Stoke Newington restaurant Dandy had its first incarnation as Dandy Café, a frequently packed pop-up squeezed into a shipping container-filled alleyway in London Fields. Now it’s a 50-cover site overlooking Newington Green, offering all-day dining, great coffee and an in-house bakery. Scaling up has clearly been no small task for Australian founders Messrs Daniel Wilson and Andy Leitch, but it’s testimony to the strength of the initial concept that the bigger space, with its communal table, vintage school chairs and assortment of potted plants, still feels both intimate and welcoming.
For Mr Leitch, ingredients, their provenance and their distinct taste are very much at the core of what Dandy does. On the dinner menu, this translates into dishes that incorporate artisanal produce from the British Isles and close neighbours, often cooked lightly on a barbecue grill to preserve maximum flavour. And this approach extends to the restaurant’s wine list, which features a range of “natural” wines – that is, wines that have been made without the use of additives such as extra sugar and sulphur dioxide (for regulating fermentation). “It’s about taking a less interventionist approach to winemaking,” says Mr Leitch. “It’s acknowledging the fact that wine is, at its heart, a fermentation of a fruit juice. It is a natural process. And allowing that to express itself and express where the grapes have come from. And the things that go into making the grapes taste how they do.”
The best natural wines, says Mr Leitch, therefore possess a certain clarity of expression that offers a very different experience from industrially produced wines, but the burgeoning field is not without its obstacles. Some natural wines are unfiltered, which means they are cloudy. Others may contain excess sugar, and still be fermenting, which means they can taste slightly fizzy upon first opening, or even smell faintly of a barnyard. In both cases, these aren’t signs of a defect, but simply expressions of a wine that some will like and others will not. “As with anything,” says Mr Leitch, “the first step is always being prepared for something different, or not going in with serious expectations, or being able to taste something within the context of what you know.” In a restaurant that serves natural wines, he says, you can ask for a recommendation based upon what you normally drink. He’s also kindly supplied this beginner’s guide to natural wine, which features palatable and not too “crazy” recommendations drawn from Dandy’s wine list.