Somewhere in Jerez de la Frontera in the Andalusia region of Spain, a Sherry-maker is celebrating. Though you may shiver at your memories of the stuff: Christmases with Great Aunt June tiddly on Harvey’s Bristol cream, or your mother keeping a dusty bottle in the back of your drinks cabinet purely to slug into family-sized trifles. But Sherry is making the coolest comeback ever. And not least because it tastes worlds apart from the old-fashioned tipple with which we are most familiar.
‘They thought I was mad,’ reveals Richard Bigg, owner of one of the smallest and loveliest Sherry bars in London, Bar Pepito, as he discusses the bar’s creation. ‘Everyone said “why would you take one of the world’s least cool drinks and dedicate your whole bar to that?” But I thought the time is right, Londoners are getting into wine and food-matching anyway, and I think they are ready for it.’
He was on to something, ‘we wanted to do something special…and you can’t get more unique and special than Sherry – any wine expert would say that it is their desert island drink – it is brilliant and incredibly affordable.’
When I ask if he thinks Bar Pepito has aided London’s Sherry revolution he modestly but firmly corrects me, saying that it has been suggested that his lovely little Sherry bar in fact started the trend.
I believe it. The space is outrageously inviting – rustic and intimate – with old Spanish photos and artefacts arranged on the walls, vibrantly coloured authentic tiles and lots of lots of Sherry. ‘It’s 85 percent traditional, rustic, authentic and 15 percent contemporary’ – an equation that applies to all aspect of Bar Pepito and its Camino counterparts, from the décor to the menu.
And the Sherries are delicious – covering all flights and in a range of titillating styles – there is even a ‘Caminito de Pepito’ or ‘Sherry road trip’, guiding the indecisive or inexperienced drinker through a range of tapas and Sherry pairings. The Manzanilla ‘La Gitana’ from Hidalgo is very light, almost aquatic, and very similar to a white wine, while the Oloroso ‘Antique’ from Fernando de Castilla gives aromas of dark toffee and tastes of hazelnut, giving a long-lasting and dry finish.
The word that resounds with everything seen at Bar Pepito and Camino is approachable – it is easy to see how they kicked off the trend and nurtured it by sharing their knowledge and a love of what used to be grandmother’s tipple.
Set up by well-heeled foodies Sanja Morris and Simon Mullins in 2005, Salt Yard is a chic take on modern tapas – served with imagination and an Italian twist. Though not a dedicated Sherry bar like Bar Pepito, it is known for its Sherry, and its list is something that Bar Manager Becky Mckevitt has worked on since its opening eight years ago. ‘They had just a few Sherries and they wanted me to expand the list so together we did…we have covered every single classic style and will change the brands occasionally.’
Tasting their eight-Sherry list is truly a journey – starting at their lightest and brightest Manzanilla, Deliciosa from Valdespino, the perfect dry aperitif, and descending to their super-sweet Pedro Ximenez Fernando de Castilla, syrupy and with hints of coffee, chocolate and raisin, it is perfect poured over a bowl of vanilla ice-cream.
Only serving two sweet Sherries from the bar, Becky says that she still gets some people coming in and thinking that Sherry is strictly a sweet wine, ‘we have to explain that it’s not all Harvey’s Bristol Cream.’
It is incredible how well these Sherries pair with the food – the Finos and Manzanillas cutting through the fattiness of the jamon and the saline of the plump green olives, while the Moscatel dances with some Manchego, Membrillo and walnut bread.
Salt Yard and its sister restaurants Dehesa and Opera Tavern have obviously felt their success, and are due to open a new restaurant in Soho in November spotlighting another much-embraced food trend, smoked and barbecued meats, paired with plenty of Sherry and Sherry cocktails.
Restaurant Manager Katalin Kovago thinks that Sherry might be helping to change our drinking culture in the UK, slowly but surely. ‘The drinking culture is different in Spain – they drink with food and they drink all day – they don’t just go to the pub after work and knock back drinks. You can’t really knock back Sherry!’
Bar Pepito’s Richard says Sherry is best served super-cold in an ice bucket to share with friends, and Salt Yard’s whole set-up encourages socialising, ‘it’s really normal that people start talking to each other and commenting on what they’ve ordered, saying, “that looks great” or “I will have to try that Sherry,”’ notes Katalin.
The comeback of Sherry isn’t just a retro revival plucked at random, it is a drink that insists on being shared, and that, ultimately, is a drink for food. Interestingly, this drinks trend might reveal more about how we feel about the dining experience in general – and confirm our quest, as a city of people, to experience eating to the most delicious degree.
Fork Talk Recommends:
Bar Pepito: 3 Varnishers Yard, City of London, N1 9DF
Salt Yard: 54 Goodge St, London, W1T 4NA
Tozino, Maltby Street: Lassco Ropewalk, Maltby St, London, SE1 3PA
Barrafina: 54 Frith St, London, W1
Rosita: 124 Northcote Rd, London, SW11
Capote y Toros: 157 Old Brompton Rd, London, SW5