There are parts of London that are reeking, dripping in history. Everyone knows that, which is why they go in such numbers to the Tower of London, where actors dressed as 17th-century peasants point them in the direction of the gift shop. But there are quieter corners, barely less impressive, that are seen by few. Even after the Da Vinci Code pointed a certain type of tourist towards the Temple Church, not many make make it to Middle Temple Hall, just a few yards away. It’s an incredible place, so long as you’re not afraid of a little wood panelling, where the earliest known performance of Twelfth Night took place in 1602, with a certain William Shakespeare among the cast.
But a certain group of London lawyers, including as it happens my father, go there all the time. And recently I got to have dinner with them. And after dinner, I got to poke around their wine cellar.
To tell the truth, the cellar bit was rather disappointing. I thought they would have acres of subterranean caves full of three centuries’ worth of first-growth Bordeaux, but that stuff must be kept somewhere else. What they did have is a single corridor full of lesser Bordeaux classifications – Chateau Figeac, which I’ve always liked for mainly typographical reasons, seemed pretty popular – some interlopers from the Rhone and quite a lot of Kiwi sauvignon and cheap viognier from the Languedoc.
The actual food was pretty decent, given that they were catering for a large hall full of hungry lawyers and their guests. The wine, at least on my table, was excellent. Most of them room got the house wines, with optional upgrades. The top table, full of important people such as, on this evening, the home secretary, and myself, gets the good stuff. Very good stuff: some Champagne in a side-room to kick things off, Ataraxia Chardonnay 2008 with the scallops (really liked this, and it’s a bargain at £12.50 a bottle if bought by the case from Wine Direct right now), Chateau Beycheville 1998, a fourth growth that’s in rather a different league to what I’m used to having with my dinner, and was impressively fresh and fruitsome for all its dozen years, with the (sadly overcooked) lamb, 2001 Chateau Filhot, a Sauternes deuxieme cru, with pudding and Taylor’s 1994 vintage port, or cognac if you prefer, with cheese.
I don’t believe this is what they have with dinner every day, with guest nights such as this one happening just once a term. But it was stellar stuff. Here’s hoping for another invite…