On Drink

Gentleman of Médoc

This wine is ready to drink but can readily be put down to hibernate for another half decade before being savoured by the Shepherd Market salonnières

This article is taken from the November 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

Lord Palmerston quipped that dining is the soul of diplomacy. What then is lunching? Its conscience?

Admittedly in the modern world, a world of jogging and gyms, of water and salads, where the scales are watched as closely as the clock — and the time is weighed very closely, lunching has become something of a lost art, like courtly dancing or sonnet writing. We are certainly conscientious about what we eat — and how long we spend eating it. But should we not have more of a care about the pleasure we get out of it? I think so. And so does my old friend, David Ruffley. Ruffers is an expert. More than that, he is an artist.

For when it comes to lunching, he knows the right spot; he gathers the right guests; he conducts, lightly, the right conversation; he guides, gently, the right menu choices (he really should run a restaurant) and he suggests, meaningfully, the wine selection. Whether it be Brooks’s Club or Boisdale, Wiltons or the Wolseley, David Ruffley is the lunchmeister.

And when lunch is over, most importantly, he has planned where to go on. For Ruffers, like the old school whip he is, knows where the bottles are buried. His favourite bottle bank is 5 Hertford Street, flagship of the Birley fleet, and lifeboat to London’s most select boulevardiers. Richly decorated by Rifat Ozbek over five floors of a Shepherd Market townhouse, 5HS boasts fine food to complement its fine art, its fine cellar, and a shimmering clientele to complement all three.

I joined him there as his guest over the summer recess at the open-air roof garden which doubles as a smoking terrace for those drawn to a drag on a stogie. We were drawn by the unusually good weather (summer was not quite what we had hoped for was it?) and by some uncommonly good wines. 5HS offers choice aplenty as might be expected. And the choice of the chiefs dotted around the elegant tables was the Léoville Barton 2013, one of the most durable and dependable estates in the Saint-Julien region of Bordeaux.

Carefully husbanded for more than 50 years by Anthony Barton, the Irish-born “gentleman of the Médoc”, the chateau, classified as a 2nd Grand Cru Classé, is now in the hands of his daughter and grandchildren. Four Cabernet-Sauvignon grapes to every single Merlot furnish the thirsty with a rich plummy flavour and plenty of depth that swills swiftly around the mouth then swells into a fluffy, velvety texture as it descends the back of the throat, warming the way as it goes.

The dry and shingly terroir in which these vines maturate somehow makes its way into the glass, for the finish supplies a strange, parching quality that insists on another sip. This wine is ready to drink but can readily be put down to hibernate for another half decade before being savoured by the Shepherd Market salonnières, and anyone else who enjoys a heavy currant claret in the middle of the afternoon. Perhaps you might spot David Ruffley stepping lightly along Curzon Street on his way to lunch.

If you do, you might stop him to say hello. If you are lucky, he may have a spare chair. And if he does, you will be sure of a very merry postmeridian.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover