Words: Alex Whyte

I find it much more interesting eating out in Autumn or Spring than in the height of Summer or depths of Winter. Menus seem to read best on the cusp of these seasons, when the diner is full of the optimism and nostalgia that Spring and Autumn seem to bring.

This is also my favourite time of year to eat in Britain: the beginning of Autumn when the leaves start to fall and temperatures begin to drop, but the days are long enough and weather fair enough not to keep you indoors. Autumn’s larder and the earthier, deeper flavours and textures it brings are also a good excuse to bust out the kind of wines that perhaps we forget about during the long, hot days of summer.

London is becoming more and more of an interesting place to drink, and a couple of meals out lately have served as a good reminder of just how magical this season’s food can be with the right wine. The beginning of Autumn means one thing to a lot of London’s chefs and that is grouse. Of the half dozen or so riffs I have tried since the season started a few weeks ago, my two favourites have been at Lyle’s.

The beginning of Autumn means one thing to a lot of London’s chefs and that is grouse.

On one occasion the roasted leg and breast of the bird were carved and served with its liver which was topped with sweetcorn and hazelnuts, on another a more traditional preparation saw the meat served alongside pickled mulberries and a cracking bread sauce. In both instances a glass of artisan producer Lamoresca’s 2013 Mascalisi, a blend of Nerello Mascalisi and Frappato from Sicily had a firm, bittersweet note that echoed that of the bird and the other ingredients on the plate.

Another grand bird was had just up the road as part of the tasting menu at The Clove Club. This time it was a free-range duck from Challans in France, hung for three weeks and slow-baked in a salt crust, a technique borrowed from chef David Kinch of Manresa in California. The bird is then smoked over juniper branches and presented to the table. It smells quite unreal.

It is whisked away for carving before being served with the first-of-the-season’s Scottish ceps both roasted and raw and a cep milk spiked with more of those mushrooms, garlic and thyme. The ageing of the duck yields a bird with a texture, depth of flavour, gentle sweetness and funk unlike any meat I have eaten. A knockout with Herve Souhaut’s 2013 Le Souterrone, a Gamay made from eighty old vines planted over schist in France’s Ardèche that combines the nimble, juicy appeal of the grape with the depth and spice so typical of the region in which it was grown.

Oh, and if you splurge for the extended menu (which you should) you’ll be brought a wine glass which will be rinsed with 100-year-old Madeira and filled with a broth made with the duck’s bones, ginger root and ceps. Autumn in a glass.

You don’t need to go the whole hog for a tasting menu to get a taste of the season, one only need find their way to Bermondsey’s eponymous wine bar 40 Maltby Street on a night that their pigeon and prune sausage roll is on the menu and enjoy it propped at the bar with a glass of whatever owner Raef Hodgson has opened that day. A rotating cast of gems from some of Europe’s best organic producers, like the cheekily-named 2010 P’tite Gaterie, a blend of heirloom Loire Valley varietals Grolleau, Gamay and Pinot d’Aunis from Les Griottes, which is equal parts soil, leaves and spice.

Autumn isn’t just for carnivores. A dish of Scottish Chanterelles, onions and a slow-cooked egg is one of the best things I have eaten this year.

Autumn isn’t just the realm of carnivores, a dish of Scottish Chanterelles, onions and a slow-cooked egg at Lyle’s is one of the best things I have eaten this year and at lunchtime down at Toast in East Dulwich a tenner will buy you a plate of food that immediately tells you the time of year. Very good polenta is cooked in whey and topped with wood-roasted mushrooms and wonderfully deep, nutty Comté cheese, and served with a glass of the meaty, fleshy Cuvee de Galets 2013, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan from Rhône organic cooperative L’Estezargues. A dish that positively screams of the season and a wine that is more than its match.

Alex Whyte is the co-owner of Tutto Wines, a specialist importer of artisan wines from Italy (www.tuttowines.com)

Restaurants
Lyle’s, Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High St., London E1 6JJ (www.lyleslondon.com)

The Clove Club, Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old St, London EC1V 9LT (www.thecloveclub.com)

40 Maltby Street, 40 Maltby Street, London SE1 3PA (www.40maltbystreet.com)

Toast, 36-38 Lordship Lane, London SE22 8HJ (www.toastdulwich.co.uk)

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