Spread across four areas, Clarette in Marylebone is forÂ wine-loving novices and connoisseurs alike
Alexandra, daughter ofÂ Corinne Mentzelopolous,Â owner of ChÃ¢teauÂ Margaux, always wantedÂ a restaurant of her own. With co-ownerÂ Natsuko Perromat du Marais,Â an experienced restaurateur whoÂ worked with Alain Ducasse for 10Â years, they succeeded, among 22Â other offers, to rent a Scottish pub inÂ Londonâ€™s Marylebone area. ClaretteÂ was an obvious choice for the newÂ restaurantâ€™s name, reflecting the hugeÂ British affection over centuries forÂ claret wines.
Alexandra Petit MentzelopolousÂ grew up among the finest of wines,Â but she admits that she has had noÂ formal wine training. However, she didÂ spend six months working with BerryÂ Brothers and Rudd wine merchantsÂ in London. Her passion for goodÂ wine shines through in the wine list sheÂ initially created. She is now assisted by the head sommelier, Caroline Fridolsson.
While keeping the black and whiteÂ timbered faÃ§ade and windows withÂ the Scottish coat of arms in stainedÂ glass, the new owners have made theÂ three-floor interior relaxed, cosy andÂ welcoming. Claretteâ€™s ground floor hasÂ a wine bar, central communal bar-tableÂ and blue velvet banquettes with chairsÂ around the sides. TheÂ ground floor isÂ popular with guests for a glass of wineÂ and a light dish orÂ sharing plate, or forÂ just a coffee between meals.
The second floor with indigo wallsÂ covered with French prints and postersÂ is the place for more leisured dining. TheÂ red room, an alcove with scarlet wallsÂ enclosed behind curtains, is popular forÂ wine dinners, where up to six peopleÂ can dine in private. The next level isÂ for celebrations, wine tastings, andÂ private dinners with wine producers.Â One wall lined with empty wine bottlesÂ is a striking feature. Outside, a terraceÂ is being refurbished to provide moreÂ enclosed private dining.
Alexandra says Clarette started as aÂ wine bar with nibbles, but now the thrustÂ is towards restaurant food. Caroline,Â who supervises two female sommeliersÂ from Spain and Greece, describes theÂ wine list as â€œversatile and flexibleâ€. It isÂ not extensive with 100 to 121 bins butÂ has plenty of wines by the glass and â€œhalfÂ bottlesâ€, which are 375 ml servings fromÂ full bottles kept under the Coravin system.Â â€œClients like this option when they donâ€™tÂ want a full bottle,â€ she says. â€œIt gives themÂ a chance to sample different wines.â€
At Clarette, the emphasis is onÂ classic French wines especially BordeauxÂ and Margaux, which Alexandra buysÂ directly from the chÃ¢teau. Although theÂ list includes wines from around theÂ globe including Hungary, Greece andÂ Syria (a red 2010 Domaine de Bargylus),Â an entire page is devoted to ChÃ¢teauÂ Margaux ranging in price from `8,521Â to `98,667. Clarette offers the chance toÂ sample Margaux or other wines in fourÂ wine flights. The â€œMargaux Discoveryâ€Â at `6,279 includes 2013 Pavillon Blanc,Â 2004 Pavillon Rouge and 1999 ChÃ¢teau
Margaux Grand Vin, while a flight ofÂ â€œSommelierâ€™s Picksâ€ embraces French,Â Greek and American wines.
Caroline does not rigidly pair wineÂ and food although she may recommend.
She is guided by diner preferences,Â which at Clarette are mainly for classicÂ Bordeaux. To go with the wine, ChefÂ Aaron Ashmore serves dishes like 28-dayÂ steaks, small burgers and beef tartare.Â The menu, Aaron says, is ingredientÂ focussed, seasonal, and changed everyÂ six to eight weeks. Signature highlightsÂ are Comte and truffle beignets andÂ pulled pork croquettes with lovage.Â Dishes are French-inspired, comfortÂ food with a twist, such as pancetta,Â onion and Rebluchon tartiflette.Â Vegetarian options include ample sideÂ dishes like roast carrots with goatâ€™sÂ cheese, honeycomb and herbs. ClosedÂ for lunch on Mondays, on other days ofÂ the week Clarette features lunch menusÂ for Rs 1,794 comprising two smallÂ plates and a glass of wine.
Clarette, 44 Blandford Street, London. WIU 7HS; + 44 (0)20 3019 7750. www.clarettelondon.co
This article appears in Sommelier India, Issue 2, April – June 2018Â