10 London wine-focused pubs and bars to visit when they reopen
We round up 10 of the best wine-focused pubs and bars in London which you should put on your list to visit when they reopen.
In the second installment of our series profiling the London venues we can’t wait to return to, we concentrate our attention on the capital’s wine-focused bars and pubs.
The entries below are compiled from interviews and reviews, conducted and written by Douglas Blyde, author of Wine List Confidential.
the drinks business‘ sister publication, the annual Wine List Confidential guide, was scheduled for publication last month, but due to the current situation and the closure of the on-trade, it has had to be postponed.
However, with news that the hospitality industry can start to reopen from next month, we wish to draw your attention to 10 bars and pubs which are notable for their wine offering. While closed, many of them are offering takeaway services, details of which can be found at the bottom of each entry.
Sager + Wilde, Hackney Road
Blyde says: When asked if he is still excited by wine, Michael Sager responds, “F*** yeah!” He opened the first, slightly Edward Hopper-esque Sager + Wilde wine bar on Hackney Road in 2013.
“[It is] the quintessential wine bar, exuding warmth and genuine hospitality,” says Sager. “The list is diverse, non-dogmatic, inclusive and affordable, and it is still my favourite wine bar,” he adds.
From the vantage of the rugged counter constructed from salvaged, back-lit pavement tiles, it is possible to drink the world via immaculate glassware. Drawing from 60 suppliers, the ever-changing list is an ode to Sager’s incessant curiosity. Of one producer, Antonio Quari, winemaker at Domaine Prieuré Roch, Sager notes: “He just released the second vintage of his own wine, Non Progredi est Regredi (life or rather time never waits for you) which is also my mantra. The wine is a banger, made naturally from whole clusters of Pinot Noir from the underrated region of Ladoix.” This can be savoured with comforting Cheddar toasties or charcuterie.
Looking back to 2013, Sager notes: “When we opened, the natural wine narrative wasn’t as prevalent. I couldn’t think of a better person to be GM than Dominik Ginzinger to help redefine exactly where we want to be. He was running Austria’s best natural wine bar (O boufés). And time has proven us right.”
Mission opened a year later beneath a railway viaduct on Paradise Row, later also taking the Sager + Wilde moniker.
“[It is] a full-blown restaurant with a Tales of the Cocktail and 50 Best Bars-winning bar programme overseen by beverage director, Marcis Dzelzainis,” notes Sager. “The vibe is warm in the colder months, and from spring to late summer, people love our big garden terrace. We make pasta with our own hands, with plenty of dishes coming from the grill.”
Here, Silvia Pedrotti is in charge, “whom I recruited in Switzerland where I met her running the wine programme for my friend, Patrick Schindler,” Sager says. Meanwhile, Lorenzo Franzoia (formerly of Polpo) oversees both sites. “He ensures the DNA of Sager + Wilde is never lost,” says Sager.
The Sager + Wilde duet has fostered much wine trade talent, although Sager says “they aren’t schools because our way of teaching is autodidactic. Saying that, I am incredibly proud to see Sager + Wilde alumni not only becoming incredible sommeliers but also growing into very skilled managers realising their dreams of owning their own businesses.”
Sager is always encountering new inspirations vinously, including the wines of Georgia, Tenerife and Baja California.
“All three have blown me away with their culture so strongly rooted and their eyes firmly set on preserving the incredible own-rooted vineyards they farm,” he says.
Sager mentions his mentor is Rajat Parr. “His ability to taste is unmatched and he travels the world with such joy and never-ending curiosity. It’s an honour to call him my friend.”
When not working, you may find Sager enjoying a considered pour at Noble Rot, P. Franco, The Laughing Heart, Brawn and Leroy.
Sager & Wilde has turned its Hackney Road site into a deli, while the other, based in Paradise Row, is offering a takeaway menu, which can also be delivered. For more information, visit the Instagram page here.
Blyde says: Previously Vats, which Australian sommelier, Josh Castle called “a late-night boozer for lawyers,” today’s much souped-up version of Noble Rot is brought to you by dynamic duo Dan Keeling, former MD of Island Records and head of Artists and Repertoire at Parlophone, and Master of Wine, Mark Andrew.
Previously head buyer for Roberson wines, Andrew’s research paper entitled ‘How can dry Assyrtiko from Santorini establish itself as a recognised ‘fine wine’ in the eyes of London’s premium on-trade?’ of course ensures plentiful filigree versions of that grape are included on the tremendously exciting wine list. That document, supplemented by a daily specials Coravin board which causes wine aficionados to “drool,” according to Castle includes wines hitherto available only on merchant allocation.
Castle studied art and believes “wine and art are similar, both being collected cultural artefacts.” To calm his student debt, he worked at City Wine Shop, Melbourne in a “warren-like tall building” opposite Parliament House which includes The European restaurant and its defiantly Old World wine list. He also staged at Jordan winery, Stellenbosch “as part of a small team doing a big harvest, getting a chance to do everything.”
His first job in the UK was at the Oxford Wine Company, being “a soft landing into the UK.” However, Noble Rot would better sate his thirst for vinous “esoterica” alongside rested wines from classic, hallowed producers. He says: “When I came for the interview, they’d just received the Fourier order for that week and my eyes lit up. In at the ‘pointy’ end!”
Castle has helped ensure a plentiful supply of desirable wines between £50-60, “which is where the trade drinks at,” including a “swollen” Beaujolais section, and, in honour of a previous employee who has gone to work there, the skin contact Ageno from La Stoppa.
Alongside the wine bar and restaurant is the well-established Noble Rot magazine, featuring a starry list of contributors and provocative artwork.
Realised by head chef, Paul Weaver are the dishes of consultant chef, Stephen Harris of Whitstable’s The Sportsman. These may include Yorkshire pheasant with duck fat potatoes and Devonshire turbot resourcefully braised in oxidised Chablis. Produce can be so fresh it is “cycled in for service that night” says Castle.
Motivated by vinous discovery, Noble Rot’s team expend much time visiting producers old and new.
“I still try to do a harvest each year, including Hambledon for tirage, Burgundy and Penedès – which sparked a love of the dry reds and whites of Catalunya,” says Castle.
Coming soon, with tastings of boutique Hungarian wines already underway, is Noble Rot’s second business in the former Gay Hussar, Soho.
“We don’t want to take a landmark away from London,” says Castle of the reverential list.
Noble Rot is selling wines from its list for delivery. For more information click here.
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels
Blyde says: Inquisitive wine director of the enterprising Experimental Group, Roman Jaën has authored a fascinating, depthful and sometimes mischievous list at the beautifully designed, softly lit, two-floor wine bar and counter that is Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, Neal’s Yard. The location is named after the seventeenth-century MP, Master of the Mint, Groom of the Bedchamber and with little doubt, wine lover to boot, Thomas Neale.
Harking from Burgundy which he visits as often as monthly, Jaën previously worked for Pierre Gagnaire at Sketch London and helped open the European debut of The Peninsula, Paris.
Recently, Jaën concentrated on developing his impressive range of grower Champagnes, respectfully listing the terroirs of the growers. He also increased the detailed Burgundy selection, seeking out young gun producers. Of the sometimes vertigo-inducing prices such wines can attract, Jaën notes: “People always talk about price but less so, quality, and the last vintages from 2014 on have been so good, coupled with better winemaking and technological precision. You can feel the improvement when you are there.”
From elsewhere in France, Jaën builds impressive flights of wines from the likes of Grange de Pères, “which was one of the first fine wines I tried,” and, showing exceptional value, features Alsace picks from Boxler, Ostertag and Weinbach, perhaps best savoured alongside head chef, Gulien Guedon’s foie gras, miso and kasha. From Spain, he looks beyond Rioja and Ribera del Duero to bottles such as the amphora-aged Priorat, Terroir al Limit, which could accompany beef tartare with herring and colatura, or the pitch-perfect pigeon pithivier. With crème caramel and vanilla cream, try an ancient Maderia or Quinta do Noval’s 2000 Colheita, “which they bottled in Imperial just for me.” Finish with satisfying filter coffee by the nearby merchant, Monmouth.
Appealing to brave customers and visiting sommeliers alike, Jaën promises a free bottle of the day’s “Mystery Wine” if a glass of it is correctly deduced.
Jaën also looks after the wine lists at the Experimental Group’s “bed and beverage” hotels at London’s Henrietta Street replete with Basque-influenced sharing plates, the 40-bedroom Il Palazzo Experimental in the former headquarters of La Adriatica shippers, Venice, and Verbier’s Experimental Chalet.
Indeed, he takes particular pleasure in exploring the vinous territory of Switzerland, where he discovered fragrant Gamay by Domaine de Beudon from biodynamically grown grapes gripping the granite mountain overlooking the chalet. Back in England, he applies “the smallest margin I can” to Swiss wines, including bottles reaped from the one-hectare site tended by Olivier Pittet. “When I do something I like to do it in-depth,” says Jaën .
Jaën describes the atmosphere of the 60-cover venue, including counter, as “chilled by day, with loud 1990s French hip-hop and American jazz by night.”
When not on business for the Experimental Group, you might see Jaën at Quality Wines, “one of my favourite places in London, which has a wine for every wallet,” or perhaps rekindling his love of judo…
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels is offering food and wine, which are available for next day delivery. Click here for more information.
Blyde says: Adjoining the Quality Chop House, a dining room famed for its booths and confit potatoes, Quality Wines is run by Gus Gluck, son of polemicist wine writer, Malcolm Gluck, and chef, Nick Bramham. The engaging selection of 250 wines is available retail or, subject to a modest, blanket £15 levy, to drink-in.
“I’ve always had issues with up-selling and don’t want to push people into uncomfortable spending,” says Gluck of the light margin which enables him to keep stock moving, showing up to 4,000 different wines throughout the year.
Cluck’s “spiritual home” is Australia’s Yarra Valley, where he worked with Mac Forbes, “and still talk to him every week.” He also worked at Neighbourhood Wines, “formerly an old illegal casino for the Melbourne mob,” while his “first real job” was with Vinoteca, London, “during its expansion into Soho, Chiswick and Kings Cross.”
Noting, guests can spend “the same amount of money as going to a show” at Quality Wines, Gluck likes showing wines with “drama” such as the Listán Blanco from the Canary Islands (Suerte del Marques Transando) which evokes, he says, “salty, smoky seadog, Captain Jack Sparrow.” He seeks wines which “bring joy”, such as, with “a burnt orange spray fragrance” Thymiopoulos’ “killer rosé” from Naoussa. He ensures the house wine “is never too generic,” such as Tetramythos’ Roditis from Patras, “which is natural but doesn’t taste weird so might annoy someone who likes to pigeonhole.” At the other end of the spectrum, you may see Domaine Tempier La Migoua Bandol by-the-glass.
In addition to wines, expect a zany collection of spirits including Sri Lankan Arak, “mega-retro” amaros, and sambuca “properly stirred down into milkiness”, as well as the seriously good pre-batched Negroni.
With the menu available on Instagram (@qualitywinesfarringdon) the selection of dishes by Bramham, who previously ran street food business, PO Boys, has been “bulked out” in recent months owing to guest demand, and may include: lardo batutto (beaten) and pineapple crostino, pulpo a la gallego terrine, a truffle and butter sandwich, and pig fat cannolo with whipped ricotta, sour cherry and almond. For larger groups, Gluck himself will prepare a menu for up to 14 at the butcher’s block cellar table.
Expect thoughtful tunes from Gluck’s own vinyl collection, such as, “semi-retro stuff like The Isley Brothers and Donny Hathaway” played on a “sharp, vertical record player.” Of the choices, Gluck observes, “with funk and soul movement music, people start drinking and loosen up.”
To “live within our means,” is the philosophy of Gluck who built shelves from old palates, sourcing other items from eBay.
Having tasted 150 wines in a week, Gluck finds comfort in sharing a bottle of wine with his non-wine-trade partner on days off, whose palate “is not muddled with crap and bollocks.” He also contributes to a “not preachy” podcast dedicated to “communicating why people should drink wine – we’ve got to win the fight!”
You may also find him slipping oysters at Noble Rot, or visiting his friends at Brawn, Bright and P. Franco. “Though we always insult each other for what we do and don’t do, we’re all in it together,” he says.
Quality Wines is offering an at-home service, featuring dinners for two, available for collection or delivery from Thursday to Sunday. Its wine shop remains open, which also sells local produce, and it has even branched into online wine tastings, with samples available to order. More information here.
Blyde says: An inn has stood here on Bruton Place since 1423 when The Pound looked over fields. Today, a slightly Raymond Revuebar neon script wraps the bay window of Young’s flagship, The Guinea Grill, under which a commissionaire, in top hat and gold-accented green tails beckons diners in for oysters, steak, ales and generally classic, rested wines.
It is charismatically run by Oisín Rogers, an Irishman characterized by hair approximating that of a Lagotto Romagnolos and a surprisingly angelic singing voice. Twice a week, he dons a tall toque to help head chef, Nathan Richardson, cook the famous bone-in rib eyes, dry-aged by butchers, Godfreys. He also finds time to oversee The Windmill nearby.
Assisting Rogers is sommelier, Vladimir Olaru who grew up in a vinous family. “My grandfather had a huge vineyard in Moldova, and my uncles still grow indigenous Rkatsiteli and Feteasca, as well as Pinot Noir,” he says.
Olaru came to The Guinea Grill by accident and got stuck. “After a decade working for Marriot, I opted to take a year off to appraise matters,” he says. “I did some agency work to fill up my weekends, and although I never wanted to work in a pub, one day they sent me to the Guinea where I met then publican, Carl Smith who asked me to stick around for a week or two and see if I liked it.”
Olaru recalls back then the pub, “felt like an unofficial men’s club – and we still don’t see many ladies today.” It’s a busier venue today, though, with the upstairs private room often serving as “an overspill for restaurant diners.”
In the cellar, wines vie for space beside kegs of Guinness, while supplier Berkmann holds younger vintages until deemed ready. “It’s a hard process to hunt older bottles, and I give our supplier a fine wine wish list,” says Olaru.
Begin with Scottish native oysters and Essex Pinot Grigio from New Hall, or devilled kidneys on toast, perhaps with Cabernet Franc, which Olaru notes is increasingly popular with guests, such as that of Morande Adventure El Padre from Maipo, and follow on with a 16oz rib on the bone with a lamb cutlet on the side, as well as and garlic and parmesan courgettes. The main meaty act, which is cooked simply without char to preserve its wholesomeness, will work with one of the many maturing clarets or a magnum of Château Musar, noting this was one of the first London restaurants to serve the Lebanese wine. There are big guns too from the USA (Insignia, Opus One) and fine-tuned sweeties, ranging from the retro Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise to Château Suduiraut to accompany Roquefort, which Rogers doesn’t wish to blight with crackers.
Of his role, Olaru notes that guests nowadays arrive with a substantially increased wine knowledge, “not like 10 years ago when everyone asked your opinion.” On seeing the feature counter, which is brimming with meat, few guests order white wines, which only account for “10-12% of sales.”
Aside from wine, Olaru is a fanatic of Bourbons which he saves for sipping on Sunday at home, and a keen cyclist and motorcyclist.
The Guinea Grill is closed, but Young’s has announced that it will open all its pubs on 3 August.
Diogenes The Dog
Blyde says: Despite its infamy as The Rose & Crown for being the site of a shooting whereby a man shot his friend for smoking too much of a cannabis joint they were sharing, Sunny Hodge bore no fear in taking on the somewhat isolated venue and making it a destination. With his designer partner, Paolina, he cryptically renamed it Diogenes The Dog and camouflaged it with Devil’s ivy, stirrup-like wine racks, which he learnt to weld together, an alter-esque tasting counter, and most importantly, an embracing attitude to educating his guests on a truly exceptional selection of uncommon bottles.
Formerly of Margot and The Fordwich Arms, Hodge says his endgame is “to grow, maintain and push the limits of the London drinks industry and maintain the amazing relationships I have with friends, family and loved ones.”
During a “rollercoaster” first year of trading, Hodge “adapted, grew, learned, and drove Diogenes the Dog forward” increasing the wine list “a tad” while adding “beers in Burgundy glasses” for theatre.
All wines, including a Bulgarian Pet-Nat, Texan Blanc du Bois and Chinese Marselan blend, are available by-the-glass, bottle and to take away. One of Hodge’s favourites is the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, Goutte D’Argent. “Winemaker, Pascal Marty spent three years in Japan, bringing back a specific Sake yeast to create a super wine fermented at crazy low temperatures,” he says. Sip these with a “boozy cheeseboard”, cured Belgian “Secreto 07” ribeye, or “seasonal” toasty.
For those yearning for structured vinous exploration, Hodge’s tastings programme includes the uniquely authored Scientific Wine Course. “Remaining true to the unfluffy and cynical nature of Diogenes, we aim to uncover how wine works logically using tangible and scientific principles to enable one to understand wine lists,” he says. Other events include LGBT-friendly socials and “soulful Barrel & Blues” nights.
Come Friday nights, Hodge has added Bar Aspen to his repertoire, featuring live music, small plates and of course, vinous esoterica. “Across the river in Camden Town, our Speakeasy features funk-free natural wines.”
Why the name? Prone to philosophical moments, Hodge takes inspiration from the father of cynicism, Diogenes. “One of the founders of the philosophy of cynicism, it is with this inquisitive nature with which we approach our wines,” he says.
Diogenes is now operating as a wine shop, grocer and delivery service. It is even offering a dial a sommelier service. For more information, click here.
Red Lion & Sun
Blyde says: Heath Ball, landlord of Highgate’s handsome Red Lion & Sun pub, grew up in New Zealand “where I was lucky to get an education at the school I went to in West Auckland.” He received exposure to the world of hospitality young via his grandfather who opened the country’s first hamburger restaurant in 1939, “being the first place to sell Coca Cola in New Zealand.” He left the Land of the Long White Cloud in 1993, working for Hugh “Sooty” Corbett, the mind behind Slug & Lettuce and Harvey Floorbangers.
Ball’s first business in the UK was the Drunken Monkey in “frontier territory,” Shoreditch. To the horror of staid regulars, he brightened-up Highgate’s Red Lion and Sun on taking over in 2007, followed by The Wenlock Arms six years on which had been slated for demolition.
Ball has taken Pinot Grigio seriously in recent months. “I was annoyed at myself for having a really average Pinot Grigio so did the maths on what I would have to charge to make the same cash margin for selling the ultra-sustainable, biodynamic one from Alois Lageder in Trentino-Alto Adige. I only had to increase the selling price by £5 per bottle to maintain the same margin. Granted the GP dropped, but you can’t bank a GP. Now my customers enjoy a stunning Pinot Grigio from a beautiful, family estate,” he says.
Although he has been known to drink the odd glass of it, one suspects Ball would rather be drinking Riesling, however. “After many arduous afternoons experimenting, I found Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling and Scottish langoustines work in harmony like Simon and Garfunkel (before the fight),” he reveals.
Despite having his hands full “with the 3 P’s – Poppy, Pixie and the pub,” Ball recently managed a trip to La Guita, Sanlúcar de Barrameda. “On returning I had an infectious love of Sherry and now my customers are enjoying the wine.”
Events have included an evening hosted by Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock, Bendigo and François Millet of Burgundy’s Comte George de Vogüe, and their collaborative wine, Prophet’s Rock Cuvée Aux Antipodes, is a staple.
Ball recalls a fulfilling table. “We get a nice gaggle of famous people who treat us as their local. However, my favourite experience was on a busy Friday night when four elderly French holidaymakers enquired after a table. I managed to do some hustling. They had seen Domaine Des Comtes Lafon Meursault 1er Cru Charmes 2010 in the Enomatic. They nailed two bottles with four fish and chips. £340 on wine and £56 on the food. They said they would never be able to buy that wine at that price in France.”
The Red Lion & Sun is open from Tuesday to Sunday for deliveries and takeaways. Daily menus are uploaded on its website here.
Blyde says: “Like a good vintage, Salon is getting better and better,” says Mark Gurney of the now seven-year-old excellent date spot in the heart of Brixton’s Market Row. Gurney, who describes himself if pushed as “a wine cherub,” co-founded Salon, which began life as a pop-up over a cheesemonger in Brixton, with Matt Bushnell (formerly of Oklava, Shoreditch) and chef, Nicholas Balfe (who worked under Isaac McHale at the initial Clove Club at the Ten Bells).
Previously, Gurney switched to hospitality from music consultancy marketing, becoming general manager at Café Murano under Angela Hartnett who fostered his interest in the wine list.
Predilection is for low-intervention wines, echoing what Gurney notes is his guests’ increasing curiosity over orange and natural ferments. This results in listings of finds such as the litre of bright, pink, skin-fermented Falanghina (Progetto Calcarius).
Salon’s “global” approach “works nicely in tandem with the adjacent, now bedded-in, Wine Store’s selection,” notes Gurney. Look out for memorable events in here such as the weekly “Wine Up” session where a range of bottles, perhaps including the punt-free, richly petrol-scented Domaine Bohn’s Les Copains d’Abord Sylvaner, hitherto unavailable to lips outside of those of the producer’s family, are uncorked for a modest entry fee.
Of the wine, Gurney says he recently “fell in love with the Alsace area and its fascinating, crazy microclimate and limestone, clay, schist and granite terroirs heading down the mountain range.”
Meanwhile, the “South London institution” that is Strictly Bangers is a “far-from-stiff” cult celebration of wine and vinyl for “friends, peers and colleagues.” New for 2020, come the third Tuesday of the month is “Familia”. Held in Salon’s dining room and kitchen, an eager front-of-house team member partners with a chef to create and explain a four-course menu bravely matched with such delights as a British beer drawn from an authentic Lambic tank and local Gosnell’s special edition mead.
Wholesome dishes may include fried peppers with mint, tahini and grated hazelnut, then Sussex cross lamb with winter tomatoes and goat’s curd, as well as outstanding gougéres, and baked from toasted rye, some of London’s most irresistible bread.
Care too is given to aromatised wines, such as the keg of vermouth best served with soda and orange slice, and sustainably packaged spirits including Victory green coffee enriched vodka, a hopped gin and also bitters crafted by indie infuser/blender and friend to Salon, Max Chater.
For a depthful focus on wines from the geology of the Jura, head to Salon’s sequel, Levan a short train ride away at Peckham station.
While Salon itself remains closed, the neighbouring Salon wine store is offering deliveries of wine and mixed cases twice a week. For more information, click here.
The Drapers Arms
Blyde says: “I bloody love that people share knowledge, drink together and are kind and friendly, opening places like Noble Rot, The 10 Cases and Quality Wines basically to indulge and share their passion and enthusiasm,” says financier-turned-publican Nick Gibson. With Ben Maschler, the son of the famous restaurant critic, Fay Maschler, Gibson saved Islington’s handsome Drapers Arms from receivership a decade ago.
Adhering to the motto “always raucous, always fun”, The Drapers Arms fast accumulated fame under Gibson’s tenure for his “Drink the List” showcases, “where we opened every bottle on the list and let everyone help themselves.” However, as the list grew, “with irreplaceable bottles too numerous,” such events would today prove ruinous. “Overall, the list gets longer,” says Gibson. “When I re-organised from a long list on price to groupings, it became apparent where there were holes, so fixing the lack of exceptional Loires has, for example, been work in progress – I may have some Domaine Clos Rougeard on its way.”
With thanks to “excellent suppliers – especially Greg Sherwood MW at Handford Wines”, regular guests have learnt to look out for the Friday weekly mixed takeaway case to take away, which may include “curiosities – a comparison of reductive and oxidative whites – to the more prosaic, such as Tuscan Sangiovese.”
To drink in, “fair, cash mark-ups” are applied to carefully kept bottles such as: Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru Les Folatieres, Gevrey-Chambertin Estournelles-Saint-Jacques, La Crouzille St Emilion and Podere Salicutti Montalcino.
“Demand for higher-end wines has been greater than I anticipated years ago, so the challenge is keeping things hidden until the whole point of buying and keeping is actually delivered by an aged appropriate release,” he says. Hence, 2012 Ornellaia “which may come out if the 2011 goes.” Meanwhile, Gibson has “overcompensated by buying a lot more 2016, 2017 and 2018 Bordeaux, and filled my boots with 2018 Burgundy. So this should be a decent place to drink in 10-years-time when I shall be a Port-faced gammon drinking almost exclusively Claret.”
Alongside, dishes by head chef, Luke Frankie, include brandade, parfait, duck hearts and octopus. “He does an amazing fish stew and a sensational bone marrow mashed potato,” Gibson says.
When not in his clearly beloved pub, Gibson enjoys visiting other operators, namely, The Camberwell Arms, Guinea Grill and Red Lion and Sun. He also rates Soho’s French House.”
Gibson also developed “a concerning marathon habit”, visiting châteaux, Leoville-Poyferré, Gruaud-Larose and Phélan-Ségur “who gets extra points for serving Frank Phélan in glasses” during Bordeaux’s extraordinary, bibulous, Marathon du Médoc. Fortunately for Gibson, hangovers are rare visitors, “although I am happy to pretend I have one as an excuse for a sausage and egg McMuffin.”
The Drapers Arms remains closed, but gift vouchers are available for purchase on the website here.
The 10 Cases
Blyde says: Staffordshire-born, Leeds-raised, environmental sustainability graduate, Alexander Pitt, previously worked at Lee Westcott’s Typing Room (RIP) before joining Covent Garden’s, The 10 Cases, replete with a soundtrack featuring The Kinks and The Beach Boys.
Pitt is joint wine buyer with Charlotte Moran for the Bistrot à Vin and adjacent Cave á Vin. These were opened by friends, Will Palmer and Ian Campbell to challenge the observed formality and excessive mark-ups they encountered elsewhere in the capital.
Neatly, the Bistrot’s list highlights white wines, such as the Muscat/Assyrtiko blend, Greek Connection (J. Ligas), 10 reds (Cabernet Franc “Seaside” Geyer Wine Co. Barossa), plus fizz, rosé, sweet wines and the odd sake, all available by the glass, carafe and bottle. The USP being, wines are only every purchased in 10 case orders. “It’s a fantastic, huge challenge to compile that list,” notes Pitt, recalling the purchase of old vine Tempranillo from Pisa-proximate vineyards which “vanished” after two weeks on the list. “Before I happened upon that wine, I’d met a customer who was convinced Tempranillo came from Italy and, in disbelief, I’d tried my hardest to keep a straight face…”
Alongside, dishes by head chef, Chris Mathias, who earned his spurs in France and Canada, show “simple plating” says Pitt, being “French in style and really flavour-focused.” These might include snail and roast garlic feuillant, smoked Morteau sausage with Puy lentils, and a brilliant coq au vin, followed, perhaps by espresso trifle with mascarpone and honeycomb.
Opened two years after the Bistrot in 2013, the Cave á Vin wine bar, shop and cellar offers the same plates as the Bistrot, albeit on a walk-in only basis come evenings. Here, the list is more voluminous, pivoted at 300 bins and offered at retail price to take-away or subject to a modest £15 corkage to drink within.
Bottles are often raised wines in the venue’s substantial cellars, “and a lot of stuff won’t see the list for quite a while,” says Pitt. Preference is given to lower-intervention wines, he says. “When I first started in restaurants, I wasn’t focused on sustainable viticulture, but The Typing Room proved to be an eye-opener, being very natural wine-focused.” Compared to The Typing Room, Pitt has now “learnt to identify wine faults – and if something sticks out, I can’t buy it.”
Pitt recently visited Eastern Austria’s Burgenland. The trip, “organised off my own back,” revealed how much he “really liked Blaufränkisch” as well as the country’s minute amounts of Furmint.
Be sure to visit sister seafood restaurant, Parsons, over the road for happy hour oysters at the window sill counter.
When not working, you may find studious Pitt reading wine books, or enjoying the soils of “buzzing” Shoreditch, and at Levan, Peckham.
The 10 Cases remains closed. Gift vouchers are available to purchase online here.