Otto’s – London
Grays Inn Road
tube station – Chancery Lane)
BY NEAL MARTIN | NOVEMBER 15, 2019
Sautéed wild mushrooms on toasted brioche,
foie gras poêlé and truffle sauce
Boned pig’s trotter stuffed with calf’s
sweetbread and morels
Grouse livers seasoned with parsley served
on toasted brioche and morels
Grouse à la presse (with Pomerol reduction)
and potato soufflé
tatin with vanilla ice-cream
evidence. That red liquid you see pouring into the saucepan is a pristine
bottle of 1964 Lafleur.
Otto Tepasse pours the ‘1964 Petrus into a saucepan
to season his reduction and doubtless at that precise moment, Jean-Claude
Berrouet feels an inexplicable cold shiver pass through his core. Our whirling
dervish of a maître d’ is not finished. No sir. As this legendary Pomerol bubbles
away, the 1964 Lafleur screams for mercy as it is martyred in similar fashion to
add a little “je ne sais quoi” to this increasingly expensive sauce. My
bewilderment and disbelief are soon usurped by admiration. In this pious age where
wine is often measured by monetary worth, Otto’s brazen act is a timely reminder
that rules are there to be broken. Life is about not thinking but doing the unforgivable; consequences be
damned. This treasonable act should be celebrated. Go for it my friend!
His wily frame brandishes the third bottle,
no less than 1964 Latour-à-Pomerol. His audience of three guests along with
Bacchus himself, laugh, cheer and applaud.
There is still one bottle per sybarite so
we will not go thirsty this afternoon.
This was unlike any other lunch that I have
attended. Each year I meet with bon viveur Lord Bruce and his trusted butler Gareth
Birchley so that together we can put the world to right and to paraphrase
Withnail himself, enjoy the finest food and wine known to mankind. I had prepared
a bottle of Claret in advance, however Birchley advised me not to bother,
signalling that my contribution would be overawed by Lord Bruce’s munificence. I
will broach this vinous trio after telling you all about Otto’s because you
might never heard of this dying breed of restaurant, the kind that must be
Following this year’s personal upheaval, I
was determined not to miss our annual meet-up.
Life goes on.
Lunch goes on.
I had wanted to visit Otto’s for many moons,
but as I walked from Chancery Lane up Grays Inn Road, I was perturbed by this rather
scruffy part of London, replete with Tesco Metro and second-hand mobile phone
shops and dog-eared boozers. Next to a dry-cleaner you find Otto’s, a black awning
and a handful of potted greenery brightening up on the facade. Perhaps its mundane
locale tricks the unsuspecting first-timer into lowering their guard because
the interior comes as a shock: old school Parisian decadence.
in hospital recovering from open-heart surgery I did not imagine this scenario
just a few weeks later.
Otto’s is essentially homage to that French
institution, “Tour d’Argent”, the restaurant on the banks of the Seine and the
bastion of traditional French cuisine since time immemorial. These restaurants
have two things in common. Both use antique presses that are theatrically
wheeled to your table, whereupon your chicken or lobster is squeezed with each
turn of the screw in order to eke every drop of flavour-rich juice. The
difference is that at Tour d’Argent the waiter will turn the press whereas Otto
insists that first-timers don a ludicrously horned metal Viking’s helmet and turn
the screw themselves. It is completely mad, but we need frivolity and silliness
more and more these days. The second common feature is Otto himself. He worked
at Tour d’Argent before moving to these shores to work at Mirabelle in its
heyday, before opening his namesake restaurant in 2011. However, its ambiance
deceives you into thinking Otto’s has existed for years.
We pre-arranged a special lunch menu
centred upon seasonal grouse. September is the perfect time to eat this game,
in my opinion better than immediately after hunting season begins on the
Glorious Twelfth. My theory is that the first shot birds must be the most
stupid. If you were a grouse, wouldn’t you choose to stay at home instead of
flying outside every 12 August?
livers on brioche toast. Not something one you consume every day after heart
surgery, but one day shouldn’t do too much harm.
Had my heart surgeon walked into Otto’s, as
I consumed more calories per mouthful than the entire previous month, then he
would have wondered if my heart op was worth it. So, I played as safe as I
could with a starter of sautéed wild mushrooms on toasted brioche, foie gras poêlé
and truffle sauce, all mouth-wateringly delicious. I am not obsessed about food
and wine matching, but fungi such as morels and girolles are ideal matches for
mature Pomerol. The brioche was perfect and the sauces strong but not
overpowering. We shared a plate of boned pig’s trotter stuffed with calf’s
sweetbread and morels that seemed to melt in the mouth, its deliciousness only
equalled by pangs of guilt indulging in such gustatory decadence.
had at work with this antique silver press, mid-flambé. Thankfully by this time
he was no longer using our 1964 Pomerols for his reduction.
Now it was time for the main course, though
more accurately it was theatre with Otto its star. The action happens around
your table. The restaurant offers “Canard
de Rouen à la Press” and “Homard à la
Presse”, duck and lobster, which must be pre-ordered. These antique presses
are made of solid silver, so rare and valuable that apparently burglars recently
tried to break in and steal one. The bird is presented whole for inspection,
then disappears into the kitchen and returns as tender slices. The rest enters
the press. Otto ignites a burner and creates the reduction for his audience (the
1964 Pomerol seasoning is optional.)
We ate two courses, the first with the
grouse livers, sautéed and served on warm brioche and morels, tangy and rich,
though not has gamey as I expected. The main course of grouse bathed in the
reduced sauce, served with a bowl of potato soufflé, was ineffably delicious.
Of course, it was perfectly cooked, perfectly pink and perfectly seasoned. It
is not the very best grouse that I have eaten, but it was up among the best. By
this time my stomach was full and yet I could not resist the tarte tatin
with a boule of vanilla ice-cream.
This photograph does not quite capture the richness of the reduced sause that smothered the grouse.
Now it was time for the three Pomerols. What
a privilege, drinking these legends side-by-side and observing their
transformation with aeration over the course of hours. Jean-Claude Berrouet
made two of these wines. In fact, when sitting next to him in September during
the 2019 harvest, I showed him a photograph of the bottles, prompting Berrouet to
recall how Jean-Pierre Moueix recruited him fresh out of his oenological
studies. He had never even tasted Petrus before he was charged with making the
1964. These bottles all had outstanding provenance, purchased in the Seventies
and stored in a perfect cellar in West London, the Lafleur from an original
Latour-à-Pomerol comes from the end of a golden era for this Pomerol cru.
It is a wine that I have tasted two or three times previously and one that lies
in the shadow of the 1964 Petrus. It shows more maturity in colour than either
the Petrus or Lafleur with visible bricking on the rim but still has a fairly
deep core. Initially it is the most flamboyant of the trio with ebullient red
fruit, kirsch, sandalwood and bay leaf, then after a couple of hours it
develops a distinct menthol aroma. The palate is beautifully defined, perhaps
with a soupçon of volatile acidity, the red fruit laced with clove framed
by fine tannins. It feels pliant in the mouth, silky in texture with a subtle
crescendo towards the finish. I find this Pomerol to be the most sensual of the
three and it remains a wonderful wine. The 1964
Lafleur is the biggest surprise. It is a very rare wine, a magnum encountered
several years ago was disappointing. Consequently, my expectations were modest,
though co-proprietor Baptiste Guinaudeau recently assured that there exist far
superior bottles. This was clearly one of those. It has a mercurial bouquet
that delivers Indian spice and cardamom aromas at first, later tobacco,
Montecristo cigars and a light brine-like influence. After a couple of hours, I
notice a whiff of antique furniture and furniture polish. Yes, this is more bucolic
than the 1964 Latour-à-Pomerol, yet utterly compelling. Perhaps this bottle is
the one that most demonstrates melioration with aeration in the glass, finishing
up just a couple of paces behind Petrus. Initially it manifests red fruit,
followed by darker, sultrier fruit with time. Then-proprietors Marie and
Thérèse Robin conjured a magnificent Lafleur.
Petrus sports the deepest colour of the three Pomerols. It is one of the
finest bottles that I have met: dark berry fruit, freshly tilled earth, a sprig
of wild mint, hints of bay leaf all delivered with impeccable precision and
focus. This is a bouquet that you can easily lose yourself within. The palate
is sublime with sappy red fruit, mulberry, thyme and clove, fanning out towards
the finish that is fathomlessly deep. The harmony in this Pomerol is
otherworldly and I feel it is blessed with the greatest persistence of the three.
At 55-years of age, the brilliance of this Petrus remains undiminished.
It was an afternoon like no other: the
theatre of Otto’s and Otto himself, the decadence of the food and this triptych
of astonishing Pomerol. All of it would have been pointless without
commensurate company, and the banter flowed as freely as the wine. How do we top
this year’s lunch, I have absolutely no idea, but you can guarantee that however
it transpires, it will be recounted here on Vinous Table.
to Lord Bruce for so generously providing the bottle for lunch.