The Wine Guy: return of the mackerel

This month, Andy Clarke revisits a favourite neighbourhood restaurant – the kind where he’s unsurprised to find them setting hay alight in the kitchen…

It’s June 2018, it’s the hottest day of the year and I’m stood in the kitchen of Bambalan (accompanied by Crumbs’ editor Jess) over a hot grill, blackening red peppers for romesco sauce ahead of a charity dinner. It was great fun. Exhausting, but fun! And just when we needed a break in the prep, a man brandishing a long sausage (quiet at the back, there, please) enters the kitchen. I had no idea who he was, but I’m not going to turn down home-cured meat when I see it…

That man was Jan Ostle, head chef and co-founder – along with partner Mary Wilson – of Wilsons restaurant in Redland. This chef has worked at The Square (under Phil Howard), The Clove Club, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, and The Hand and Flowers with Tom Kerridge, and was previously head chef at The Kensington Arms.

I had often thought of going to his Chandos Road outfit, but hadn’t yet gotten around to it. In fact, it was yet another eight months before I booked a table and finally got to eat Jan’s food. His modern, intuitive cooking style and the relaxed feel of his neighbourhood restaurant made an impression on me.

Keen to not leave it too long before returning, and wanting to find out what’s currently exciting Jan’s creative palate, I headed back to see him recently.

There’s always a flurry of excitement surrounding the latest creation here, and right now mackerel is taking centre stage. It’s abundant off West Country shores and is a fantastic sustainable option for restaurants.

Jan’s take on it is ingeniously simple – it’s served in a broth with grated horseradish. The broth is made from hay-smoked mackerel bones and kombu (edible kelp). This adds an umami flavour to the fresh, blowtorched mackerel and there’s a fresh, almost menthol quality to the horseradish.

The simplicity of ingredients here and resulting flavours are a nod to
Jan and Mary’s trust in great produce, which is at the heart of their sustainably sourced menu.

To find a couple of decent sips to go with it, I headed down the hill to the ancient cellars of Averys. I had white Burgundy in my mind, and I know there’s a great range there. Chablis provides exactly the amount of fresh minerality and orchard fruit to work with this recipe. The Domaine des Malandes Chablis has a vibrant green apple nose – and this continues onto the palate. The crispness of this unoaked wine is perfect with that broth, which is not as smokey as you think. The texture of the wine develops in the mouth and is sublime with the mackerel, and the finish allows the horseradish to tantalise your tongue, rather than blowing your head off!

Fancy making it at home? Here’s the recipe for Mackerel with horseradish and mackerel broth

This wine, made from 100 per cent Chardonnay, is produced on a family estate and is a great example of what Chablis should be like.

Okay, I know white Burgundies are reliably food-friendly, and I’m no slacker, so here’s something a little less obvious for your empty glass. It’s a Portuguese white and is a real surprise. Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado is from the Dão wine region and is made from Encruzado, a grape not nearly as well-known as Chardonnay, but a great match with the mackerel, nonetheless. Unlike the Chablis, the wine has been aged for six months in oak barrels, so it is slightly richer – and surprisingly Burgundian in character. It’s not overtly oaky in flavour, which would jar with the clean umami flavour of the broth. The wine gives pear on the nose and palate, which is lovely with the charred nature of the fish skin, and it finishes with a light peppery note, a bit like radish. Just fabulous with grated horseradish.

And here’s a tip for you: as the dish is intentionally not served piping hot, make sure your wines aren’t ice cold – you’ll get a lot more from them that way. You could even serve these at room temperature. Trust me – over the years I’ve done a lot of research!

Andy Clarke is a food TV producer and writer; follow him on Twitter and Instagram @tvsandyclarke