At a point in recent history, the allure of the pub relied on the quality of its food. Less is the case with wine bars, but an increasing number of them are earning a reputation not just for the quality of their wine, but also for the food they put on the table. Let’s dive in to a few of them, shall we?
When it opened last year, it didn’t take long for Bar Douro to become known unofficially as the best Portuguese thing to hit London since Taberna do Mercado a few years back. The menu, certainly, plays out just as well: Chanfana rolls (lamb stew in a crispy fried dough shell), flash-grilled octopus with sweet potato puree, and smoked Portuguese sausage croquetes.
40 Maltby Street
It used to be thought that to find a proper wine pairing experience, nothing less than a reservation at a fine dining restaurant would net you one. Not so is the case with somewhere like 40 Maltby Street, where fairly rudimentary – at least in their method – British dishes (cod fritters; black pudding; pickled mackerel; Bakewell tart) can be matched with some also fairly rudimentary (read: natural) wines. This is food and drink peeled back to its core, and 40 Maltby Street’s every bit the better for it.
Last year, P. Franco was nominated as Eater’s ‘most interesting’ restaurant in London. Which was probably a bit surprising considering it was, not long before, a wine shop. In terms of kitchen equipment, the space only has two hobs. During its evolution, it has seen chef residencies from the likes of Tim Spedding and Anna Tobias, while the fact it’s owned by the same folk behind Noble Fine Liquor means you’ll find some of the best small batch wines on the market.
Just as elegant as its Mayfarian neighbours, but nowhere near as formal, 28°-50° on Maddox Street is the sort of place in which servers do, with fondness, talk about a wine they had at the weekend rather than one that sells best on the menu. It’s also a place where ex-Heddon Street Kitchen chef Tarja Silvani cooks a menu that – shock horror – doesn’t revolve around small plates. Diners of the three-course persuasion, rejoice.
Ten years ago, Terroirs was a big feature in many conversations about not just good wine in London, but good food too. The bar and bistro’s duck scratchings soon became legendary, and they’re still on the menu today. Now, it seems the only thing that has died down is the hype – the food is still as good as the wine list (in all its 30 pages) was ever long.
The Laughing Heart
Left field natural wines, late-night hours, and probably the best dinners in Hackney. Little more needs to be said other than a little advice on what to do at arrival. That is: order three or four dishes per person and ask the servers for their best matching wines – however quirky.
St John Maltby
It’s not what you’d expect of a wine bar, but at the latest to come out of the Fergus Henderson stable, there are things available on toast: boiled eggs and anchovies, or devilled kidneys. Opt for supper and things are a little heartier. Either way, it’s just the right fodder to have alongside a glass of St John’s own Premier Cru Blanc des Blancs or Languedoc rouge, not to mention the 60 or so other options.
Locals considered themselves among east London’s luckiest when Wapping got itself a whoppingly good wine bar a few years ago. Victualler’s Slow Food approach extends to both food and drink, from the un-acidified, unfiltered, minimal human intervention wines, to their homemade sourdough, terrines, and pickles.
This is a guest post from freelance food journalist Hugh Thomas. He’s contributed to Foodism, Time Out, Great British Chefs, and is part of British Street Food’s small team of vigilant writers. Find him on twitter @hughwrites.