Just what the hell is “Noble Rot?”

I had heard the term from time to time but never bothered to investigate.

Then a couple months ago, when Joanne and I were in London, we were seeking out restaurants that were not expensive… yet had earned a lusted-after Michelin star. One of the names that popped up was THE NOBLE ROT in Mayfair.

That prompted an investigation.

Noble Rot, I learned, is a type of grey fungus (Botrytis cinerea) that is affectionally and deliberately cultivated on grapes to enhance the making of certain wines, especially expensive sweet wines that earn consistently high Wine Spectator scores.

The Botrytis grapes are not pretty. They are partially raisined by a process that concentrates their flavor and sugar while still on the vine.

The Noble Rot is a neighborhood restaurant located in Shepherd Market, an oasis of calm, in Central London……And as you might suspect, it’s a wine bar with a cleverly curated carte that caters to all tastes and budgets…with a Coravin wine-by-the-glass list that’s reputedly the best in town…and it all comes with all MICHELIN-STARRED food.

The founders, Don Keeling and Mark Andrew, have opened two other locations besides Mayfair – one in SOHO, the other in Bloomsbury.

The dining room is timeless and impressively approachable, softly lit and old school. The cuisine, while basically British at its roots, has one foot entrenched in tradition while the other foot kicks it forward, resulting in an inventive modern Euro/British dining experience.

The drill…

Joanne and I shared several starters and snacks, including choux buns filled with savory duck liver mousse and drizzled with honey – a delicious counterpoint.

Next came four creamy Maldon raw oysters (think Maldon Salt in the spice aisle at Lunds). Two were bathed in Raveneau Chablis wine sauce. The other two were paired with miniature chorizo meatballs.

Spicy fried Mylar prawns with their whiskery heads were delightfully crunchy and ready for dipping in house-made mayonnaise (a really nice mayonnaise).

Palourde clams from the Iberian peninsula, steamed in white wine and butter and paired with little morsels of Basque sausage, were a big hit, too.

Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – skip the bread plate with slices of chewy rye, sourdough, springy focaccia and the light bitter tang of Irish soda bread. Tear off pieces, slather them with farm butter, and sop up the broth of the steamed clams.

Other appetizers included Parma prosciutto with fresh figs and Hereford prime beef carpaccio with piquant green peppercorns.

Okay, Minnesota, don’t freak out on the upcoming offerings.

Cornish cod roe, spread on sourdough toast, was salty and wonderful. How about Devonshire smoked eel with sour gooseberries and horseradish?

Grilled octopus and deviled eggs casino with anchovy butter followed. Both good.

Salads were large enough to be shared. We still ordered three. Chilled smoked sea bass with cucumber, fennel and Marcona almonds was an unexpected combo. A classic followed: Belgian endive, pear, walnuts, dried cherries and Stilton blue cheese. YUM! But the best of the salads paired smooth, silky burrata with fresh figs, arugula, olive oil, mint, chile flakes and anchovy. Yep…the BEST!

Then came a few “tweeners.”  Could have been appetizers, could be mains.

One combined chilled salt cod, octopus, fingerling potatoes, sugar snap peas and breakfast radishes with yellow mayo – more of a summer dish.

As it was fall and truffles were in season, I ordered the tagliolini with white Croatian truffles. This was the only item that broke the budget. But how could I resist the sweet, earthy “He-man” armpit aroma? Does that make me a BAD PERSON?

Speaking of aromas, gnocchi with goat curd and winter mushrooms looked and smelled good. We didn’t order that.

The problem was that we were getting full. So the following images capture notable selections made by our fellow diners.

I hope I wasn’t the Ugly American roaming from table to table taking photos. But the other patrons were friendly enough and didn’t seem to mind. Then again, it’s said that the British will never say what’s really on their mind – * “Yo! Fugger pig! Get the hell away from our table, you wanker!”

Oh well, here goes – and it’s a beautiful sampling of what to expect from this pocketbook-friendly Michelin-starred London restaurant/wine bar: Heritage breed Middle White pork loin…prime Scotch beef sirloin…Welsh Blackface lamb chops…smoked eel resting in crab bisque dotted with caviar…Dover sole for two with crab butter and Jersey royal potatoes…Slip sole in smoked butter…Cornish monkfish with mussels in mustard bourride…French Challans duck breast (the same duck served at Paris’ iconic Tour d’Argent)…and the leftover leg of the duck, you ask? Why duck confit, of course.

All right, here is what Joanne and I ordered…

Perhaps one of the best side dishes ever: Delicata squash, spinach, walnuts and Roquefort butter.  And for our main dish? Roasted chicken in Vin Juane sauce for two with morel mushrooms.

By now we were really full. But you know what they say: There’s always room for a cheese course. I remember the Brie and the Stilton Blue.  But other than that? My memory is obscured by a recollection of chocolate mousse served with brandied prunes, vanilla ice cream and a hazelnut biscuit (“cookie” to you and me).

Finally, I conjure a vision of a sort of profiterole, the likes of which I had never seen: a baseball-sized choux pastry with dark chocolate syrup, lip-smacking salted toffee caramel sauce, toasted hazelnuts, sea salt flakes and mascarpone cheese. THAT was memorable, even at the end of a wine-saddled dinner.

Now, one last thing about noble rot, the nasty fungus that is among us: It’s related to penicillin, creamy blue cheeses, wines of superior quality and, finally…., ATHLETE’S FOOT.



* “Yo! Fugger Pig”…. A.A. Gill, London Times

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