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Hugh Johnson: Dreaming of my perfect restaurant

Hugh Johnson considers his restaurant 'wish-list', for when dining out returns...

I live with the best cook I know. I have wine in the cellar. Why do we go to restaurants? You know the answer as well as I do. Entertainment; a different vibe; different dishes and wines – different cultures, indeed. There’s a room up the road that is India, one that is France and several that are Italy. Piedmont, Sardinia, Liguria are all within walking distance. Three streets away is Japan. The only country missing in my part of town is, alas, China.

Now we’re stuck at home. My heart bleeds for the chefs and waiters who could be missing us even more than we’re missing them. But we can always dream – and last night I did; of my perfect restaurant. It’s not one in the list above; it’s a hybrid – which come to that is what we eat at home.

Here’s the dream (or wish list, if you like). It’s a table for four in a quiet room, with a window onto the sea. The four are members of my family. The table is laid with a faded pink cloth, old-fashioned silver and three moderate-sized wine glasses at each place. The flowers are blue and white. A warm baguette and cold sweet butter are ready, with a scatter of sea salt on the butter. The chef knows we’re here, and why.

So the waiter brings a bowl of little brown shrimps, then six Gillardeau oysters, Brittany’s best. Then six tiny Kumamoto oysters from Puget Sound. A lemon; no vinegar to drown the taste of the sea. A glass of Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, silver-gilt and scintillating… The Chablis has been decanted.

The fish is a brill. Poached, white on a white plate, beside a jug of hollandaise yellow as a daffodil. The Chablis is Fèvre’s Montée de Tonnerre 2010. Ten years is the perfect age for a great premier cru. And if there’s a bunch of green asparagus next to the sauce boat I shall be happy.

Then comes a quail stuffed with foie gras and a glass (no more) of Leflaive’s 2005 Montrachet. And after a pause of 20 minutes, the lamb, from a saltmarsh in Snowdonia, baked until melting with rosemary, salt and garlic. Now the claret: Latour, but this is not a gala dinner, so just the second wine, Les Forts, of 2005, like the Montrachet. Its earthy character is fully developed without losing any force.

Cheese? Something English and creamy, perhaps from the Isle of Wight, and a wedge of old Cheddar, with a bite of celery. That’s it. A praline chocolate and a glass of youthful Armagnac; VSOP, not the costly vintage stuff. Is this too much to ask of a dream?


See also: Sommelier’s view: How Covid-19 changed my world

See also: Hugh Johnson – When bottles surprise you

See also: Hugh Johnson – When in France, drink lesser-known wines

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