Years ago, I remember when the Cape Town Hotel School restaurant first opened on the Granger Bay campus, literally a stone’s throw from the V&A Waterfront. “Hmph”, said my father, ever the pessimist, “why on earth would you pay good money to go and eat at a place where the chefs don’t know what they are doing and the waitstaff are even more clueless than usual?”. And it is true that he never set foot there. But over the years, the restaurant has earned a very good name for itself, serving good food an unchallenging prices, with super-friendly service. So much for my father’s words of wisdom! I do, however, know of other people who are wary of eating in restaurants where the staff are still training – for all those people, I recommend a visit to the Vincent Rooms at the renowned Westminster Kingsway College, one of the top catering schools in the country.
I recently had occasion to visit to attend a fundraising dinner and auction for the College’s culinary arts competition team and gastronomy society – the team evidently competes at culinary events all year long and needs funding to prepare for and travel to these events. I had been invited by one of the team’s sponsors, WineTrust 100, an online wine supplier with a difference. At at any given moment, they only have a list of 100 different wines for sale, rigorously selected by a team of Masters of Wine as being the best examples in their price bracket – in other words, wines that over-perform for their price. each wine is given a QPR score (denoting the relationship between its quality and its price) – the closer to 100 the QPR score, the better the quality is in relation to the price. The list is constantly being reassessed and refreshed and you can search the site for wines by price, drinking style or occasion. In short, Wine Trust 100 provides wines sourced by experts, for people who want to enjoy wine without the worry that they are getting value for money. As all the wines we were enjoying with our meal were from Wine Trust 100, I was looking forward to seeing what they had on offer.
The College premises are located on Vincent Square, about halfway between Victoria Station and the river, and the Vincent Room is a long and attractive room running along the front of the buildings with huge windows looking out onto the square. My partner-in-crime for the evening was the lovely Rosana of Hot and Chilli and I was also pleasantly surprised to find Tom (Cambridge Wine Blogger) and Liz at our table as well as the charming John Valentine, one of the founders of Wine Trust 100. Upon arrival we were welcomed by glasses of Doyard Cuvée Vendémiare, an organically produced Champagne with aromas of baked apples and sweet lemons and a crisp minerality on the palate with a toasty finish. Our first dish was an amuse bouche of smoked celeriac and Gorgonzola dolce soup with a Parmesan crisp. This was prettily presented in an espresso cup and hooked me instantly with its creamy smokiness and the crispy contrast of the Parmesan crisp. A great opening gambit. This was followed by a confit of British wild game birds, shaped into an impressive inverted cone and accompanied by a fruity chutney. I found the meat to be a bit dry but packed with flavour and well-seasoned, making it a perfect match for the wine, a 2012 Clos Habert Montlouis (Francois Chidaine) (£20 from WineTrust100). Montlouis is a village in the Loire region just across the river from its more famous neighbour Vouvray and both produce various styles of wine from Chenin Blanc grapes – if I had closed my eyes, I would have pegged this as a delectable Vouvray. I loved everything about this wine, from its nose of dried peaches and baked pineapples to its creamy, rich palate with hints of apricots, perfectly balanced acidity and long, long finish. Definitely my wine of the night.
The fish course consisted of cod and cockles with samphire – a beautifully cooked piece of flaky, succulent fish paired with a flavoursome creamy cockle sauce and strands of salty samphire. The matching wine for this dish was the 2012 Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) (£11 from WineTrust100), a classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with a nose of tropical fruit like passion and kiwi fruits and a crisp palate with hints of lime and gooseberry without the overt greenness that I sometimes find overwhelming in Sauvignon Blancs. It remains a big wine though, and possibly a little too strident for the delicate fish. This was followed by a celebration of Welsh lamb: roasted cutlet, braised neck, ffagod and oggie; Caerphilly and leek mash, roasted root vegetables, Welsh beer jus. This was another standout dish for me. Welsh lamb is seldom a disappointment, but to serve it four ways on one plate was a treat. The cutlet was tender and perfectly pink in the centre while the braised neck was fork-tender in the way that only meat cooked long and slow can ever be. An oggie turned out to be a small lamb pasty; and the ffagod turned out to be the Welsh version of a faggot (chopped pig’s liver wrapped in caul fat) and my favourite bit of meat on the plate. The Caerphilly mash was a creamy cheesy treat as well. To match the lamb, we had a 2009 Escarpment Pinot Noir (Martinburough, NZ) – a lovely deep coloured wine with super-soft tannins and ripe red berry fruits on the palate, as well as the characteristic “meaty”, almost savoury undertone that I often detect in Pinots. A great match for the lamb as well as for drinking on its own.
Up next was a selection of cheeses which included Blue Murder, Dorset Red from Ford Farm, Gordwynn Caerphilly, Capricorn Somerset goat’s cheese and Appleby’s Cheshire Cheese. My personal favourites were the crumbly and flavoursome Appleby’s Cheshire and the fabulously creamy Capricorn goat’s cheese. The cheese were served with a 2007 Castelnau de Suduirant, Sauternes, a wine made from vineyards that border on those of the famous Chateau d’Yquem’s. The wine has a seductive nose of orange blossoms and dried apricots and a complex palate of caramel, dried fruits and hazelnutty flavours – a good match for the cheese and equally good on its own. The final course was dessert, which consisted of individual warm chocolate cakes with Tanzanie chocolate ganache, Kirsch cream and black cherry coulis. This was my other standout dish of the night – as much for the dense, moist cake smothered in decadent ganache as for the boozy cherries. Seriously good. This was served with a 2011 Domaine de la Rectorie Cuvée Leon Parce, a classic fortified Banyuls made from Grenache grapes allowed to macerate for three weeks in neutral alcohol. The result is a wine that shows some characteristics of a port, packed with intense red and black berry flavours but balanced and with a clean, almost nutty finish – more than man enough to stand up to a rich chocolate pudding! I did not manage to photograph the petit fours that came with coffee but little squares of blackcurrant jelly stick in the memory – like concentrated Ribena in solid form and most delicious.
The standard of food all night was pleasantly high, and service (although a little nervous at times!) was friendly and approachable. The Vincent Rooms restaurant is open to the public Monday to Friday 12-2pm for lunch and Wed & Thurs 18h30-21h00 for dinner. Prices are astonishingly lov (£4 for a starter; £10 for a main) and there is a tasting menu available for the ridiculous price of £25. Almost all the wines on their compact wine list (with the exception of the Champagne and some Chateauneuf du Pape) are under £20. I liked all the wines that WineTrust100 selected and positively swooned over the Montlouis. To illustrate their statement that the selection of 100 wines on the site changes regularly, a couple that we had at the dinner in November are now no longer available so the selection does indeed change. If you are running a restaurant, bar or simply having friends over for a big party, WineTrust100 is a great place to go to take the guesswork out of choosing value for money wines.
DISCLOSURE: I attended this dinner as a guest of WineTrust 100 but was not required to write this post and received no further remuneration to do so. All opinions are my own and I retain full editorial control.
Vincent Rooms Brasserie
76 Vincent Square
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7802 8391
E-mail: [email protected]