“Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them, Champagne makes you do them” – Jean Savarin
Another local hostelry, West Street Vineyard offers something very few cafes can provide – exceptional views over their own vineyard while eating lunch in glorious sunshine. OK, the sunshine was good fortune rather than planning on behalf of the vineyard, but you would hope for a few rays in August.
There are so many things to like about the vineyard cafe, starting with the fact that it is purpose-built, includes a wine-cellar and venues for wine tastings and lectures on viticulture and suchlike, jazz brunches and more, of which the eating indoors and out is merely the cherry on the cake. Even before you sample the goods the appearance tells you it is a classy joint, which classiness is conveyed consistently through the entire vineyard experience. For example, they score highly for the well-appointed loos and the keen and friendly waiting staff, helped out by what I assume to be the manageress and owner.
This is how you exploit the value of your investment (though I’m loathe to use the B-word, since I detest the concept of branding.) Ultimately, the vineyard sells more of its core product, namely the wine, by the quality of everything they do and attention to detail, but best of all is the manner in which it’s achieved – with a touch of style. I like the amusing and delicious quotes about wine painted in wavy lines around the walls. My presumption is that if you have had sufficient wine, the lines all appear straight.
In fact I’ve visited the vineyard cafe a number of times, sometimes for coffee and cakes, occasionally for the grazing boards and various other culinary treats, though in practice you can eat there more or less dawn to dusk (see menus here) in the style of proper brasseries – here winemaking substituting for a brewery. In practice, the drinks menu is very attractive, including not just wines but also beers, good strong coffees, various interesting juices and “posh squash” to tempt every palate.
I’d have to say the food is pretty decent at any time, too. Not perfect but not at all bad, certainly worth a second and third visit, and it demonstrates perfectly the attention to detail I mentioned above. Even more to the point, they take the time and trouble to source quality local ingredients – excepting the Orkney sirloin advertised on the evening menu, Orkney being nowhere remotely near Essex and certainly not the closest location to source fine aged steak! They also cook fresh in their own kitchen, which as regular readers will know is a marker for earning respect in my books; more to the point it is the minimum standard everyone should be demanding of every eatery!
On this occasion a lightish lunch began with cream of white onion soup, which delivered not one but two separate textures and flavours: above it delivered the top notes of exquisitely creamy onion laced with extra virgin, while lurking in the depths like a metaphorical iceberg was the weightier spoonful of what I guessed to be pearl barley or similar grain. For my companion’s liking the barley was a tad heavy, though the onion soup itself won huge admiration from both. However, another black mark for the fact that no butter was provided with the dry bread accompanying our soup, and when requested the butter was fridge-cold.
For mains we both went for the beef burgers, which is pretty odd. Time was I wouldn’t have touched a burger with a barge pole, but these days you can get some really fine meat well-cooked in patty format. Having experimented myself, I know the results can be delectable, confirmed by a recent trip to the excellent Honest Burgers in London.
At first sight, this was a great-looking steak burger, encased with bacon, melted cheddar, sweet onions and lettuce in the perfect brioche, good chips (I’m not fond of calling them “fries”) on the side. And so it was pretty good too, with a couple of minor gripes. The first was that the excellent bacon came with rind on, which is fine on a plate where you can cut it off, but within a burger proved chewy and indigestible; secondly, I wish we had been given a chance to have the burger cooked to order, for I would have chosen medium-rare, much as Honest Burgers cooked theirs. This version was great quality but overdone, consequently dry and lacking the succulence to match the flavour. A shame but hopefully this will soon be corrected – though I was mollified by the fact that the mayo we requested was the real deal, home made from fresh eggs and a proper deep yolky yellow in colour rather than the insipid white offered by the bottled varieties.
So a few minor points aside, there is much to be said for the West Street Vineyard, and I for one am looking forward to a touch of Sunday Jazz brunch when I can find someone to accompany me. Actually, scrub that – I need a driver first so I can sample a few of the wines. Any volunteers?