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Drawn together: the waiter’s friend corkscrew

Categories: Behind the stalls

Award-winning blogger and Borough Market regular Ed Smith displays a talent for illustration as well as the written word, as he talks to stallholders about the tools of their trade. This month: the waiter’s friend corkscrew

Christophe Lechevalier at Borough Wines

I have been a Market trader at Borough in various forms since 2000, and at Borough Wines since about 2005.

Every weekend we do open a couple of bottles of wine and a prosecco for customers to taste—we’ll focus on a particular region, or perhaps a wine that is new to us—and on those occasions, we tend to need a corkscrew to get into the bottle.

There are many different types of corkscrew. There are some really fancy and expensive ones, and also the plunger ones with the handles. I don’t really like those—they just don’t work that well, do they? The screws are often a bit blunt, so they push the cork in, and you have to use both handles and have a surface to place it flat on when you’re doing it.

It’s much better to use a ‘waiter’s friend’. This must be one of the oldest styles of corkscrews, but it’s still probably the best.

The absolute package
We’ve got three or four of them on the stall. Do I have a favourite? I have to say none of them are perfect; I’ve never come across one that is the absolute package. For example, I’d take the foil cutter from this one, the handle from another, the screw from a third.

But still, when I’m working I tend to gravitate towards a specific one. It must have come from a supplier as it has ‘Chateau Castera’ written on the handle. The screw is solid (they often wobble and are unsecure—I’ve broken plenty) and the handle is nice and chunky.

Interestingly, my colleague Patrick tends to prefer a different, thinner one. I guess I’d liken it to choosing a pen to go with your handwriting. It’s personal, isn’t it? And sometimes you can’t explain why you prefer one form over another. Some people like writing with a biro, some people prefer a fountain pen.

The first thing I do with the corkscrew is remove the foil from the bottle. I don’t tend to trim underneath the lip of the bottle. I usually strip all of the foil off completely as I tend to find the serrated teeth on foil cutters are never that good and tend to tear rather than cut, so it’s better to take it all off. No doubt some sommeliers would prefer to keep it neat, but it makes no difference to the taste of the wine does it?

Two-stage mechanism
Next you gently put the tip of the screw in the middle of the cork, then using the natural twist of the screw, turn it through the cork about three quarters of the way through. Never go all the way—partly so you don’t push bits of cork into the wine, but also because you don’t need to. These waiter’s friend corkscrews have a two-stage mechanism: you screw down enough so that the short stop on the end lever will meet the bottle top, then use that to extract the first part of cork; extend the lever to the second stage and, pop, that pretty much pulls the cork all the way out. You should barely need any of your own force. If you start twisting and bending and pulling, you’re more likely to break the cork.

It’s actually quite easy—I never need to open a bottle of wine by holding it between my knees. You see that sometimes, don’t you? Not on our stall though!

I’d be a bit annoyed if the Chateau Castera one went missing. But, like I say, I haven’t yet found the perfect corkscrew, so I’d probably get over it and start to get used to a new one.