|Raising the Bar in Excellence Awards|
|Thursday, 17 December 2009 17:12|
The UK has arguably the most exciting restaurant wine and spirits lists in the world, yet the efforts of those who create them is frequently overlooked. It often seems it's the chefs who get all the glory in terms of awards and press, and the sommeliers, restaurant owners and buyers who work so hard to create the drinks offer are forgotten.
In an effort to remedy this, Harpers Wine & Spirit launched the Drinking Out Excellence Awards. The first national competition to recognise excellence in wine and spirits lists, the event is now in its second year and takes place at the Soho Hotel, London, on Tuesday January 26.
The 2010 Drinking Out Excellence Awards will bring together the cream of the UK's on-trade scene, as well as the panel of judges which nominated them for one of
The chosen venue this year is the Soho Hotel, described as "the most glamorous hotel in the world" by Tatler.
Shortlisted venues will have the chance to taste our sponsors' wines, network like crazy and, of course, hear who has won the coveted top prize in each category. BBC presenter Nigel Barden will again be conducting proceedings.
There are double the number of judges this year - nearly 40 national food and drink journalists, Masters of Wine, on-trade wine experts and regional merchants have helped decide this year's shortlisted venues. Among them are Tim Atkin MW (the Observer); Tom Sandham (spirits writer); Fiona Sims (food and drink journalist); Jonathan Ray (the Telegraph); Gearoid Devaney (former Sommelier of the Year); Stefan Chomka (Restaurant magazine); Olly Smith (TV presenter); Christine Austin (Regional Wine Writer of the Year); and Peter Harden (Harden's Guides).
So how have the judges chosen their winners? We asked them to consider the quality of the lists in terms of depth, diversity and interest. Also, how relevant the offer is to the style of cuisine and the quality of service offered. Other factors include the ambience of the venue, tasting notes and the by-the-glass offer.
This year's DOEA shortlist (one other category, Best Overall Establishment, will be chosen from the 14 category winners) is London-based unless otherwise stated.
Best Drinks List in an Asian Restaurant
Hakkasan (last year's winner): One of London's most inventive Chinese restaurants. Group wine buyer Christine Parkinson is creative and hard working, going the extra mile to find gems for dishes that aren't always the easiest of matches.
Roka: The younger sibling of Zuma, Roka offers contemporary Japanese cuisine in a buzzy setting. The excellent wine and sake list, and knowledgeable staff, have been winning it plaudits.
Cinnamon Club and Kitchen: Under the enthusiastic direction of wine buyer Lauren Chaniac, both the Westminster restaurant and its more informal outpost in London have wowed our judges with its innovative wine offer.
Champagne Venue of the Year
St Pancras Grand: With an extensive list covering everything from keenly priced, by-the-glass offerings, right up to some seriously rare prestige cuvees and vintages, the restaurant has had a hugely successful year.
Texture: Under Xavier Rousset MS, the Mayfair restaurant and Champagne bar has rapidly gained a name for offering an eclectic and varied list, including a good by-the-glass offer and a well-judged mix of big names and smaller independent producers.
The Greenhouse: Another Mayfair gem, the restaurant offers a huge and jaw-dropping list of vintages and producers under the expert direction of Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn.
Chez Bruce (last year's winner): What more can be said about the quality of the wine offer? Head sommelier Terry Threlfall, who helped the Wandsworth outlet also win Best Overall Establishment last year, has come up with a list that has made it a favourite haunt for the judges.
Ransome's Dock: Wine buyer and chef Martin Lam has not only put together a fantastic and affordable list for the Battersea restaurant, he works hard to come up with imaginative tastings to inspire his customers.
Northcote Manor, Lancashire: Is proving the quality of restaurants across the north of the country. Nigel Haworth (of Great British Menu fame) has employed the services of head sommelier Neil Alexander to create an approachable and varied list of 400 bins.
French Wine Restaurant of the Year
La Trompette: This friendly Chiswick institution has an eclectic 600-bin list, specialising in Burgundy and regional France, offered with the engaging advice of head sommelier Matthew Longuere MS.
Sous le Nez, Leeds: This Leeds restaurant has been a favourite with local diners for 15 years, offering a varied and unusual wine offer that is so extensive it has been split into two lists.
Texture: As detailed before.
Italian Wine Restaurant of the Year
Enoteca Turi (last year's winner): There are more than 300 bottles on offer here, sourced from across Italy. Every single one has been chosen for its suitability to the menu, and all have their own personalised tasting notes.
Locanda Locatelli: The comprehensive wine list, with a great by- the-glass choice, is accompanied by friendly and informative service.
L'Anima: It may have launched in the City at the start of the recession, but this innovative Italian restaurant has gone from success to success, winning praise for its list specialising in lesser-known regions and small producers.
New World Wine Restaurant of the Year
The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, Wiltshire: A passionate advocate of Australian and New Zealand wines, owner Roger Jones has created a fantastic list and is constantly thinking up new ideas for tastings and themed menus.
High Timber: This Thameside restaurant, created by Gary and Kathy Jordan of Jordan Wine Estates in South Africa, has a 40,000-bottle cellar that is fast becoming an attraction in its own right.
Chez Bruce: As detailed before.
Spanish Wine Restaurant of the Year
Fino: This trailblazer for Spanish wines is the place to go to discover the best wines the country's regions have to offer as well as a great sherry list.
Cigala: This north London neighbourhood restaurant won praise from critic Fay Maschler for its commitment to Spanish food and wine, and for its "beguiling and fairly priced" list.
Tinto Tapas, Glasgow: This Scottish restaurant is one of the few authentic Spanish tapas venues in the area and has won praise for its extensive and affordable wine offering.
Wine Bar of the Year
Terroirs: Les Caves de Pyrene bar and restaurant has taken no time at all to become a firm favourite, rapidly gaining a name for its wonderfully niche wine list.
The Wonder Bar (Selfridges): Fun is what this joint's all about, with the choice of table service or serving yourself from the ingenious "wine juke box" to complement plates of crustacean, charcuterie and cheeseboards.
Green & Blue: Kate Thal's bar adjoins the shop, offering a wide range of hand-selected wines with a focus on naturally made and organic examples from around the world.
Wine Pub of the Year
General Tarleton, Great Ferrensby, Yorkshire: Owner John Topham his put together a list of 150 bins, more than 20 by-the-glass, at reasonable mark-ups: "We are in Yorkshire after all," he says.
Yew Tree, Cliffords Mesne, Gloucestershire: This pub has already won awards for its fantastic list, which offers diners the chance to buy a bottle at shop prices with a small cash mark-up.
Coach & Horses, Clerkenwell: Buyer Colette Webster entirely educated herself about wine, and her enthusiasm has produced a small, but perfectly formed, list that is full of reasonably priced gems from around the world.
Spirits Venue of the Year
69 Colebrooke Row: This new cocktail venue has bar guru Tony Conigliaro at its helm who, with his surprising mixes, has created the "El Bulli of booze" according to Time Out critic Ben Macfarland.
Bramble, Edinburgh: This venue has soul - from the music it plays, to the laid-back approach of the staff, to the great blend of classic cocktails to bespoke originals.
The Coburg Bar at the Connaught: Everything a proper hotel bar should be, an oasis of refinement offering three centuries of drinks, made with the finest ingredients and accompanied by an informative list.
After Dinner Drinks Restaurant of the Year
Hawksmoor: Will Beckett and Huw Gott's steakhouse and cocktail bar has become a firm favourite with the in- crowd for its late closing hours and imaginatively laid-out drinks list.
Quo Vadis: Already an institution on the bar scene, Quo Vadis has everything you could want from a members' club: comfortable seating, great cocktails and a fun ambience.
Amber restaurant, Edinburgh: Located within the Scotch Whisky Experience next to Edinburgh Castle, Amber has an unrivalled selection of malts.
Wine Personality of the Year
Eric Narioo: Champion of the notion of terroir and small producers, the inimitable founder of Les Caves de Pyrene has brought his unique sense of adventure when it comes to wine to hundreds of restaurants.
Gerard Basset: Master Sommelier, Master of Wine and co-founder of the Hotel du Vin concept, Basset now has his own place in the New Forest and is held in enormous respect for his huge field of wine knowledge.
Xavier Rousset: Friendly, enthusiastic and a real wine expert, Rousset has won admiration for his work at Texture in London.
Spirits Personality of the Year
Tony Conigliaro: Legendary bartender Conigliaro is widely acknowledged as one of the world's pioneering drinks creators.
Tomas Estes: One of the most important people in tequila, Estes has been made an ambassador for the spirit by the Mexican government.
Kirsty Loveday, Love Drinks: The owner of Love Drinks set up the company in 2007 to fill what she saw as a gap in the market for a specialist spirits importer.