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DB Eats: The Kensington Wine Rooms

Remember the buzz when The Sampler in Islington opened? Those enomatic machines have since crept gradually into the occasional upmarket bar or restaurant, but it takes far more than eight grand’s worth of kit to ensure a good night out.

The Kensington Wine Rooms inspires that same kid-in-a-sweetshop feeling, but also offers a stylish, comfortable bar area to sit and enjoy your wine(s) over a plate of tapas or more.

Located half way along Kensington Church Street in west London, the venue opened in April this year. It marks the latest project from owners Thor Gudmundsson and Richard Okroj, who worked together on Gudmundsson’s previous enterprise, The Frog & Rosbif, a chain of brew pubs based across the Channel, bringing real ale to the French and homesick Brits.  

The pair have invested in five enomatic machines, each holding eight wines. As with the Sampler, these operate on a top-up card basis, which you insert into the machine before making your selection of a 25ml, 125ml or 175ml serve, each priced accordingly. Each wine is also available by the bottle to drink in or, alternatively, to take home at a reduced retail margin.

The selection of wines offers something for all tastes, moods and budgets. You can try the white Reserve de Gassac 08 for 80p, or head straight for the cabinet by the bar, which holds an ever-changing trove of the kind of wines usually restricted to window-shopping territory. The current selection offers a sample of Léoville-Barton 95 for £4.77; Ata Rangi 07 Pinot Noir for £2.33; or Haut-Brion 92 for £10.47. And of course, if you want to treat yourself properly, you can always trade up to a whole glass without cancelling this year’s holiday.

As may be obvious by now, it’s entirely possible to spend a huge amount of money in this place, but a £20 card provides plenty of scope to try a wide range of wines, most of which are rarely found by the glass, if at all. It’s a wonderfully unintimidating environment for tasting wine, allowing you to move at your own pace and discover new regions or producers without the need to invest in a whole bottle. For bottles above £15, the pricing operates on a fixed cash mark up, so it’s the most expensive wines which offer the best value.

If you’re just looking for some light blotting paper to help the tasting along, a selection of tapas is available in the bar. Choose from jamon (£6.95), Neal’s Yard cheese (£6), or a plate of foie gras with fig chutney and toasted walnut bread (£7.50). If you find yourself in need of something more substantial, there’s also restaurant in an adjoining room.

The menu here is appetising without being too clever, focusing on good ingredients rather than complicated presentation. Each dish comes with a wine recommendation, so you might want to try tuna carpaccio with mango and coriander dressing (£6.75), accompanied by Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (£4.75 for 125mls). For something more substantial, there’s the confit leg of duck with green beans and lentil salad (£12.95), paired with the Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2007. Alternatively, you could just keep tasting, or have another glass of that Léoville-Barton 95 with your meal.

All in all, it’s the flexibility that works here. There’s nothing too complicated going on, either with the food or the wine. It’s simply a place that reminds you how pleasurable wine can and should be.

The Kensington Wine Rooms
127-129 Kensington Church Street
W8 7LP
+44 (0)207 727 8142

Gabriel Savage, 04.08.09

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