Simon Mee comes by managing restaurants naturally. You see, he’s been doing that since age 18 in his native England. After moving to Santa Clarita, he and his wife, Shannon, bought Gallagher’s in Newhall in 2000. They went back to the old name, Egg Plantation, and subsequently made local history, offering an excess of 10,000 varieties of omelets. (Actually, they ran out of creative concoctions after a measly 101.) Consistently voted one of the best, if not the best, breakfast places in the SCV, its popularity is testament to the high quality of food offered.
Not content with having just the finest breakfast or lunch place, Simon took an adventurous leap in 2013 and opened Newhall Refinery. Why adventurous? A restaurant serving good pub grub with a deep selection of brews is not going out on a limb. But doing it in Downtown Newhall before it became the hip place for dinner did take a bit of courage. But that gamble paid off, and now you’ll often have to wait to get a table.
But Simon didn’t want just another incarnation of an English pub, serving essentially fried foods. He’d taken Shannon on date nights to restaurants on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. Why couldn’t Newhall have the same thing? So, dinner now features short rib with coffee onion reduction, porchetta and pickled potatoes, and salmon with wasabi butter poached turnips.
But serving this level of food also meant Simon had to enhance the wine list, going from Kendall Jackson Chardonnay to Flowers Chardonnay or Vidal-Fleury Viognier (one of Simon’s favorites). But he wanted some knowledgeable, objective advice about what wines to add. Enter Guy Lelarge, formerly of Valencia Wine Company.
December 2017 marks the beginning of the Mee/Lelarge collaboration, designed to step up the Refinery’s Wine Program. And step it up it did.
After a few months of planning, they debuted the fruits of their labor on January 31, 2018, at a festive walkaround party. Frankly, I was skeptical. Well, skeptic I am no more.
Featuring bottles from such esteemed estates as Daou, Stags Leap, and Spain’s Viña Magna, as well as a French Sauternes (who else besides Le Chene has a Sauternes?), the wine list at the Refinery was definitely going to a new level.
Starting with a glass of delicious Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, my wife, Terry, and I migrated to a Chateauneuf-de-Pape and the Matua Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. The Rhone, a 2014 from Chateau Mont-Redon, is a good example of some of the more rarified wines now available at the Refinery. Rarified because, according to Wine Spectator, only 500 cases of it has been exported to the States.
The debut of the new Wine Program was clearly a success, given the dozens of attendees who stayed for dinner.
Guy and Simon aren’t stopping at just some new wine bottles. Now, on certain Friday and Saturday nights, there’s a Chef’s Tasting Menu with paired wines at about $85. One recently featured a vol-au-vent (had to look that one up, according to Wikipedia, “A vol-au-vent is a small hollow case of puff pastry”) stuffed with crab and shrimp, followed by veal, and finishing with a chocolate and raspberry pate au chou. Not what you’d expect as pub grub.
If you just want to order off the menu but would like to try some different types of wine without buying several glasses, you can get a flight of three different wines, each at about a 2 oz. pour. Maybe discover some new favorite.
Who knows? Maybe in five years, we’ll look back and see that the Newhall Refinery has ushered in a new level of sophistication in sleepy Newhall.
© Carl J. Kanowsky