Meet Jean-Philippe Tessier, the man who has brought Parisian chic, good wine and real French food to Tranquil Vale, Blackheath
Words: Madeleine Howell
Nestled away next to the The Bookshop on the Heath at 72 Tranquil Vale, Le Bouchon is Blackheath’s only French wine bar. On weekday evenings and at weekends, you’ll find groups of friends and couples congregating to while away a few hours over the comprehensive wine list, French cheeses, charcuterie, and plats traditionnels served up by proprietor Jean-Philippe Tessier. The setting is rustic, juxtaposing exposed raw materials with 20th century artworks. On warm nights, you can swill your glass al fresco on the pavement in true European style.
The setting is rustic, juxtaposing exposed raw materials with 20th century artworks. On warm nights, you can swill your glass al fresco on the pavement in true European-style.
Tessier himself, born in Paris, has created a slice of Parisian culture in his own little pocket of London. ‘A typical evening in a French wine bar involves taking the time to savour different wines and some nibbles,’ he says. People should always feel like they can relax, and stay as long as they like.
‘Parisian wine bars can often make you feel like you’re in the past,’ he continues. ‘The food is often simple, and you feel that you are not really in a bar, a restaurant, or at home. They offer an in-between feeling.’
Tessier has a relaxed approach to wine tasting and pairings, and suggests that you try as many different wines as possible. ‘You will always surprise yourself,’ he explains. ‘I wouldn’t ever follow any rules. The rule is what you like. Of course, the rule of thumb is light food, light wine, heavy food, heavy wine, which works well. ‘We do wine tastings every Tuesday and the theme varies. If I had to pick, I would choose Old World wines – but luckily I don’t have to make that choice!
‘In winter, I like Burgundian wines with game dishes in rich sauces. In autumn, if it’s an Indian summer, I’ll stick with white wine from Provence.’ Tessier is a strong advocate of natural and biodynamic wines. ‘We try to buy as many organic wines as possible from producers who are trying hard to go green,’ he says. ‘Natural means zero pesticides, but you can have a brilliant wine one year and the next year it will be gone because the harvest has failed. But it’s better for the environment and also for your health. It’s a way of preserving vineyards for the future too – vineyards that have had products poured on them for years eventually produce less, and produce wines of a lesser quality.’
Wine aside, the food at Le Bouchon is classically French. You can order anything from a cockle-warming baked camembert to Rosette de Lyon pork sausages or chicken madère. ‘We get our bread from Boulangerie Jade, a French baker just next door,’ Tessier tells me. ‘We source the cheese and charcuterie directly from different regions in France. My favourite cheese is Epoisses and I like strong blue cheese, like Roquefort. Our wild boar saucisson is seasonal and it’s really popular, and we have a Beaufort Saucisson as well, which is a very dry saucisson from the Alps. The plats traditionnels get better and better if you cook them throughout the day. The more you cook them, the more flavour you get. Boeuf bourguignon, for example, has to be cooked for a minimum of five hours.’
Beyond Blackheath, Tessier is in awe of London’s global food and drink scene. ‘London is multi-cultural and modern, with a wider choice of cuisine of a better quality than you can find in Paris. You can try wines from across the globe in London, whereas in Paris, people only drink French wine.’ His favourite French dining and drinking spots in London are Casse-Croûte on Bermondsey Street and Coq D’Argent near Bank, which also offers rooftop views of the city, as well as Vinoteca and Tapas Brindisa.
‘You will always surprise yourself. I wouldn’t ever follow any rules. The rule is what you like.
Back in Paris, he recommends Chez Fernand, a Parisian institution with an impressive wine cellar, founded back in 1970 and located in the heart of Saint Germain des Près, Odéon and the Latin Quarter. If you’re not going to Paris anytime soon, though, gather your friends and take some time to savour the evening in Blackheath at Le Bouchon.
72 Tranquil Vale, Blackheath Village SE3 OBN; lebouchonwinebar.co.uk
Chateau de Pommard, Burgundy: This prestigious castle produces amazing Pinot Noir. The deep-coloured wines associated with the Côte de Beaune are produced by complex soils with a high proportion of iron-rich clay. Think deep reds, perfect with game.
Pauillac, Bordeaux: The village of Pauillac is famous for wines typical of Bordeaux, with flavours including cassis, blackberry, tobacco, and cedar wood, and the ability to age well. Expect full bodied reds with powerful tannins.
Meursault, Burgundy: Grown in iconic vineyards near the Côte de Beaune, wines from Meursault are savoury, but clearly influenced by a hint of vanilla and spices from the oak, with a buttery, nutty finish.
Domaine Adam, Alsace: Domaine Adam is renowned for producing aromatic wine. The Gewürztraminer grape variety grown in the slightly cool climate by the Vosges Mountains leads to off-dry white wines with a bouquet of lychee, passion fruit and floral notes.