zarautz and the neighbouring commune of Guetaria. I was thrilled to find a Bodegas Rezabal Txakoli on a notable list at Sager + Wilde - a handsome wine bar from a young husband and wife who clearly know their grapes. Tricked out in architectural salvage (Victorian cast iron and glass brick pavement insets as bar counter), all tasteful tonal chic, this is not what you expect to find on an East End strip where 3 for £10 mini-mart muck is the norm. Whether Txakoli is still available a fortnight later, I can't confirm: the offer is revised daily depending on what great bin ends the Sager-Wilde's have tracked down. All wines are available by the glass: from Kentish bubbles, via top drawer riesling and lovely light Loire reds to a Comtes Lafon 2007 Meursault at £15 a pop. Cheese platters, cheese toasties and charcuterie are what to eat at this admirable reboot of a once dodgy boozer. If you're travelling out East and spot Sager + Wilde; remember my old man's words "Why go any further?" 193 Hackney Road E2 8JL http://www.sagerandwilde.com