An afternoon of Wikipedia surfing revealed that “Taillevent” was the nickname attributed to Guillaume Tirel, head cook to the kings of France in the mid to late-1300s. Tirel is widely considered to be the first professional chef.
A restaurant honouring the ancient chef’s moniker was born in Paris just after the Second World War. The Taillevent brand then diversified in the 1980s with the opening of 110 de Taillevent: a bar/bistro/wine shop in Fauborg Saint-Honoré. In 2015, a sister establishment was launched in London under the same name and with it – as the title implies – the availability of 110 wines by the glass. Despite this, the venue, at the Oxford Street end of Marylebone, is more restaurant than wine bar. It borders on opulent, with high ceiling, sash windows and darkly-stained wood throughout. Add the low lighting and cabin-like table partitioning and Taillevent starts to feel like being aboard a modernised Orient Express.
Wine lovers can enjoy touring the glass list – though food lovers might still be hungry after their mains
Behind the bar area, a vast wall of bottles creates a backdrop like no other. Employees sporting grape-bunch brooches busy themselves with pouring glass after glass of alcohol. The food menu is unmistakably Gallic and there is a French emphasis throughout the wine selection. I could overhear the murmur of other customers’ conversation and they too were mostly from across La Manche.
The matrix of prices-per-glass is displayed in the drinks menu which, when unfolded, gives the colours and origins of all 110 wines in a format uncannily similar to the periodic table. Working through it was indeed as difficult for me as dual award science in my school days. A mini eureka moment occurred when I understood that the rarer wines were on the far right side of the list.
By now you’ll be wanting the lowdown on what was drunk. The picture below tells a tale of the evening. Those many labels – one of the quirks of Taillevent – adorned the glasses’ stems. The cheapest of the bunch was an Arcanum from Tuscany at £14: an above average vino with usual Tuscan characteristics. A 2008 Phélan Ségur from St. Estèphe was sold at £19 for 125ml. After a swirl and a spin, it showed itself to be a classy, full-bodied claret broadly deserving of its cost. In the name of hedonism, I broke the budget on a 1989 Sauternes from the Suduirat vineyard (£34 per glass). Nectar-like, with apricot and caramel on the palate, it was the winning drop of the night. Food-wise, I was permitted the à la carte menu up at the bar. The risotto starter had a slightly harsh kick, owing to the over-liberal use of spring onion. The arborio was bathed in a base so rich that it must have owned land in the Dordogne as well as a pied à terre in nearby Mayfair. The dish was towards piquant and, while well-presented and competently cooked, not really to my taste.
A main course of veal chop, cooked medium and with edible fat, was more my thing – especially when drowned by a red burgundy in the form of Joblot’s 2012 Givry (I mused to myself whether Job Lot – such as a hoard of post-repossession furniture – would be pronounced “szob-low” by a French Delboy Trotter).
Maybe I’m just greedy, but my main gripe on the food front would be portion size. Both dishes were between small and fair. It seemed to me that the roasted carrots with the veal were spare, in the nouvelle style. I would have benefited from a greater dose of carbohydrate to hold the booze. Perhaps the restaurant is catering to the swathes of attractive, French clients minding their waistlines.
In all, Taillevent will linger in my memory as an ambience-driven experience. The staff I encountered were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Wine lovers can enjoy touring the glass list – though food lovers might still be hungry after their mains. Regardless, I recommend the restaurant highly. The surroundings and service elements are more than enough to create a very enjoyable evening, particularly if you fancy a little piece of France without having to leave London.
16 Cavendish Square
16 Cavendish Square
by C Ley