Climbing the Mountain

Holly Willcocks at Mountain

A bright new flame burns in London's Soho. Fans of Tomos Parry's cooking and grilling no longer need to trek to the East End. Above, sommelier Holly Willcocks with a treasured bottle of Emidio Pepe Trebbiano, not one of her 50 bottles under £50.

We thoroughly enjoyed the first of what I hope will be many excellent meals at Mountain restaurant in London’s Soho, which opened last July. This corner site, formerly a branch of Byron hamburgers, has been completely redrawn to accommodate a massive open kitchen with a wood-fired oven, presided over by chef Tomos Parry and less obviously by his restaurateur partner, Ben Chapman, the pair who have already brought culinary happiness to Brat and Brat x Climpson Arch.

Unlike those two restaurants, Mountain is large, with a basement downstairs including a pastry section where they bake their own excellent bread (increasingly common in London’s most ambitious restaurants). The ground floor is completely open, with a large kitchen in the rear and an equally impressive ventilation system above. Parry acknowledged that accommodating this had not been easy but continued, ‘Westminster Council were extremely helpful and central London is one of the few major cities where open-fire cooking seems to be encouraged.’

Mountain cheese and anchovy

Fire, and sourcing from Spain and Mallorca in particular, dominate the extensive menu. There are 15 first courses beginning with both a raw and cooked version of home-made sobrassada (the Catalan spelling of this cured sausage) of which they are justifiably proud. We also enjoyed a plate of their cured dairy beef; a dish of fresh, soft white cheese and anchovies (the delicious bread could have been cut thinner, as you can see in the picture above); and we all loved their perfectly cooked spider crab omelette.

Mountain tripe

There follows on the menu half a dozen dishes between first and the substantially meaty and somewhat enigmatic main courses listed simply by their main ingredient. We chose wood-roasted vegetables, the lip-smacking dish shown above simply described as ‘tripe’ that was full of tender meat and richness, and a whole lobster caldereta for £95. This was ordered by our New York restaurateur host for himself although it was marked as for three or four. But the lettering on the menu and drinks list is so small and faint that we could be forgiven for overlooking the size of the serving. (A bigger font, please, and possibly even red ink in the future as the restaurant’s lighting is low and most of the customers will have spent the working day staring at a screen.)

This very typical Mallorcan dish, in which the lobster is cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions and olive oil, was served in one of the large terracotta dishes that are commonplace on the island. It was delicious – not only on the night but also for two or three more meals, as we asked the restaurant to box the majority of the dish alongside what remained of our order of wood-fried rice. I somehow managed to carry both boxes all the way home on a Northern Line tube crammed to the gills with office-party-goers without spilling a bright red drop!

Montain lobster caldareta

Alongside the lobster we ordered a Dover sole (£47) that was served proudly on its own and enjoyed alongside an order of smoked potatoes, and drank a bottle of Domaine Karydas Xinomavro 2017 Naoussa that was a revelation to our Barolo-loving hosts. We finished with a slice of malted chocolate tart with just the appropriate amount of salt, a dish of burnt citrus set cream and a scoop of quince ice cream. Without coffee, the bill came to £500 for the four of us (including an extra-generous tip from our American hosts).

Having enjoyed the food and been impressed by the layout and the charm of the service, we left. But because we were not constrained by price when looking for a bottle to drink, we missed what is unique about this restaurant. At the back of their long list, which focuses entirely on Europe and concentrates on vineyards in the French, Spanish and Italian hills (including an enticing range from Emidio Pepe), is a list of 50 wines under £50 a bottle. My only criticism is that they have hidden it; the list should open with these relative bargains.

This section, and in fact the whole list, is partly the creation and wholly the responsibility of Mountain’s sommelier, the cheerful Holly Willcocks, in our main picture. She is only 33 but has been in the wine trade since she was 18, with a long stint at Noble Rot in Lamb’s Conduit Street, a spell in the worlds of spirits and cocktails and a period as the part-owner of Half Cut Market, a wine bar in Islington that serves food and sells good times.

‘The idea for the 50 wines under £50 came about at one of the restaurant’s planning meetings. Ben Chapman was there and he said that he wanted a wine list that was accessible, that contained something for everyone, that would not leave anyone feeling embarrassed and, most challenging of course for me, was diverse. I went away and thought about this for a while and this is the result.

‘In a way, putting this on top of the constraint that the wine list was to be entirely European made life slightly easier for me in that it focused our attention on a defined range of suppliers – although we do work hard to find an alternative when somebody asks one of the team for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a California Cabernet. But what was a real difficulty was the recent massive hike in duty rates. Annoyingly, it hits wines at the lower price point inordinately hard.’

And her favourites under £50, I wondered? ‘All of them of course, but I am a big fan of Raúl Pérez from Bierzo in northern Spain, of Clos Culombu in Corsica, and whatever is produced by Suertes del Marqués on Tenerife, particularly their Vidonia’, was her response.

She ended on a particularly upbeat note, one that could have been uttered by any chef, any sommelier and winemakers all over the world. ‘A lot of thought went into producing the whole list and particularly the 50 wines under £50 but I just want to make people happy.’

Mountain tabletop

I think we got the best out of Mountain by going as a table of four rather than a smaller group because the menu is substantially made up of dishes to share and the tables are almost large enough to accommodate everything and anything that is ordered, as you can see above (smoked potatoes, a specialty, in the middle).

But, like so many restaurants today, it is noisy. And I’m probably confirming my age by repeating that the lettering on the menu and wine list could be larger and clearer – and the restaurant should be more assertive about touting that list of 50 handpicked wines under £50. As Zero Mostel shouts in the film The Producers when he sees someone arrive in a white Rolls Royce, ‘That’s it, baby, when you’ve got it, flaunt it.’

Finally, a very happy and healthy new year to everyone!

Mountain 16–18 Beak St, London W1F 9RD; no phone