It’s funny to think how unfashionable wine bars were only a few years ago – outdated and dusty, synonymous with warm red, tired food and cringey clientele.
Then places such as Sager + Wilde, Vinoteca, The Laughing Heart and Noble Rot started popping up, and all of a sudden the wine bar got cool. These days, the wine bar is where it’s at.
Flor is the latest addition to that scene. Created by the precocious team behind Lyle’s in Shoreditch – holder of a Michelin star and rated 33 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants – this tiny two-floor buvette in the teeming heart of Borough Market has the dimensions of a chimney stack. But every inch is ingenious.
In the basement, a bakery rustles up heavenly bread and butter. On the ground floor, good-looking millennials sit shoulder to shoulder at the bar, sipping wine and nibbling sourdough in a happy crush. Up a perilous spiral staircase, a cluster of two-seater tables overlooks the market from a double-height window. A vertiginous library of wine towers against the bare brick walls.
Chef-patron James Lowe describes the food as “the kind of thing you want to eat when you’re drinking” – which is just the kind of food I like. Heirloom crudités with silky sesame dip. Scarlet prawns in two parts – the body cured in fragrant yuzu, the head barbecued to a sensual funk. Smoked eel with sharp white currants and earthy beetroot. Sensational oysters. Cheese with a hunk of oozing honeycomb. Delicious, seasonal, unfiddly food, sourced with the kind of obsessive attention to detail that has distinguished Lowe as one of the stars of modern British cooking.
That dedication to suppliers comes through in the Europhile wine list too. Selected by sommelier Francesca Diliberto – an Italian with a warm tableside manner and a smattering of tattoos – it majors on small producers with a story: grower champagnes, natural wines, craft beer, cider and perry. Orange wine is a speciality – I enjoyed the 2018 L’Orange by Domaine de Courbissac, a wine with the freshness of a rosé and the appetising grip of a cider. The bright cherry notes of a 2017 Beaujolais Villages by Karim Vionnet – a rising star in the region – chimed beautifully with a plate of marbled charcuterie.
There is a tantalising “Afters” list too: we finished with fudgy brown butter cakes, cheese and two digestifs: 2017 Oscar by Thomas Batardière, a honeyed dessert wine from the Loire, and the bittersweet Chinato from Vergano, a cult vermouth maker in Asti. And you know what? We liked it so much, we ordered it all over again. So let’s hear it for the wine bar. It’s good to have you back.
Alice Lascelles is Fortnum & Mason Drinks Writer of the Year 2019. @alicelascelles.