Never eat in a wine bar.” My kindly (albeit somewhat dissolute) Uncle Jeremy gave me this advice while I was at university, and it served me well for many years. Camembert deep fried in a coffin of breadcrumbs; “goujons” made from rubbery chicken; the dreaded quiche, once described by Elizabeth David as a “culinary dustbin” – the juvenile Gannet avoided all these crimes against gastronomy, sticking resolutely to liquids.
Then came Terroirs, just off Trafalgar Square, where Ed Wilson’s joyous menu of classic French bistro food was too tempting to resist. That spawned Brawn, on Columbia Road, where Wilson is now chef/patron. Wine bars had become cool.
Two London openings this year have entrenched this welcome trend. Noble Rot, on Lamb’s Conduit Street (previously called Vats, an old‑school wine bar that I last drank in 20 years ago, quite possibly with Uncle Jeremy), has a fine pedigree: chef Paul Weaver’s CV includes stints at St John Bread and Wine and The Sportsman, in Kent.
The food is superb: top-notch ingredients, unfussily cooked and beautifully plated. Cool, squidgy burrata, for instance, with roasted petals of sharp, sweet grelot onions and a nutty, nubbly salsa romesco; and smoked eel with a sublime, sparkling tomato broth. Little fillets of slip soles are anointed with smoky, pimentón spiked butter, and guineafowl has a rich sauce made with vin jaune studded with little broad beans. Noble Rot’s menu eats as well as it reads, especially if you are as fond of butter as the Gannet, and the wine list is exemplary: I drank Olivier Pithon’s splendid Cuvée Laïs, a white Macabeu and Grenache blend from France’s deep south.
Near Holland Park, meanwhile, Oli Barker – Wilson’s former partner in Terroirs and Brawn – has opened Six Portland Road, a small but perfectly formed restaurant-cum-wine bar: mostly the former, but a communal table at the front allows passing oenophiles a glass of something restorative.
In my case, that was an assertively dry glass of Mâcon-Villages, then a bottle of a cherry-bright Côtes du Rhône accompanied by pork and pistachio terrine (a touch fridge cold, but faultlessly constructed and seasoned); some punchy devilled eggs with fat Cantabrian anchovies; and a tranche of brill from an estimable fish, fragrant with nutty brown butter and perked up with rouille.
Uncle Jeremy always finished his meal with cheese, and while his views about wine bars are happily obsolete, I’m more than willing to follow his advice on dairy products. Lord of the Hundreds, made from ewes’ milk in Sussex, was especially fine, and – I am pleased to report – had been nowhere near Six Portland Road’s deep fryer.