Wine List of the Year

Maison François

St James's, London

Wine List of the Year

Is there a more beautifully designed wine list in London than that proffered at Maison François? We doubt it. Daniel Illsley’s modern classic of a list contains his own hand drawn maps and minimalist illustrations of geographical features and landmarks and feels more like a collector’s item than a piece of restaurant point of sale material. 

But a case of style over substance this is not. The list might not be huge - around 250 bottles - but what it lacks in breadth it makes up for in sheer quality. Illsley - who is the St James’s restaurant’s wine director - and head sommelier Nora Kausinyte are specific about producers but also vintages, with the list at Maison François having a good selection of wine with bottle age available at fair prices. Solo diners and those planning to bring a crowd will be pleased to know the pair have also sourced a great selection of half and larger format bottles. 

The list is unapologetic francophile and therefore the perfect match for Matthew Ryle’s sublime traditional French cuisine. But though the list does “start and end in France” the pair take a few detours along the way to other famed wine regions including Piedmont, Napa Valley, Santiago and Syracusa. The list is arranged geographically but the approach is more quirky than that might suggest with mainstays such as Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire rubbing shoulders with less common but sensible groupings such as French Roussillon and Catalan Spain; and Alsace and the Rhine. 

Whether organic or biodynamic, low intervention, or sustainably farmed, a mission to protect the environment underlies the selection, which is a commendable and brave choice given that St James’s doesn’t exactly have reputation for innovation when it comes to restaurants. Like Maison François itself, Illsley and Kausinyte’s list manages to break new ground while providing comfort and joy.