4 Feb 2013

Wine: Little Blue Rinse at The Cuthbert

PACTA Connect's Trevor Long and Judith Burns, enthusiastic importers of quality Croatian wines from Umag to Pula and also Slavonia and Dalmatia, invited Harper's to taste a tailored menu of British food and Croatian wines at The Cuthbert, Brighton. An Enterprise Inn with appealingly quirky decor by landlady, Susanna Searle, which evokes a 50s street party, was reopened after a year's closure by a young trio. This also includes Searle's partner, Robin Koehorst, an Anglo-Dutchman and late starter to professional cooking from age 28 (now 35) and Dave Mothersill.

Within, the light-hearted rejuvenation, which includes classic Formica tables, strings of bunting, candles set in jars of coffee beans and tea towels instead of linen napkins, the hearty but precise plates partnered well with the engaging bins. Vigorous French waitress, Emilie memorably described these as having "texture like velour" (in a positive way).
Dinner began with Koehorst's warming, home-spiced butter beer, infused that afternoon, and served with a fine mutton broth doused over sweetbreads and fried mutton breast from beasts tended by Dean Timpson Smallholdings, turnips, slow-cooked egg and haggis. The latter provided Burns' first (fortunately, well-received) taste of the Scottish pluck.
A board borrowed from the pub's trio's former employers, of slimly-shaved, ruddy charcuterie, lightly-smoked eel and fragrant crab tin loaf followed, served with a notably fulsome 2011 Malvazija (Malvasia) from Marko and Marino Geržinić in Western Istria. Long mentioned that while previous generations of the Geržinić family had hunted wild animals, hence the adroit matching of cured meats with Malvasia, the current brothers were possibly more adept "hunters of women..."
Newhaven mackerel finished in hay with salt-baked beetroot, Gentlemen's Relish butter and lemon curd-like lemon purée was combined, harmoniously, with the light, citrus, 2011 Josić Graševina (Welshriesling) from Slavonia, Eastern Croatia.
The spirited tannins of 2008 Plavac ("little blue" - a relative of Zinfandel) from vines gripping Dalmatia's rocky coast (by Frano Miloš) were, potentially, a tart match with the main course of roast sirloin from Redlands farm, with confit of calves tail, breaded bone marrow and fresh horseradish. Burns echoed my concern. "Plavac's force of tannins means while it's often a good bet with Dalmatia's rugged food, it can be hard to transfer to other cuisines." However, the tannins were ultimately successfully tamed by age, oak and meat proteins, leaving a pure fruit-driven aftertaste.
My favourite course was also the sweetest: ginger parkin with brown bread and malt ice cream with butterscotch sauce and pretty, cubed cinnamon jellies. 2010 Cattunar Muškat (Franco Cattunar, Istria) harnessed a rare grape from the muscat family, planted, apparently, only around the hilltop village of Momjan, Slovenia, which is famous not only for its wines, but also its' twelfth century castle, in ruins. Although insubstantial in the face of the sponge-y, treacly pudding, the wine proved precisely refreshing, with acacia notes. Its' best context would be as an aperitif, in future.
With generously served, amply flavoursome food, often involving home curing and pickling, the meal was "not dissimilair to a traditional Croatian feast," appraised Burns. Certainly, when looking at alternatives to the vinous offering of Pacta Connect at the pub, including the cocktail, the "Scottish Milkshake" (involving Drambuie), the soulful wines were a worthwhile match, well worth the train trek from London Bridge on a cool, weekday night...
Meet the minds behind Pacta Connect at ‘SITT' (Specialist Importers Trade Tasting) in London on 25th February, and Manchester on the 27th.
Find more images of Istria by the author here