Berber & Q: 'There’s never been a more exciting time to be involved in wine'

09 January 2018

When you think food-and-wine pairing you might think seafood or steak. Chances are your mind doesn’t immediately produce the word pita. Yes, pita.

No, it’s not another acronym to wrap your head around, it’s the pita pocket that holds your salad, meat and/or favourite filling.

Josh Katz, formerly at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, Ottolenghi and Zest, is putting on a pita party (try saying that 10 times) at Berber & Q with the help of some high profile names and drink is very much playing its part.

So, what’s the premise and why do you, our Imbibe readers care about it? The Middle Eastern restaurant in Exmouth Market, London is calling on David Carter of Smokestak, Nud Dudhia of Breddos Tacos, Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich of Honey & Co and Israeli chef, Oded Oren, to let their ‘Middle Eastern creative juices run wild’ as each chef puts their stamp on the classic pita.

Each pita will be paired with a cocktail shooter or wine flight. (You with us now?) These include a Tequila and Pomegranate Sour, Cynar Boulevardier shot and Rosemary Collins. When it comes to the wine, it’s all about natural.

The drinks offering, especially the wines, are incredibly important to Berber & Q and co-founder Mattia Bianchi, who previously worked at Ottolenghi and with Ben Spalding, oversees the front of house and bar offering.

Natural wine gets Bianchi all a flutter and is something he thinks has changed the on-trade in recent years. ‘It’s like Pandora’s box. A very good one though,’ he’s quick to add. ‘And we’ve just opened it.’

‘I get excited by new wines all the times; it’s a nightmare working with me because I change the wine list almost daily.’ Berber & Q Grill House and Shawarma Bar have a ‘very small’ wine list of just over 20 bins but they're ‘refreshed and polished very often.’

Another exciting wine category for Bianchi is volcanic. ‘I have not tried many dull or boring Volcanic wines so far and there’s so much out there.’

Earworm equals wine night

Late last year, the team launched Dirt, an innovative wine event at Berber & Q. The idea came just after the summer when Bianchi read Alice Feiring’s The Dirty Guide to Wine. ‘I got stuck with the word Dirt, the title to some of the book’s chapters, I wrote it on a piece of paper and I saw a lot of energy in it,’ he said.

‘Then I realised that it could have been the common denominator and title for a terroir-based series of wine nights, which I wanted to be fun and dynamic. I wanted the events to attract a mixed bunch of people, from the wine geeks or aficionados to the ones that just want to have a good time and meet new people.

‘I presented the idea to few friends in the industry and saw they were smiling, and that’s exactly what I was after.’

Mattia Bianchi
Mattia Bianchi

The celebration of diverse soil and climates in the wine world was held from October to December, and the co-founder took on two leading sommeliers from London and beyond in a hunt for the best bottles from their chosen soil: Magma (Volcanic wines), Salt (Wines of the sea) or Peak (Mountain wines).

‘I think there’s a lot of potential here, and many sommeliers around the world to collaborate with,’ Bianchi said. ‘I’d like to do this again. Let’s see how far we can take it.’

The wine industry isn’t known for its innovation but Bianchi isn’t letting that hold him back.

‘I feel there’s never been a more exciting time to be part of the wine industry. There’s a lot going on and different people with different backgrounds are approaching wine, which will inevitably generate innovation.

‘The advent of a new generation of winemakers experimenting with a more natural way of producing wines across the world is the first big change that has begun. A few years ago, they started speaking a different language. They stamped their feet against a way of making wines which was obsolete, taking risks and now hopefully getting something back.

‘Wine merchants picked up on this, helping to develop their products and brands to an ever-changing market. Finally it’s our turn, to make sure our customers have a go at it, we want to challenge their palate and stimulate their curiosity.’

With pita parties and Dirt, something tells me this Middle Eastern restaurant will be driving the conversation.

The Pita Party grand final will take place on 4 February, when all of the chefs will come together to showcase their dish. Guests will try a mini pita from all four guest chefs and a surprise dessert pita from head chef, Vicky Heafield.

Berber & Q Shawarma Bar, 46 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE

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