A wine bar is a curious thing. It sits somewhere between a pub and a cocktail bar; as sophisticated as the best speakeasies — but with the same crisp, collected wine list as a five-star restaurant. It must be classy but cosy; alluring but not intimidating. And it must take you on a journey around the vineyards and wineries of the whole world.
It’s a big ask; but what better city than London to answer this glass-raising call? The British capital is brimming with top wine bars — stocking everything from organic orange wines to the finest bottles of bubbly this side of Champagne. Below, we’ve uncorked our very favourites. Take a look…
Aspen & Mersault, Battersea
Where is it? In leafy Battersea, just a champagne cork’s throw from both the twisting Thames and Battersea Park itself. Both a cosy coffee spot and grocery stop-off, this place comes to life at night as an intimate wine bar.
When to visit? For a low-key date. It’s a little off the beaten track — so will show that you know London well, and can sniff out both a wonderful Merlot and a little-known hideaway. The small plates and snacks are also perfect for sharing.
What to order? We’d sign up for ‘The Natural Journey’ package; a two-hour odyssey during which you’ll sample 10 low intervention wines, and also learn about these eco-friendly — but ultra-tasty — wines. £95 per person.
Bar Crispin, Soho
Where is it? Kingly Street, Soho. This all-day natural wine bar features low intervention wines — like Aspen & Mersault above — and makes for the perfect, centrally-located bolthole for a weekday evening glass (or three).
When to visit? After work, during the week. Such is Bar Crispin’s close proximity to Oxford and Piccadilly Circuses, you’ll be sipping a chardonnay before you can close your last spreadsheet of the day — and jumping on the tube home is a cinch.
What to order? A magnum — there’s even a section on the menu called ‘When one bottle is not enough…’. Perfect for sharing with your co-workers, we’d opt for the Cantina Giardino 2019, with savoury notes of black olives.
The Laughing Heart, Hoxton
Where is it? A short walk from Hoxton station. Sitting on the south side of Haggerston Park, The Laughing Heart is an audiophile’s dream; with live music nights and an on-site venue — La Cave — where sound and acoustic effects even play a part in the tastings.
When to visit? As late as you can. From Thursday to Saturday, The Laughing Heart is open until 2am, so head somewhere for dinner beforehand — we’d recommend The Marksman — and then sink drinks here until late.
What to order? There’s an excellent Eastern European selection here, so why not broaden your oenological horizons and opt for something from Hungary, or the Czech Republic? We’d suggest the 2019 ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ from Slovakian producer Vdovjak.
Where is it? Slap bang between Old Street and Shoreditch High Street stations. It’s another wine bar with wonderful transport links (all the better for that woozy walk home). Plus, its Shoreditch-based stablemates have some serious culinary credentials (see: Brat, Smoking Goat, Manteca etc).
When to visit? We’d say the weekend — but Leroy sadly shuts its doors on Sunday. That leaves Saturday, when you can make the most of the relaxed, utterly chilled atmosphere with friends. Also, there’s no service charge; excellent.
What to order? It’s an ever-changing wine list — but we’d go for something suitably sparkling to enjoy at a slower sipping pace. But forget champagne; there’s a selection of great, more mature Cavas on offer here.
Noble Rot, Bloomsbury
Where is it? On Lamb’s Conduit, where the Parisian-style wine bar has been pouring and recommending boutique bottles since 2013. Ahead of its 10-year anniversary, it’s the perfect time to acquaint yourself with a modern London institution.
When to visit? When you’re feeling hungry. Because, despite primarily being known for its excellent wine selection, the British seasonal menu — although limited — is excellently produced. And the current ‘Spring Set Menu’ is just £22 for three courses.
What to order? The aforementioned set menu, for starters. And, as your meal progresses, we’d take a deep, decadent dive into the wine list. Start with something sparkling, before indulging in a 1999 Crozes-Hermitage from Domaine des Entrefaux.
The 10 Cases, Seven Dials
Where is it? In Seven Dials — which is well worth a visit for any gourmets and gastronomes. Just a street or two away from Covent Garden station, the area is a cornucopia of different cafes, restaurants — and wine bars.
When to visit? Often. Because, as the name suggests, this bijou bolthole only ever buys 10 cases of the wines you’ll find on their well-selected shortlist. So, head back around once a month to enjoy a whole new slate of wines to slake your thirst.
What to order? At the informal, walk-in Cave à Vin, you’ll currently find a strong selection of idiosyncratic ‘orange wines’. As summer blooms, try a suitably fruity 2018 Hondarrabi Zuri, from the Basque Region.
Where is it? This Haggerston-based bar describes itself as ‘a wine drinker’s clubhouse’. It’s an evocative self-evaluation — but not far from the mark; with arched ceilings, bold blue walls and floor-to-ceiling shelves of bottles.
When to visit? Whenever you membership permits. Join today, and you’ll get cellaring for 72 bottles, access to the lounge and exclusive invitations to winemaker dinners. It’s £80 per month, or £880 for the whole year.
What to order? Of the current offerings, we’d suggest a bottle of pioneering ‘oxidative’ wine — of which Planque has a handsome selection. Or (dare we suggest), perhaps a beer? Planque also specialises in the dry, cider-like ‘lambic’ style, typically brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium.
P. Franco, Hackney
Where is it? Another bar in this wine-washed corner of north-east London, P. Franco is technically a small wine shop — sitting pretty in Lower Clapton. But there’s also a small bar, with artisan nibbles, where you can enjoy the wares on site.
When to visit? The bar has slightly different opening hours to the shop itself; with customers welcome from Tuesday to Friday from 4pm, and on weekends from 2pm. Things are loosely modelled on the Parisian ‘cave-â-manger’ style of service, so drop in whenever you want.
What to order? Wine, obviously. But we keep going back to P. Franco for those nibbles. Pecorino with honey? Butter beans with lemon? Burrata with purple radishes and olive oil? Yes, yes and yes.
Where is it? Hiding underneath Clapham Common tube station in — you guessed it — an old public toilet. But the ‘WC’ no longer stands for ‘water closet’. Instead, this hip hideaway now sells ‘wine and charcuterie’ to discerning, in-the-know drinkers.
When to visit? There’s no time like the present. The site lay derelict and deserted for over three decades before WC gave it a spruce up — so it’s worth heading down as soon as possible to see the mosaic floors, tiled walls and wooden stalls in all their restored glory.
What to order? Something white. The bright, zesty, zingy offerings here are second to none — from the creamy cucumber notes of a Pascal Bellier Cheverny Blanc to the lychee mineralogy of a Bauer Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll Riesling.
Coravin Wine & Bubbles Bar, Mayfair
Where is it? On Lancashire Court, in London’s salubrious Mayfair. A quick-march from Bond Street station, this bar is run by the men behind Coravin — the innovative wine preservation system.
When to visit? When you’re in the mood for something sparkling. The Coravin Wine & Bubbles Bar features London’s longest sparkling by the glass list — not to mention a cellar with over 300 carefully-selected bottles.
What to order? We’d recommend uncorking the ‘Champagne Flight’ — a £150 sampling of champagnes from Henriot, beginning with their classic Brut and Cuvée Heméra; closing with the stunning Réserve Perpétuelle.
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