WineChap: London's best hidden wine bars

WineChap seeks out the best places to drink inside the M25

Negozio Winebar

London’s wine bars have gone through an overhaul in the past few years. I remember my father’s retirement drinks a decade ago at Davy’s in Canary Wharf – the first bar to open in the Docklands and yet with its sawdust on the floor, empty Port barrel furnishings and club claret it looked like it had been open for half a century. It was the required styling for all traditional London wine bars.

Later, when I was studying in Florence and had to present to the class my top spots in London for visitors, alongside Borough Market and The Eye, was Gordon’s winebar – the daddy of them all, and that was back in the days when the cellars were thick with smoke like Dickensian smog.

Things have moved on and we are more chic and continental, with tapas-style sharing plates offered, wine tastings, proper glasses, and even varieties from east of the Rhine now appearing.

Cutting the selection of bars to 10 was, in the words of amateur talent show judges, the hardest thing I have ever hard to do. It was like choosing among your children (if they all had a good selection of well-priced Burgundies with some bottle age).

The selection below is my personal favourites and are either new on the scene or more discreet operations that you might not already know.

28-50

What a find. It has 15 whites and reds by the glass, which are an eclectic list of unapologetically personal choices from master sommelier Xavier Rousset, co-owner and wine buyer and also of Texture in W1. There is a winemaker of the month selection and best of all the collector’s list: a rare trove of older top end wines at unmatchable prices from the private cellars of some of Xavier’s connoisseur clients and pals. It is as far removed from the traditional city wine bar as one could imagine.

140 Fetter Lane, EC4A 1BT

020 7242 8877


Bar Pepito

Pepito is London’s first sherry bar, strategically positioned for a last drink while waiting for your train at King’s Cross, and so rustic its facilities are a short dash across the courtyard at big brother El Camino. Pepito heavily favours its chums at Gonzalez Byass (of Tio Pepe fame), and offers the full spectrum of styles with sherry for everyone: from desert dry Manzanilla, with its tangy whiff of passing jogger, to dessert sweet PX, liquefied Christmas pudding.

Varnishers Yard, Regents Quarter, N1 9FD

020 7841 7331


Brawn

The second venue from the team behind the successful Terroirs in Covent Garden is even more on-trend: well-priced, with a robust, pig-heavy menu and list of natural wines divided into headings such as “Chenin & Orange Friends” and “Sunbaked, cicada, loud, ageless country of scrub and terraced hills”. Favoured by a young, arty, keffiyeh-scarved demographic who would not look out of place in Paris’s Le Baron Rouge, and with a third location “Soif” (Thirst) opening on Battersea Rise shortly.  

49 Columbia Rd, E2 7RG

020 7729 5692


Fortnums 1707

Like a rogue jar of artisan chutney that slips to the bottom of one their eponymous hampers, Fortnums 1707 is tucked away in the basement of the Piccadilly epicurean emporium and is a treat. One of the first bars to introduce a selection of attractively priced wine tastings, 1707 is open later (side entrance only) than the store itself and allows you to open any wine from the extensive fine wine selection on the shop floor for £20 corkage. A great venue to meet early evening, you can even browse the shelves until your late-running guest arrives.

181 Piccadilly, W1A 1ER

020 7734 8040


Green & Blue

Green & Blue is a quirky set-up full of character. If you can’t wait to get home to open your purchase, you can sit in the bar and enjoy your bottle with some simple tapas dishes. Green & Blue – named for the colour of grapes – is a place that encourages rumination over a glass or two of their predominantly natural wine selection. In fact, sustainability underpins owner Kate Tal’s business ethos but also the requirement to offer as nurturing a watering hole and tasting venue as you’ll find anywhere. A devoted following of locals will attest to the success of the mission. 

38 Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, SE22 8HJ

020 8693 9250


Negozio Classica

Delivering on price, quality and style, this Notting Hill stalwart recreates the Italian enoteca (a type of regional wine shop) ambience admirably. It is a place equally to enjoy your morning ristretto or evening aperitivo standing at the bar, or tackle a platter of charcuterie and cheeses for lunch or a light supper, with some fine Italian wines bought off the shelf, (there is a small corkage charge). This is great way to sample Brunello and Barolofor the price that restaurants in Notting Hill normally charge for Chianti and Valpolicella. The grappa selection will finish you or the evening off, or both.

283 Westbourne Grove, W11 2QA

020 7034 0005


The 10 Cases

Opened just last month, this is Covent Garden’s latest bar/restaurant concept – 10 whites, 10 reds, and just 10 cases of each. When a wine is finished something replaces it, keeping suppliers on their toes and so enabling low mark-ups. Old World wines dominate, and with nods to classics, all are available by the glass and there is no service charge. The wine offering is complemented by a very simple menu and there is a great downstairs private room ideal for getting stuck in with some pals and minimal intrusion. It is also commended for spelling bistrot properly.

16 Endell Street, WC2H 9BD, 020 7836 6801


The Fox Reformed

Its Stoke Newington regulars won’t thank me for drawing your attention to their beloved and charmingly eccentric wine bar, as although the darts don’t stop in mid-flight (there is no board for starters) when a stranger walks in, this is very much a local establishment. However, if you have an interest in fine wine then owners Robbie and Carol Richards will make you feel at home - and challenge you to a game of Backgammon in one of their organised sessions. Prices are very reasonable and the selection is adventurous.

176 Stoke Newington Church St, N16 0JL

020 7254 5975


Troubadour Wines

Run by charismatic, flowing haired Atilio Falco, the Troubadour’s wine shop and bar may cultivate a more relaxed environment than their ever busy restaurant and club, but the wine selection, particularly from Argentina, Italy and France, offers plenty of excitement. It is situated a cork’s lob from Earls Court and West Brompton stations, but hopefully you will drink sufficient bottles to decide the gig next door at this longstanding top live music venue (Hendrix, Dylan, Paul Simon and Babyshambles all played here) is worth missing the late train for.  

263-267 Old Brompton Road, SW5 9JA

020 7370 1434


Vinoteca Bar & Wine Shop

The new breed of the old school, Vinoteca are great innovators, confidently listing Greek, Slovenian and Brazilian wines in their original St John’s site when most wine bars considered Austria exotic. Their second venue, a long time coming, is a welcome respite from the main Oxford Street drag. With 50 wines under £20, Prosecco on tap and their own wines bottled on site to take away (plus a refund if you bring the bottle back, so sustainable drinking too) Vinoteca continues to set the pace for London’s wine bars.

15 Seymour Place, W1H 5BD

020 7724 7288

Tom Harrow is founder of WineChap, offering wine list reviews, tastings events and a concierge service for all fine wine needs. He is also contributing editor to luxury magazines POMP and B Beyond; is Urban Junkies wine writer and a regular online columnist for FT’s How To Spend It and The Economist’s More Intelligent Life. Follow him @WineChapUK.

 

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