Drakes Tabanco, London

Mark Ludmon looks at the revival in bars specialising in sherry including London’s new Drakes Tabanco

Over the past 10 years, the number of sherry importers in the UK has risen from about a dozen to nearly 30, according to The Sherry Institute of Spain. The past two to three years have also seen a wave of new bars and restaurants specialising in sherry. In October, this prompted The Sherry Institute of Spain to organise the first Sherry Trail around some of London’s specialist outlets, helping consumers to understand the wine better and discover how it matches with food. Running over a fortnight, people received a loyalty card which, when stamped at all eight participating venues, gave them a chance to win prizes including a trip to Jerez.

This is an exciting time for Graham Hines, the UK director of The Sherry Institute of Spain, who has been promoting sherry in the UK for 30 years. While volumes are up only 2.2 per cent year on year, he sees more interest in the UK, not just in the lighter fino sherries but also dry styles of fuller-bodied oloroso, the sweeter Pedro Ximénez (PX), and palo cortado which is crisp and rich from being allowed to start oxidising. “There are still the traditional sherry drinkers but there is also this emerging market drinking fino quite frequently, recognising the quality and willing to pay a lot more for it,” Graham says.

The revival comes from a new generation of drinkers without preconceptions, he adds. “All my life, I’ve heard about images of vicars and tea parties. Every pub had sherry sitting on the back shelf, warm in an opened bottle, served in a thimble. They didn’t understand it. The people drinking sherry now are in their mid-20s to mid-30s, a generation that doesn’t have any of the baggage. There is also a lot of enthusiasm from bartenders and sommeliers, many of whom are from all over the world and haven’t encountered sherry. For them, it is something new and different and they are really taking to it.”

The reversal of fortunes can be traced back four years to the opening of dedicated sherry bar Pepito by Richard Bigg across the courtyard from his restaurant Camino in King’s Cross. This was one of the stops on October’s Sherry Trail along with other bars and restaurants such as Capote y Toros in South Kensington, Hispania in the City and Fino, Barrica and Copita in the West End.

The trail also took in newcomer Drakes Tabanco in Fitzrovia, which is modelled on a traditional sherry tavern, or “tabanco”, in Jerez and named after Sir Francis Drake whose travels in the 16th century led to sherry being imported to Britain. The bar has been created by Tim Luther and Nigel Howell, who set up Barrica and Copita, offering sherry wines served straight from the barrel using the cellarmaster’s traditional venencia – a small cup on a long rod. “We wanted to try as hard as possible to see if we could create the experience you have in a bodega here in London with as little interference as possible,” Nigel explains. This extends to being able to buy fino “en rama” which retains extra flavour from being bottled straight from the cask without filtration.

Supplied by Bodegas Rey Fernando De Castilla, the range of largely exclusive sherries also includes the Rare Old India blend of long-aged oloroso and PX as well as a 30-year-old antique palo cortado. In line with tradition, the sherries are served at room temperature but in chilled glasses, apart from the fino which is kept in the fridge at minus 18C. They are served alongside Andalusian-inspired dishes and sharing boards, such as a seafood board of salmon gravadlax, cured sardines, mojama with almonds, pickled cockles, mackerel paté and Andalusian prawns – which pairs well with the en rama fino.

Drakes Tabanco was designed by the owners with interior designer Olly Simpson with a stripped-back look featuring rough-rendered and white-washed walls, reclaimed terracotta tiles, original wood flooring and antique lighting. “It was inspired by traditional bodegas and tabancos found in southern Spain but trying to avoid any themed clichés that would be so obviously noted by its well-travelled, educated audience,” Olly adds.

After the success of London’s Sherry Trail, Graham says The Sherry Institute of Spain is looking to run it again in 2014 while also investigating if it might work in other cities such as Manchester and Leeds where sherry is also seeing a revival. “It does seem to have caught on and is spreading out beyond London,” Graham says.

Drakes Tabanco, 3 Windmill Street, London W1T 2HY Tel: 020 7637 9388 www.drakestabanco.com

Who did it
Design: Olly Simpson Interiors with the owners
Floor tiles: The Reclaimed Tile Company
Artwork: Muraspec
Stools: Andy Thornton

This article first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Bar magazine

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