We were out for lunch in style, driving cross-country in a convoy of luxury sports cars from Aston Martin’s headquarters in the midlands to The Hind’s Head (1801) in Bray-on-Thames. Arriving at Heston Blumenthal’s pub in a smart fleet of Vanquish Volante V12, Vantage coupes and DB9 roadsters, the first thing I spotted outside the gastro pub with one Michelin star was a blackboard sign advertising a food and wine pairing to be held by Waterkloof on 20 May. Now that’s going places for a winery from the Helderberg.
The low lintel over the door wittily read “Duck or Grouse”, leading to a cornucopia of memorabilia on the walls beneath the old crooked oak beams. They say the vicar of Bray changed his faith from Protestant to Papist three times - boasting whoever was king he’d still be the vicar of the village. Queen Elizabeth hosted a lunch here of lobster cutlets and saddle of lamb in 1963 for 51 royal guests from all over Europe. The impressive global wine list features a handful of South African wines - Howard Booysen Riesling, Neil Ellis Pinotage and Meerlust Merlot (all for around R1000).
The focus at the Hind’s Head is on historic British fare and traditional seasonal cuisine. If you don’t have several hours for lunch and a courageous credit card, it’s a good alternative to The Fat Duck across the square. A set three-course lunch of gastronomic proportions prepared by head chef Kevin Love is a bargain at around R400. We tucked into tea-smoked salmon, a pea and ham soup which reinvented the classic with pure peasy flavour (peas blanched for only sixty seconds), an incredible oxtail and kidney suet pudding in a rich jus, triple-cooked chips and treacle tart.
Award-winning English sparkling wines, including Pinot Noir from Cornwall are on the wine list. I read that English sparkling wine production will increase from 2.5 to 5m litres over the next five years, while alcohol content has doubled from 6 to 12%. The first (seriously cool climate) English Sauvignon Blanc wine will be released this summer. A special drinks menu at The Hind’s Head lists craft ciders, ales and “food beers” finished in whisky and oak barrels to match desserts, cheese and coffee - plus “a journey” of boutique gin, rum, vodka and tequila. I had to resist the temptation as I had a long solo drive ahead in my Aston Martin Rapide-S V12 in Skyfall Silver.
On one of our many test drives - through the narrow, dry-stone lined lanes of the Cotswolds in a V12 Vantage Roadster with the roof down on a glorious Spring day - we stopped at Daylesford Organic Farm for coffee and croissants. In the small organic wine section, I spotted Bon Cap The Ruins Pinotage (R200) alongside Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s organic wine range. Hats off to Roelf du Preez from distant Eilandia Valley. On any organic list I would also expect to spot Avondale, Laibach, Reineke, Stellar and Waterkloof. On my cross-country meandering, I did spot Biodynamic Percheron Chenin Blanc (made from 40 year old Cape vines) and a Shiraz/Mourvedre blend at Hilltop Farm in Warwick - from wine merchant Paul Boutinot, owner of Waterkloof. And at The Saxon Mill, a wonderful gastro pub near Coventry, I spotted Ben & Rudi Chenin Blanc from Wellington - a SA brand I would come across again.
Chenin Blanc is the flavour of the month on wine lists and on the shelf in the UK. I spotted Ken Forrester and Newton Johnson’s Felicite No Oak Chardonnay in the business class lounge. Flying over on British Airways, I also enjoyed Bellingham’s The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2011 - as well as Gabrielskloof The Blend 2010 (a four-way Bordeaux assemblage from Bot River). On the way back Anthonij Rupert Optima 2009 rubbed shoulders with Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2011 while The Bernard Hand-Picked Viognier 2012 went head to head with a Pouilly-Fume 2012 Domaine Bouchie-Chatellier. Choices, choices on a great wine list. I tasted them all.
Chenin Blanc appears to be one of the strongest white wine categories for South Africa on the shelves of multiple retailers such as Sainsbury’s and Asda. I spotted Chenin across 4 - 10 pound price-points, in single varietal releases inter alia Kleine Zalze Chenin Blanc Reserve (R180), Fair Trade Chenin Blanc, First Cape’s Winemaker Selection Chenin Blanc and Groot Bos Walker Bay Chenin Blanc (R100) - as well as intriguing blends such as Paul Boutinot’s Tiger Horse Chenin/Pinot Gris.
Sauvignon Blanc is also well-represented by premium producers such as Cape Point Vineyards and Zorgvliet - with limited releases like Bellingham’s The Bernard Roussanne and Basket Press Shiraz. Alongside best-selling First Cape, Arniston Bay, Leopard’s Leap and UniWines, “new releases from the Cape” highlighted in promotions showcased Stormhoek and De Krans Garden Route label. On the red side, Shiraz and Pinotage (Kanonkop/L’Avenir) wave the flag for brand South Africa.
Staying at Mallory Court, a grand Relais & Chateaux country house near Leamington Spa - once owned by the Earl of Warwick - we enjoyed a series of fine dinners hosted by Aston Martin. After the day’s test driving was done - and I reluctantly handed over the keys to my DB9 coupe - I enjoyed superb Scottish salmon and lamb with Bollinger, one of Bond’s favourite bubblies since Goldfinger (Bollinger) - as well as fine Pinot Noir - even though 007 said “Never trust a man who serves red wine with fish” in From Russia With Love. Bond also knew which vintages and the right temperatures for serving Dom Perignon in the early Bond movies.
One of the highlights of the trip was the vintage cars at the Aston Martin showroom in Newport Pagnell - and “a century of craftsmanship” exhibition at the Heritage Motor Centre. “Bond in Motion” an exhibition on the “bond” between 007 and Aston Martin opened recently at the London Film Museum, celebrating the Bond movies made since Sean Connery and Aston Martin starred for the first time in Goldfinger in 1964.
The closest I’ll ever get to owning an Aston Martin is my corgi model of the Aston Martin DB5 made famous in James Bond’s Goldfinger - the car with the passenger ejector seat, machine guns mounted on the wings and tyre slashers. Aston Martin is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the film this year. It is the best-selling corgi car of all time - and the original model is worth thousands of rands if you kept the box. I ogled the iconic DB5 which appeared in six Bond movies at Aston Martin HQ. A timeline tracks the evolution of Aston Martin in the Bond movies. Every James Bond has appeared in exhilarating car chases - Sean Connery, George Lazenby (OHMSS), Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights), Pierce Brosnan (Golden Eye) and Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall). Talk about a license to thrill. Fine wine and food, fast cars and James Bond are the perfect match. Put the top down.
* Graham Howe was a guest of Aston Martin - see www.astonmartin.com for a rundown of the Bond decades