We may have missed the wine harvest during our Tuscan stay in a vineyard (more on that very soon when I finally post about our epic foodie tour of Europe) but we still got a chance to celebrate, thanks to an invite to join in Sofitel Wine Days. No, I hadn’t heard of it either but it’s an annual event where Sofitel hotels around the world celebrate wine through their own events, whether it’s wine tastings, creating special wine-based cocktails or organising food and wine pairings.
I tried the latter, which not only gave me the chance to raise a glass to the wine harvest but to check out The Balcon – a brasserie on the ground floor of Sofitel London St James, smack bang in the heart of the capital. You enter from Pall Mall itself, wandering into a gorgeously elaborate interior. It reminded me somewhat of the interior at The Gilbert Scott – probably something to do with the effortless elegance and grandiose decor.
I was late (standard) and found my pal nestled in the corner of the gorgeously decadent room studying the simple, yet tempting, menu for the night. The theme was Alsace Wines and Food Pairing, so for starter we had the choice of seared mackerel, foie gras ballotine or roasted goat’s cheese, each served with a different Cave de Ribeauville wine.
If you’re a wine fan, this bit will be of interest to you. Cave de Ribeauville was created in 1895 by the wine growers of the same name and is apparently a pioneer winery in Alsace. Its wines were described as “bright, vibrant and addicting” – always guaranteed to catch my eye!
Despite knowing we were most likely going to eat steak for main course we couldn’t resist both going for the foie gras ballotine. For me it was because I wanted to try the Riesling Grand Cru Osterberg 2010 it came served with. For my friend, well, I think she just fancied a bit of indulgence.
We had our first sips of wine with some of the selection of bread and butter, both very tasty, before our simple yet elegant starter arrived. I know foie gras is a bit of a marmite food choice so if you’re a fan you’ll know it was great and if you hate it you may as well skip to the next paragraph. The serving was simple, as I think any foie gras dish should be, with the gooseberry jelly adding a different texture and the verjus syrup bringing a sweet tang that contrasted perfectly with the rich foie gras.
For main course, we both went for the Plat du Jour which was bavette steak with maitre d’butter and house rosemary fries. It was paired with a glass of Château Lucas Cuvée Prestige 2010, an impressively meaty Bordeaux unlike anything I’d usually try (I tend to prefer something slightly lighter, but that’s just my taste). The steak was gorgeously rare, exactly how I like it, and – in a week of crazy eating and complex, complicated meals – stunningly simple. Steak, herby butter, and nice crispy fries. Sometimes you just can’t go wrong with a simple steak and chips.
The red was nice, but didn’t win my heart quite as much as the Riesling had, though I’m sure plenty of Bordeaux lovers out there would have enjoyed it. I’m certainly no wine expert but my pal and I wondered whether it wasn’t quite up to room temperature enough to appreciate it’s full glory, though I guess perhaps we could have waited to find out rather than quaffing it…..
Dessert was a tough choice, with temptations ranging from a honey ice cream macaroon to a sharing plate of Parisian pastries or a selection of Harvey & Brockless English or Beillevaire French cheeses. I went with the waiter’s recommendation and opted for the Raspberry Souffle with white chocolate ice cream.
It was as statuesque yet transitory as a souffle should be – to be eaten before it sinks back into itself leaving just a trace of its former greatness. I’d have been impressed enough by its light fluffiness and hint of raspberries, and then I discovered the core of white chocolate inside the souffle itself. Oh yes.
My friend was struck by the dark chocolate fondant with poached pear and hazelnut praline. As she pointed out on the night, chocolate and pear is a great combination in flavour, and the fact her pear took the form of different textures along with the praline made it a good dessert rather than a mess of chocolatey goo.
Before we knew it, and what felt like 10 minutes after we’d arrived, we were done and leaving so I could race back to the station. We both agreed it was a good evening and a great way of trying a few wines we may not have had before, paired with simple, but well cooked, food.
The Balcon has a great way of combining the simplicity of French brasserie food with the elegance and refinement of a venue whose front door tips you out on to the middle of Pall Mall. In a similar way, the service is top notch without being stuffy and we’re grateful to the staff who put up with our endless babbling whilst trying to look after us to the best of their abilities.
I’d head back to The Balcon on any ordinary day, but Sofitel Wine Days is something a bit different and a nice way to access different wines in gorgeous surroundings. It’s on for the whole of October so you’ve got yourself a week or so to go and give it a try. Make sure you let me know what you think if you do…
I was invited to try Sofitel Wine Days at The Balcon as a guest and our meal was complimentary.