To celebrate what is being claimed as Britain’s most extensive English wine list for a chippie, Peter Dean headed to Olley’s Fish Experience in South London to sample each of the nine English wines, matched with five different fish suppers. What seemed like an enjoyable stunt at first was in fact an insight into a wonderful commercial and epicurean opportunity – I mean could a meal be any more quintessentially British than English wine served with fish and chips? (NB – we have avoided masses of fishy puns in this article for the sanity of all).
Seven fish, different serves and batters (including gluten-free) and nine wines, four of them sparkling. Which were paired with which? and how successful were they?
It’s a food match in heaven. Deep-fried fish with English sparkling wine. Lovely jubbly. In fact, any wine with high acidity (preferably white) will work well with deep fried food, and if it has batter then so much the better – the fat being retained around the food so the acidity of the wine can cut through it.
Of course, it is not just table wine that works so well with deep-fried food. One of my favourite wine-matches from Fiona Beckett last year was chilled Fino sherry with onion bhaji that, if you haven’t tried it, is simply a must, especially if the bhaji has plenty of spicy heat. And there’d be a few takers for spicy tempura prawns and an ice-cold lager, I’ll bet.
But, deep-fried fish and English wine is a winner. That was the main take-out (Pete! – behave – Ed) from a splendid English wine tasting at Olley’s fish and chip shop, South London.
Although it is a chippie, Olley’s has a restaurant attached and caters for its mixed clientele with perception and imagination – a tasting menu of gluten-free battered fish matched with gluten-free British beer, for example. Saveloy was nowhere in plain sight. So starting an English wine list was a natural extension of this philosophy.
Kicking off we tried classic Prawn Cocktail with Ridgeview Fitzrovia Sparkling Rosé (Sussex) and Chapel Down Brut N/V (Kent). Both worked very well indeed but the Rosé had the edge, its delicate strawberry taste standing up to the paprika used in the Marie Rose sauce and the acidity cutting through the mayo. Great combo.
Next up was Grilled Herring on Deep Fried Bread paired with Jenkyn Place Blanc de Noirs 2010 (Hampshire). Normally in Olley’s they serve this on toast but, because this was a tasting function they wisely chose deep fried bread so that the bread wouldn’t sag.
This was my pairing of the night with the yeasty, almost Marmite flavours of the grilled herring hitting all the savoury notes in the Blanc de Noirs, helped by the age of the wine that matched the dish for complexity. The wine stood up to saltiness of the fish, cut through the acidity and was a refreshing mouth-watering finish. Wow!
A chance to try the Gluten Free Battered Hake was next, paired with Bolney Pinot Noir (Sussex). There were fans in the room but I wasn’t one. The fish batter had a woody core and I don’t want to be rude about the wine but I didn’t want to drink it from the first sniff. I still think British Pinot is a work in progress.
A more successful pairing was Battered Lemon Sole served with Lyme Bay Shoreline – Bacchus, Pinot Noir, Reichensteiner, Seyval Blanc (Dorset). This has a green, slightly citrus nose, a good crunch on the fruit and wonderful lemony acidity. It matched the delicateness of the fish to perfection and was my still wine and still wine/ fish match of the night.
Battered Haddock was then served with two Bacchus – the first a 100% Chapel Down Bacchus (Kent) and the second a Litmus Bacchus/Chardonnay blend (Surrey). I am a fan of Bacchus but the Chapel Down wasn’t showing well – armpit, cat’s pee. The palate was agreeable enough and had a savoury quality that worked well with the haddock but not for me I’m afraid.
I preferred the match of the Litmus with the haddock and maybe it was the Chardonnay in the blend that was helping. The wine was unusual, quite vibrant with hints of mandarin. Close but no cigar.
Battered Cod was then served with Jenkyn Place Brut NV (Hampshire) which proved once again that it is the sparkling wine that works best here. A lovely big yeasty nose worked well with the batter and the acidity gave the dish a perfect balance.
And just to fill those tiny corners in the stomach we had probably the weirdest combo of the night – Battered Salmon served with Litmus White Pinot Noir (Surrey).
I don’t know who in their right mind would eat battered salmon and chips but I guess there are some because Olley’s knows their fish and chip customers. Way too big and fatty obviously. The wine is also a bit of a curate’s egg. There were some who loved it – it would be a nightmare at a blind tasting, a real conundrum. It was complex, floral, grassy, a bit cheesy. The wine was easy drinking enough but it didn’t have the acidity to match the fat in the food.
Two curate’s eggs – don’t know why they didn’t pop in a pickled egg as well!
So my top three wine pairings of the night in order would be:
- Jenkyn Place Blanc de Noirs 2010 & grilled herring on fried bread
- Ridgeview Fitzrovia Sparkling Rosé & prawn cocktail
- Lyme Bay Shoreline & battered lemon sole
The rationale behind how the wine list was created started off with trying to get as large a spread of English counties covered as possible and, to make the wine buying easier, finding one wholesaler who could cover as many wineries as possible and, with that, as many different styles. Olley’s picked Bibendum because it delivered the brief.
Rupert Ponsonby the PR supremo behind the list and a co-owner of R&R Teamwork also managed to squeeze client Jenkyn Place onto the wine list. Naturally.
So, overall, a top experience and confirmation that fish and chips works marvellously well with English wine, particularly the sparklers. I for one will think twice about ordering Tizer or Iron Bru next time I find myself in a chippie.
PS: predictive text wants to make ‘chippie’ into ‘hippie’ so Harry, you were almost the winner of the London’s best hippie awards!