Wine List Confidential: HUMO
“For a city that is tough to surpass in its diversity – rich in its technology, spoilt in its science, forward in its fashion… there still remains an immovable fixation with the primitive notion of live fire,” wrote Josh Lee in Gentleman’s Journal of HUMO, being Spanish for “smoke”. The sleek yet cosy, 34 cover restaurant including an air-conditioned counter facing a custom-built robata grill, with a particularly lovely 10-seat private dining room below, is brought to you by Creative Restaurant Group, a firm newly co-founded by Misha Zelman of Goodman, Burger & Lobster, Beast, Zelman Meats and SUMI and chef patron Endo Kazutoshi of Endo at The Rotunda and SUMI.
The feel of the restaurant is fashioned by the mighty Afroditi Krassa who, in her own words, “cladded a whole wall in all the different types of wood species that Chef Miller is using for his cooking” with “burnt wood to dress the lobby”, a “jigsaw wooden floor”, and timber for the gently crenellated four metre counter reaped “from the same farm where the food comes from.” Finally Krassa apparently “sensorially resonated the live flames by bringing a subtle smell of a wet forest and moss within the restaurant.”
His Christian name inspired by a small species of falcon from the Northern hemisphere, Merlin Ramos, whose motto is “everything for a reason” harks from Dundee and grew up in Ireland, Sussex, Dorset, France and Spain. Stemming from the glorious 1985 vintage, from which a highlight bottle in his life was Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes with pigeon, Ramos cites his mentors as Laure Patry for her “wealth of knowledge and calm demeanour” and Fred Marti whose “energy brings wines to life.”
Appealing to “epicurean explorers from across the globe”, Ramos’ exquisitely modern-looking list, bearing testament to his trained artist’s eye, takes inspiration from Isa Bal of Trivet, he says, and focuses on grape not region, with each chapter starting light, “fresh and clean” and continuing to “richer styles”. Working like this, he says, the document “becomes intuitive and steps away from being merely a price list.” Ramos also includes exciting sections for the “Island and Coastal” including Koshu Private Reserve, Grace Wine, Yamanashi, and “High Altitude”, featuring Voskehat Reserve, ArmAs from Armenia. Such an approach, laudably means “the whole list sells – so the guest is encouraged not to settle on the familiar.” Another section, “Ducks Out Of Water”, meanwhile, could include Matthiasson Refosco from Napa. Ramos heads up a team of four sommeliers, including an assistant gleaned from a previous role as head of wine for The Mitre hotel opposite Hampton Court.
Elsewhere, the small though fastidiously stocked bar is the domain of Tom Kapanadze (formerly of Sexy Fish) including such rarities as the rare survivor, Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix. Aperitifs might include the chic-looking, layered “Houtini” koji martini drawing on the spirit of Empirical, with olive brine and verjus, which together evoke the scent of leather and awakens the appetite.
Given the Japanese influence inherent in the project, it does seem a shame that the albeit growing regional sake list fails to embrace the wonders of Hokkaido.
Colombian-born head chef, Miller Prada is a protégé of Endo Kazutoshi of Endo at the Rotunda. His savoury dishes, according to Ramos, will have all at some point been exposed to the auspices of the grill, fed respectively by juniper, Japanese and British oak, birch, cherrywood, walnut, apple and beech. These could include the silky, two weeks aged Hampshire trout with caviar grilled in kombu, and a pretty langoustine which guests, including sole diners who can feel comfortable and cared for here, are encouraged to roll into a wrap made from the succulent innards of the crustacean’s head. Another standout dish is the hand-dived Orkney scallop cooked over half-century old Speyside whisky staves served, for example, with the saline, multi-vintage Vulcao Ameixambar Arinto from the “extremely extreme” says Ramos, basalt of Pico. On another occasion, Ramos paired two vintages (‘05 and ‘06) of Champagne Billecart-Salmon Clos St. Hilaire with this dish.
Another fine pairing saw Ramos classily select the leaping of fruit Bricco Buon Natale Nebbiolo from Clendenen Vineyards, Santa Barbara, with A4 beef wagyu.
Clearly a fanatic of matters sweet, Ramos ordered all three puddings from the menu on our visit, including a whisky babà with a grain of paradise seed caramel and barley koji ice cream with a pour from a Benedictine-like bottle of Daruma sake alongside.
HUMO brings some of the attributes of ENDO to Mayfair, while being more accessible in terms of bookings and pricing, particularly so when considering the keenly put-together wine list by considerate, creative and clever mine host, Merlin Ramos whose vinous discoveries are, he says, akin to a DJ rifling through boxes of vinyls. Its elemental nature – worship of controlled fire – is a huge draw making it something of a meditation for guests whose palates are their keenest and happiest and primal of senses.
Rieslings including Clemens Busch
Sweet drinks including The Newt Ice Cyder
Value: 96, Size: 91, Range: 96, Originality: 96, Experience: 94, Total: 94.6