Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
For many years I have used this blog to moan about the price of wine in UK restaurants (I do love a good moan and the blog is a rather splendid medium for me to vent my spleen), with mark ups often applied at 3 and sometimes even 4 times plus over retail prices. This can be contrasted with the position in Spain, where even the top end Michelin star gaffs tend to mark up wine at well below 100% of the retail price
By way of example, I had a bottle of the frankly brilliant Remelluri Blanco (a white rioja and one of the best white wines I have ever had the pleasure of tasting) 2014
at the one Michelin starred Mirador de Ulia in Donostia – San Sebastian last year for the not inconsiderable sum of €65. This is a wine that can be found at around the £45 figure retail (similar retail price in both the UK and Spain if you are canny) and I have seen it on a list (here in UK) at The Raby Hunt Restaurant for a whopping £140. I wouldn’t (and didn’t) hestitate to pay €65 for this exceptional wine in a restaurant, but I certainly wouldn’t be prepared to shell out £140 (€158) for it.
I, therefore, am a big fan of restaurants in the UK that offer corkage where you can bring you own wine (got to start drinking some of mine, as it seems to be drink one buy three at the moment and I am seriously running out of space) and pay a flat rate fee for the pleasure.
To many it may seems odd to pay to drink your own wine, but generally it makes perfect economic sense with the standard mark up rates applied by UK restaurants. This is especially the case when you move up through the gears price wise at the retail level.
In terms of the sense of it (even when you don’t factor in that you can take wine you absolutely know you like), Restaurant James Sommerin in Penarth has a Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2014 (a very nice Saffer wine) on its list at £87. I can get this wine in Costco in Cardiff or from the Wine Society for around £21. On this basis a corkage charge of £10 would save me whopping £56 and even a corkage charge per bottle of £30 (which would be outrageous in my view) would net me a sizeable saving of £36 over buying off the restaurant list!!
I had mused on twitter the other week as to how I would love Hawksmoor to bring their brilliant £5 (any bottle size) corkage on a Monday offering (nice to see no increase at all in the charge since at least 2015) to Cardiff. Great for the likes of me and an excellent way to get punters through the door on Mondays. Also it is a fantastic option for those in the restaurant trade who tend to get Mondays off but then find places that are open are few and far between.
As if by magic, Asador 44 replied to my tweet with a “watch this space” teaser and followed it up with a rather wonderful announcement.
To say I was pleased was an understatement to say the least and I immediately booked a table for the kick off Monday of the 14th October. I then started thinking about what wine to take (based on a table of 3 comprising of J, Mrs. SF and I).
No mean task when you have you have a few bottles to choose from I can tell you.
With the fare being tradition Spanish asador, a Spanish white (for grilled fish or indeed a light red such as a Sumoll or a Trepat) and/or a full blooded Spanish red (for the meat) were the obvious options.
Having led a tasting at the Jeroboam Club (in Bristol) a month or so back on the wines of the Spanish Mediterranean coast and hinterland (with the bottles coming predominantly from my collection),
I had one in mind – the winner of the wine of the night at that tasting – in the form of a Sot Lefriec 1999 (4th from the right above).
A legendary “garagiste” wine from Penedès, Sot Lefriec is made from a beguiling blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cariñena, with the first vintage of this wine (the 1999) being heralded by the wine press in Spain as “the Jewel of Penedès“. A rare old beast these days (only 5500 bottles were produced and after 20 years there are few still left out there), I was lucky enough to pick up a case of it about 5 years ago for a paultry £20 a bottle (at auction – somewhat of a bargain as it turned out, with the 1999 now going for serious money).
As I had Corovin’d one bottle of my Sot Lefriec stash to check they were still OK, before taking another bottle to the tasting, that bottle was the obvious one to take (Corovin’d bottles do last but not for ever – 6 months is the max. time I have left a corovin’d bottle, with no ill effects but understand you can leave for 12 months plus – am engaged in ongoing experiments on that front).
I had opened the Sot Lefriec (can be very tricky extracting corks from older vintage wine as the corks tend to crumble and disintegrate if you use a screw) using a fab new toy (an Ah So, which made it a doddle to remove even when it was a seriously long bugger)
and double decanted it (it threw a ton of sediment so good job I did) in prep. earlier in the day.
A wine that has a great affinity with seafood, I thought it would be perfect with the more fish orientated starters on Asador 44’s al a carte menu.
and this proved to be the case. The minerally nose, with lemon zest and crisp apple and the juicy orchard fruits and (again) minerality on the palate worked as a perfect foil for our rich mackerel and salmon starters.
Both very sucessful pairings I thought.
On to the mains, whilst there was lots to tempt (scandalously I have yet to have either the sucking pig or the milk fed lamb at Asador 44)
the three of us had already decided on a steak and that would prove to be a perfect pairing with the glorious Sot Lefriec 1999 I had bought.
Belying its 20 year age, this had none of the brickish hue or even rim you would expected from a similar aged rioja and was as fresh as a daisy (it has still got years – possible decades – left in it, which is great as I still have 4 bottles of it left). On the nose it was all old leather and singed meat, whilst on the palate there was rich dark fruits and a gorgeous spiciness.
Absolutely fabulously with some rather lovely, crispy skinned, confit mallard duck legs (a meaty amuse bouche)
and then a prime bit of dry aged Hereford beef,
In addition to the two sets of fries you get in the price of the 750g Hereford beef, we ordered an extra portion of fries and three other sides (the carrots, broccoli and courgettes, but I forgot to takes pictures of them – school boy error),
These, with the steak made for more than enought for the three of us.
We finished off the wine with a selection of the lovely cheeses that Asador 44 offer.
Again forgot to take a picture!
A “Hawksmoor” style Monday corkage offer has been on my wish list for Cardiff for years and it being done by one of my favourite restaurants in Cardiff just puts the tin hat on it for me. Mondays may never be the same again for us Cardiff winos.
We went for dinner but the £5 corkage deal (any bottle size, bring out the magnums, jeroboams and melchoirs – that’s 18 litre/24 standard bottle size – ladies and gents) is also available at lunch so you can bag a double bargain by having theexpress lunch
and bringing your own bottle. I can see a few half days being taken by me on this basis.
One thing I would really encourage is buying your BYO bottle from a local merchant (for example the Bottle Shops in Penarth or Roath, Wright’s Wines in Castle Arcade and Curado Bar on Guildhall Place, with the latter having in stock some real Spanish pearlers).
My advise is push the boat out a bit and spend at least a tenner (if not more) on your bottle. With wine duty in the UK at a flat rate of nigh on £3 a bottle you get much more bang for you buck with a £10 plus bottle wine wise, as the proportion of the cost that is duty as opposed to the actual wine is much lower. Also the more pricey the wine is retail the greater the benefit of the flat rate £5 fee.
If you pay £5 for a bottle the standard UK mark up will take it to £15/£20 on most restaurant lists so you are only saving £5/£10. If it is a bottle that retails at £15, a 3 times mark up takes it to £45 and with the £5 corkage you save £25.
This wine, for instance, should be on every red wine lovers must buy list
An absolute steal at £15.95, it can be picked up retail a max of 75 yards down the road from Asador 44 (from Curado Bar’s deli). It would be great paired with an Asador 44 steak.
If you do nip in to Curado to pick up a bottle(s), before going on to Asador 44 on a Monday, you can take advantage of their half price pintxo on a Monday as a pre dinner snack – might want to try a glass of their on draft Montilla Moriles fino (exellent value) when you’re there. Winner, winner I would say.
Would I go back? Absolutely – outstanding offer. Already planning a GROSS (grumpy, relatively old, sods society AKA my friends) boozy lunch at this place.
Bravo Asador 44, bravo 😁.
Just be aware this Monday corkage offer is not (unsurprisingly) going to be available in December, so fill your boots in October and November and then in the New Year.
Address: Quay Street, Cardiff, CF10 1EA
Tel: 029 2002 0039
Website: Click here, with online booking function
Offer available : Every Monday (ex December) from 12.00 – 15.00 and 17.30 – 21.30.