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db Drinks: Bottles & Battles

db‘s Phoebe French heads to Bottles & Battles in Italian food market Mercato Metropolitano for a quirky, skin-contact white from Hungary, a wonderfully aromatic Amarone, and fresh pappardelle with sausage ragu.

The concept: Bottles & Battles, based in London food market Mercato Metropolitano, was established in 2016 by Italian food and wine aficionados Franco Mancini and Daniele Marano. With its heart firmly in Italy, the drinking den offers an array of bottles from different regions, as well as smattering of options from France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Hungary, Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.

Housed in a side room off one of the main eating halls, Bottles & Battles boasts an impressive by-the-glass list starting, with prices starting from £5.50, including some from the Coravin. The list is then divided into sections by region (northern, central and southern Italy) with other Old World and New World expressions thrown in for good measure. The focus here is on creating a relaxed, informal environment in which to enjoy and learn more about the inexhaustible range of native Italian grapes.

The wine sits alongside a well-priced range of Italian bites, from nibbles right the way through to a hearty beef stew. Bottles & Battles is a place you can pop into for a small plate and a glass of white, or somewhere to while away the hours in the evening with a bottle of wine and a good meal.

Celebrating its third year in business, Mercato Metropolitano occupies a large 45,000sqft site in what was a disused paper factory. In between Borough and Elephant & Castle, it was intended to evoke the vast food halls in Milan and Turin – indeed its founder, Andrea Rasca, was involved in Italian marketplace concept Eataly, which has sites in Chicago, New York, Bologna, Stockholm and and Munich.

The décor: While the interior of Bottles & Battles is calm and collected, the exterior is anything but. Housed in side room off one of the large market halls, approaching the venue is a sensory assault, the eye drawn to large charcuterie displays, wood-fired, pleasantly-charred pizzas and a counter bursting with different flavours of gelato. 

Confusingly, each outlet has identical black billboard-style signs, listing the type of food or drink being served, rather than the name of the business operating the stand. There’s no ‘Bottles & Battles’ logo on the outside, but rather two white neon signs, one reading ‘wine bar’, the other ‘enoteca’.

Once you’ve found the place, everything is far more straightforward. On one side, the bar is lined with a bottle display, the shelves built using wooden wine boxes. In the centre stands a long central table with swivel stools adorned with faux-fur throws, with a couple of sofas surrounding a lower table at the back. On the other side is a tiny hatch through to the kitchen with industrial-chic caged lights hanging from the ceiling, emitting a cozy winter glow.

The drinks: With 11 whites, 13 reds, 2 rosés and 2 sparkling wines available on the glass, there’s plenty to choose from if you’re unwilling to splash out on a bottle. Not that the bottles are pricey – ranging from £25 to £120, this list very reasonably priced. Highlights included Huba Szeremley’s Badacsony Kéknyelű – Kéknyelű being the grape variety – a quirky skin-contact white, and at 13 years old, a snip at £10 a glass.

For something slightly more mainstream, try the Tenuta Terre Nobili’s Greco di Calabria ‘Santa Chiara’ 2016, a crisp, fresh white with flavours of grapefruit and orange blossom for £8 a glass. In the red department, Antolini’s Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2016, a blend of Corvina, Corvionone and Rondinella, hit the spot, providing notes of black cherry, plum jam and cloves.

Signature sips: At the top of the by-the-glass list, there’s a ‘sommelier’s choice’ sip, currently Eugenio Rosi’s Marzemino ‘Poiema’, a biodynamic wine made with 100% Marzemino using 30% raisined grapes, with flavours of “ripe cherry, raspberry, almond and cigar smoke”.

Stand-outs from my trip included Zampaglione Fiano Campania ‘Don Chisciotte’ available for £11 a glass from the Coravin selection. Another skin-contact white, this had more stone fruit flavours than the Hungarian Kéknyelű (which more resembled Riesling) with flavours of white peach and hay. Also worth a try is Terre di Gnirega’s Amarone della Valpolicella, £17 a glass via Coravin. While slightly on the steep side, it’s worth it for the aroma alone, a complex mix of fruitcake, tobacco, dried rose petals and figs.

The food: While to some wine bars, food is an after-thought, at Bottles & Battles it’s definitely worth ordering a plate. From bowls of sweet and briney Nocellara olives to more substantial plates of fresh pasta, the food is simple and well-flavoured, with nibbles starting at £3.50, pasta at £9.50 and the most expensive hot dish, Robata BBQ onglet steak with vegetables coming in at £12.50. An impressive array of cheese and charcuterie is also available, priced at £15 for a sharing platter for two people, to £65 for six to 10 people.

Highlights from my visit included the pappardelle with sausage ragu with a liberal crumbling of pungent Parmesan over the top, and the burrata with caramelised pears and bread, the cream from the cheese combining with the sweet pear juices to form a moreish puddle in which to dip crusty slices of bread.

Don’t leave without: trying the liqueurs. We were served two sips from producers Rossa and Pure Sardinia, served up in elegant, tall-stemmed tulip glasses. Choose from Rossa’s blood orange and wild herb or Pure Sardinia’s wild myrtle liqueur. 

Last word: If you can negotiate the vast cavern that is Mercato Metropolitano, Bottles & Battles is a real find. A 10-15 minute walk from London Bridge, it’s a handy place to know if you’re searching for something off the beaten track. Staff are friendly and knowledgable, providing a welcome guide through a wine list brimming with unusual grape varieties.

The concept is clearly a success as founders Mancini and Marano opened a second site in Spitalfields Market last year, called Bottles. For those in search of laid-back surroundings, interesting wines, and who don’t mind sharing a table, Bottle & Battles is a safe bet.

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