I’ve lived in London coming up to nearly nine years now and despite some amazing restaurants on offer, sometimes nothing quite beats a good wine bar. Especially those with a cheese board on offer. My poison is red wine but funnily enough, I only actually had my first sip of red wine and enjoyed it in my last year of Uni in Bristol. Then that’s all I’d drink given the choice. White wine I only really become a fan of when I tried the amazing Macon Villages Chardonnay (thanks to Dan’s mum) about three years ago. As they say, sometimes you just need to find a really good bottle that you like to convert to a different colour. Living in London, whether I would be taking clients out or socialising with friends, there’s always a wine bar to suit a specific occasion.
WHERE TO GO
There are three 28-50 wine bars in London. You’ll find them around Fetter Lane, Marylebone and Mayfair. The first 28-50 I ever tried was just a stones throw away from my old workplace, Condé Nast so I enjoyed a few celebratory lunches, after work glasses of wine and catch ups with friends here.
In short, they have 15 red and 15 white wines by the glass, carafe and bottle. The carafe is usually big enough to share one between two and get a glass and a bit each. There’s always something different on the menu and the staff are hot on describing each of them. They also have their ‘Collectors’ List’ of fine wines which are both unusual and mature wines at their peak, some of which are rarely seen in restaurants. A more affordable place to drink and the cheeseboard is a must. Sit at the bar for a relaxed glass or dine in the restaurant area if you’ve more time to spare. Usually wise to book a table.
2) Gordon’s Wine Bar
What best wine bar list would be complete without mentioning the one and only Gordon’s Wine Bar? Established in 1890, it’s one of London’s most oldest wine bars and yes, it’s underground in what appears to be a cave. They only sell wine and there’s still that family owned feel to the place. They’ve made a promise to not change anything so expect old wood, mismatched chairs and candles stuck in wine bottles lighting the entire place. You cannot reserve a table and it’s always busy. I usually get there for around 5pm to make sure I’ve saved a friend and I a table.
The food is also something of a talking point here. From hearty home made pies that are reasonably priced through to the delicious cheeses that come in literal slabs with baguettes (no pretentious London portions), you can eat and feast to your hearts contempt. Watch your head and if it gets too busy, there’s always the enormous outside section covered in heaters so you don’t get too cold. A nice cosy atmosphere where you sit closely to others and normally get quite drunk. Or maybe that’s just me. Many bottles for under £25 too.
3) Hardy’s Brasserie & Wine Bar
A place super special to Dan and I as it’s one of the places we visited when we began dating. Situated in Marylebone, Hardy’s Brasserie and Wine Bar still has that family run feel with a beautiful menu. With British classics and modern European dishes, it often takes us a while to narrow down exactly what we want. The wine list is impressive and often you can taste a little if you’re undecided.
Staff are on hand to help through any questions you may have on the wine. For me, I love a glass of ice cold Sauvignon de Touraine with the cheddar and haddock soufflé and then a yummy glass of Nero D’avola to go with my red meat main. Dan and I have also spent a Saturday here having a drink or two and got chatting to a few of the locals. Of course if having a desert, the hot chocolate fondant is the perfect accompaniment to one of their many sweet dessert wines.
Hardy’s Brasserie and Wine Bar, 53 Dorset Street (020 7935 5929)
4) The 10 Cases
In the heart of Covent Garden is the cool wine bar, ‘The 10 Cases’. Its usually quite busy, buzzing with all types of crowds from media to retail, from lawyers to dancers. The focus here is on the wine and having a good time. The name comes from the fact that they only buy 1- cases of the wines on the list so that there’s an opportunity for customers to always try new wines. There are also ten tables and it’s normally worth booking one in advance, otherwise you can drink in the outside terrace, bar or in the ‘Cave á Vin’ without a reservation.
There’s a food menu to compliment the wines which is small, so easier to choose from. In the Bistrot, there’s unlimited bread and water (for a £1.50 cover charge) which is usually unheard of in London. A good bottle of wine will cost around £30, (an average in London really) and they even had some lovely Sake on the menu.
16 Endell Street, Covent Garden (0207 836 6801)
There are currently four Vagabond Wine Bar stores in London. Located on Charlotte Street, my old stomping ground Northcote Road, Fulham and Spitalfields. There’s even talk of one about to open in Victoria. The concept is simple. They trade as a shop so you can buy a bottle of wine to take away, or there’s the option of sitting in with a ‘top up’ card. Around the room are numerous wine machines where you can choose a size, fill your glass, and pay with your top up card. I loved my first time at the one in Charlotte Street. Good wine, good cheese and Drake quotes written on the chalkboards on the walls.
Vagabond began only in 2010. They picked up on a gap in the market – London was full of specialist wine stores that were super expensive or boring shops with mass produced bottles that were overpriced. It’s a great way to try a number of wines in one go. Always remember, to book a table because it can get really busy.
If you want a trendy, vibrant bistro for good wine and great food, Blanchette in Soho is it. It’s a quirky French bistro with the main intention to bring people together in an informal environment to chat and catch up. There’s a variety of French wine on offer as well as your classic cocktails. They always play good music and it’s super accessible as it’s right in the heart of Soho.
Cocktails are around £10 (expect to pay about £15 a cocktail in Soho on average) and the house Champagne is around £40. The Moroccan Chardonnay is interesting (£43 a bottle) or if you’re drinking red, the ‘Cote du Rhone Domaine la Mirandole’ is superb at just £33 a bottle. There’s also the spectacular Jungle Room if you require private dining.
9 D’Arblay Street, Soho W1F 8DR (020 7439 8100)
7) The Winemakers Club
8) Champagne Charlie’s
Champagne Charlie’s is the quintessential London wine bar, found under the arches of Charing Cross. Opposite Gordon’s Wine Bar in fact. It has an old London feel – the exposed brick, the alcoves and wood with candlelight all there for us to enjoy. It’s a place great for after work drinks between office and the Northern Line tube, ideal for weekends and weekdays.
They’ve an extensive list of wines – some great red wines in fact – at reasonable prices. If you’d like to enjoy the wine but your friends or partner doesn’t then don’t worry, there are some wonderful craft beers here too. Attention to detail is huge. The Port is always decanted and ‘Davy’s Old Wallop’ real ale is served in pewter tankards or half gallon copper jugs. The food is typically British and offers something for everyone.
9) Sager & Wilde
As you know I rarely travel East for no other reason aside from I don’t know that many people there and having lived South of the river and now North, it’s never been a place that’s super accessible for me. However, Sager & Wilde is worth the trip. There are currently two in London, one near Bethnal Green and one near Hoxton station. It’s a place where you can drink a lot and eat a lot and not be judged or rushed. The jalapeño and cheddar cheese toastie is to die for and only £7.50 and the cocktails (around a tenner) are delicious.
10) Brindisa Kitchen, Rupert Street
There are a few Morada Brindisa’s in London, my favourite being the one on Rupert Street. Normally because it’s the quieter of the group but also because the staff are excellent. Aside from the food which deserves it’s own entire blog post, the wine is exceptional. The setting itself is clean, modern and centred around the Castilian-Leonese tradition of roasting and stewing meats, seafood and vegetables in an ‘asador’ – a vast wood fired oven. I first went here at my old job when I took an advertising agency here for lunch. One of the waiters kept bringing over drinks for us to sample and try to give our feedback, it was brilliant.
It’s a 360 degree tapas bar and kitchen so you can sit anywhere you like. The sangria is great to start, then a delicious glass of Malbec followed by a beautifully sweet Mosacto dessert wine. It’s as pricey as you want to make it and it does cater for both ends of the price scale.
I dread to think how much money I’ve pumped into Aqua over the years. It’s a lot. Whether I’ve been with dates, with work clients or with friends. It’s the perfect place to meet your girlfriends, a great date place and a place where after a glass or two of champagne you’ll think it’s natural to go and spend £100 a head on sushi at their restaurant. I’ve had some of the best times of my life here and it’s all because of the people (an amazing place if you’re single) and because of the friends of friends that you’ll bump in to. Full of interesting people each with their own story and brimming with some of the best wines I’ve ever had.
In quieter times the staff don’t mind chatting but when it’s busy, and boy does it get busy, make sure you know what you want when you’re being served. With Sake, cocktails and wines on the menu, it’s hard not to spend a lot. Go outside to their rooftop for some epic views of London too.