Thursday, July 13, 2006

Gastronaut Lift-off

Just for a moment you could imagine you were in Southern Spain, Sevilla perhaps. No wait – far too lush and green for that. We must be in Northern Spain, perhaps in Pamplona. The only thing missing was a bull running amok in the picturesque garden…and that’s probably just as well. TJ has been out and about getting the scoop on one of the top pubs in the country. The Griffin Inn in Fletching near Brighton could be most of your dreams come true. Owned and run by the wonderfully hospitable trio of Nigel, Bridget and James, this is truly a pub with heart and soul in every plate and glass.

We had convened with the aim of bringing together some of the great gastro pub and restaurant minds in the area for a bit of a session. Our hosts provided a feast for both the eye and the belly (more on that later) and Jean Leon, Casa de l’Ermita, Hidalgo and Quinta do Vallado came to the party with some lip-smackingly good wines. The setting for the aperitifs and cured Spanish meats on the lawn overlooking the Ouse Valley was magical. Our sherry sashayed and our rose rollicked along.

To the tables and wonderful tapas. Gazpacho, garlic prawns, calamari with lentils, chorizo and broad beans, cod with chickpeas – all divine and presided over by bewitching Spanish eyes. With these treats, the Jean Leon trio of Pago Chardonnay, and Terrasola Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc confirmed the sheer class emanating from this benchmark Penedes producer. With the main course still to come, belts were loosened and glasses drained as a trio of red wines arrived. The Pago Merlot from Jean Leon reminded us that it is one of the top Merlots in Europe while the Tinto and Tinto Reserva from Vallado showed the balance of power and grace for which red table wine from the Douro is fast becoming known. With these we got stuck into a wonderful pork dish whose crackling could be heard several pubs away.

When pressed to describe the wines, all manner of characters and images were invoked with mention of everyone from Bond villains to BA Baracus, but by this point brains had become addled by too much fine food. And as if they hadn’t done enough already, our kind hosts then turned over four of their new and delightfully appointed guest rooms to weary Bibendumites. If you get the chance…go there. We can’t promise you’ll get all of the above each night but you will get the warmest welcome this side of Dodge. And the wine’s not too bad either…


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