The wine bar boom has got a lot of press in the last few years and for good reason. There are now so many interesting, informal places in central London that serve great wine. But the same venues do tend to come up again and again (naming no names) so I’m looking a bit further afield to the suburbs and even, sharp intake of breath, to places outside the capital.
Some of these are proper restaurants or others are shops that will sell you some cheese to eat alongside your wine. At all of them you are guaranteed something good to drink.
161 Food + Drink, Sydenham
You’ll find bottles here that you won’t find anywhere else because this place imports wine direct from producers through its Wines Under the Bonnet merchant arm. Forget the reassuring names – the emphasis is on low-intervention, organic, and biodynamic. It can be a bit overwhelming but the staff are always happy to help. Last time I went here I had a sherry-style wine that was so good that I made up my mind to visit the producer in Sanlucar. Food is simple and delicious: cheeses, charcuterie and hot dishes. Bottles are available to take away.
Kirkdale, Sydenham, London SE26 4QJ
This bar in West London’s furthest outpost was opened in 2015 by journalists Paola Tich and Mike Taylor. It was originally a shop with a separate wine bar but there’s now one premises for everything. Apparently the name is a nod to Sandinista by the Clash who were from west London. To drink, there’s a nice mix of the unusual, like Austria, Greece, Bulgaria and orange wines, and the more familiar, Barolo, Rhone and Burgundy. Because not everyone likes to experiment. They do simple food: their truffle cheese toastie having a cult following locally, and put on all kinds of events like wine suppers, talks and vinyl nights. Bring your old Clash LPs.
74 Churchfield Road, Acton, London W3 6DH
Vino was opened three years ago by expat Calabrian Fabio Armenti. It’s a tiny place with a bar in the front and a wine shop out the back stocking mainly Italian, but also some French, Spanish, Portuguese and Chilean, wines from small producers. It’s a real community hub with regulars packing in to enjoy a glass or a coffee, especially on market days. As such, it’s probably not the best place to have an affair. Food is cold and, as you’d expect from an Italian proprietor, excellent quality; we had some very fresh burrata with a glass of sherry when my wife and I visited recently. It’s right next to the visitor centre for Shepherd Neame brewery, so when you’ve had enough beer, pop in.
9 Court St, Faversham, Kent ME13 7AN
Sous le Nez en Ville, Leeds
I used to come here when I was a student in Leeds in the 90s and was surprised and delighted on regular visits to the city, that it is still going strong and largely unchanged. Located in a basement in Leeds’ financial quarter beneath a swanky hotel, it’s popular at lunchtime with local lawyers, bankers and all-round northern powerhouses. Food is robust British with a nod to France but you’re really here for the enormous wine list with hundreds of wines available by the bottle including old wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy etc. and also some old vintage Armagnac. It’s the kind of place where you could spend a lot of money but you can just order a roast beef sandwich and a bottle of Beaujolais.
Sous le Nez en Ville, 9 Quebec St, Leeds LS1 2HA
This was recommended by my Manchester correspondent. It’s a combined wine bar and shop in the city centre, not far from Piccadilly station. Small plates of food are available or proper meals. The wine range is broad with interesting wines from regional France and Portugal, and funky stuff like Donkey & Goat from California, but also more reassuring offerings that your dad will enjoy like Lopez de Heredia from Rioja or Meerlust from South Africa. There are Vinomatic vending machines dispensing tasting samples so you can have a little of something seriously fancy. Salut puts on regular tasting events and you can take WSET courses here.
11 Cooper St, Manchester, M2 2FW
Ardoa by Vinothec Compass
This used to be London’s strangest situated wine bar, by a driving range at the mouth of the Blackwall Tunnel, offering fine Basque cooking and unusual wines which you could enjoy while practising your swing. It has now moved to a marginally more conventional site by the O2 arena, so you can feast while your child does Build-a-Bear Workshop in the nearby shopping centre. Run by Anglo-French duo, Arnaud Compas and Keith Lyon, the pair love sniffing out rare old wines at auctions so they might have a parcel of 1985 Pauillac or something Californian from the 1990s. The pair have recently opened a new venue called Vinothec Social at the bottom of a tower block in Lewisham offering pizzas alongside wine and beer.
16 Cutter Ln, Greenwich Peninsula, London SE10 0XW
67 Pall Mall, London
Ok, it’s hardly off the beaten track as you can see Berry Bros. & Rudd from here but it’s one you might overlook as this is a private members club. It’s been open since 2015 and has proved to be so successful that it was expanded, and will be opening a new branch in Singapore later in the year. Non-members are welcome at the club’s decidedly non-stuffy events like Bowie and Burgundy nights or, coming up soon, Kyle Maclachlan Winery doing a Twin Peaks Wine pairing. In fact, considering its a club devoted to wine (thousands of wines are available by the glass thanks to the magic of the Coravin) in the heart of clubland, it’s not what you might expect. You even get young women coming here, and, you don’t have to wear a tie!
London SW1Y 5ES