At a dinner the other evening, one of the other diners mentioned this great little wine bar in Covent Garden, called appropriately enough, The 10 Cases, which only ever has 10 cases of 10 red and 10 white wines on hand. As an added incentive to visit, once the 10 cases are gone, they pick a different wine to take it’s place. The tantalizing prospect of a wine list with only 20 wines was something I couldn’t pass up. I was curious to see what they would offer, with some wine lists comprising hundreds of bins, a pared down list would make it easy to choose. Or would it?
The wine list is not the only thing they’ve simplified, The chef, (ex-Coq d’Argent) Juette Shallow has only 3 starters, mains and desserts on his menu, changed daily. My friend Liz who was with me at lunch, commented that the concept is a bit like a “Bistrot Moderne,”common in France – daily menu with quality selection of food and wine, although they call themselves a “bistrot a vin.” They also have a small menu of bar snacks written above the counter.
The food was hearty bistro fare. Stilton & spinach tart, duck salad, egg and foie gras to start, onglet, braised veal belly and trout for the mains. Uncomplicated but appetizing and appealing to the eye, we tucked into our meal with gusto. There was a small complaint about the foie gras toast being slightly burnt but in general, we pretty much ate in silence.
And the wines? The list is well chosen and the prices are not over the top. Surprisingly, it was a a bit difficult to choose but I started with a reasonably priced 2008 Bouchard Gevry-Chambertin (£8 a glass). Full of ripe, red fruits, intense but subtle at the same time, I could have this with or without food. Looking at the list, it was a primarily French with a few Italians in the mix – Barbera d’Asti, Cotes du Rhone, Alsace, Gigondas, Chablis, Riesling – a classic list of wines, as would befit a French bistrot. As an incentive to try the wines they can be ordered by the glass, carafe, or bottle.
After a bit of debate, we went for the 2009 Barbera d’Asti L’Avvocata to pair with the onglet and veal. Cherry, leather, spice, and earthy notes with a line of acidity running through it, finishes off richly, a great food wine. We almost ordered a second bottle but decided to go for a half bottle of dessert wine, the 2007 Comte de Phillipe de Nazelle, Petite Mansang Doux, a late harvest, Vin de Pays. A nectar of a wine, not overly sweet and a very good companion to my apple tarte.
I liked the venue very much, a cozy dining room with a short bar at one end and a private dining room downstairs. Unusually for Covent Garden, there’s no service charge or minimum spend/deposit required for the private dining room. That coupled with the small mark-up on wines makes this a great spot for a drink or dinner in the busy and often over-priced Theatre district of London. Although, we were the spendthrifts, hard not to be with such tempting wine choices. 😉