Wine bars are back. Once synonymous with pompous old buffs gargling with the voracity of a washing machine, a new breed of establishments on London’s streets are snubbing bygone snobbery and offering spectacular wines without significant mark-ups or haughty oenophilia backchat. Refreshed and revitalised, expect organic wines aplenty at the new kids on the block, while old boy establishments continue to serve their classic bests to a decidedly trendier audience…
With its Bordeaux-red shopfront, dimly lit interiors and boldly brash golden logo stretched across the front window, there’s something dashingly rock’n’roll about this Bloomsbury wine bar. Brought to life by partners-in-crime Mark Andrew and Dan Keeling on the back of their wine magazine, Noble Rot shares the same disruptive energy as angry music, insolent youth and London in its 80s heydays. Step inside and you half expect to find hair-spray hazed women dressed in gold lamé dresses, Marlboro red clutched between their fingers. From a menu that brazenly describes chardonnay as ‘the world’s greatest white wine’ to a dashing food menu dreamt up by Stephen Harris, Noble Rot embodies a refreshing laid-back laxity where nobody cares what you order when you step up to the bar: pick a £4 glass of wine, or a £400 bottle and you’ll be treated exactly the same. Whether you know your Tenerife Trenzado from your Barolo Serralunga or not doesn’t matter, either– as long as you’re content to enjoy a great glass of wine from their 700-bottle strong list, you’ll feel right at home.
51 Lamb’s Conduit Street. WC1N 3NB
Diogenes the Dog, Elephant and Castle
A wine bar made for non-winos, this Elephant and Castle establishment is named after an ancient Greek philosopher with a rebellious streak. While Diogenes of old is famed for being verbally discourteous to Alexander the Great, his modern-day South London namesake is similarly unimpressed with authority, aiming its crosshairs at the pretentiousness of the wine industry. Within the sage green walls of Diogenes the Dog, accessibility reigns supreme – wines are imported direct from producers in the Czech Republic, Poland and even Texas and staff welcome questions or queries on recommendations. Take a stool between verdant fronds around the bar and get sipping on a menu that champions unusual tastes, textures and tones.
96 Rodney Road. SE17 1BG
Sager and Wilde, Hoxton
When Sager and Wilde first cracked open their slatted blinds, there was plenty of talk about barriers being broken in the wine industry. Michael Sager and Charlotte Wilde were offering wines by the glass – good wines by the glass – and without mark-ups. A few years on from opening, the Hoxton joint hasn’t lost its founding mission. Head inside this understated establishment and you’ll still find a diverse selection of unusual wines by the glass within an unpretentious setting. Drawing from nearly 60 suppliers, bold Hungarian reds sit beside Southern European orange wines and Slovenian Rieslings. If you’re peckish, there’s an excellent food menu as well, which remains as unpretentious as the ambience – feeling that third glass of Pinot? Order a grilled cheese sandwich to soak up the excess.
193 Hackney Road E2 8JL
Languidly decorated to feel like a European bistro bar, this North Fitzrovia establishment hand-picks a weekly changing wine list imported from small-time producers, championing lesser-known regions, grapes and styles. Their wine list includes many du jour natural and low intervention bottles, alongside skin contact wines from terroirs including Slovenia and Sicily. Head down to swallow molluscs for £1-a-pop between 4 and 6pm during their oyster happy hour or enjoy a more substantial meal from the menu, feasting on bistro-style bites including burrata with lemon zest and butter-soft octopus.
124 Cleveland St W1T 6PG
Gordon’s Wine Bar
London’s oldest wine bar is exactly what you’d expect: all dimly lit, slightly musty corners, wavering candlelight and a great selection of Old World favourites. Tucked into Villiers Street behind Charing Cross, the subterranean bar was established in 1890 and has lost none of its traditional charm despite gaining a patina of age. Now tenderly called an Institution by plummy regulars, go for the sense of history and old-school ambience and stay for the suitably old-fashioned extravaganza of having cask-drawn fortified wines behind the bar and a twenty-odd long cheese menu to supplement your sipping.
47 Villiers Street WC2N 6NE
The misted, arching windows of P. Franco are a heart-warming sight to behold on a chilly autumn eve. Bottle labels, showcasing the funky, eccentric, even avant-garde collection of natural wines on offer at this Clapton bar, press their noses against the oblique glass, peeking out onto the street. Now one of three wine bars operated by the exceedingly successful team behind this tiny establishment, it’s still easy to miss P.Franco on a stroll down Lower Clapton Road. You’ll find it under the old cash’n’carry sign leftover from a previous tenant of the store. Inside, you’ll find a wall of industrial-style shelving laden with predominately Old World wines, all natural, organic or biodynamic and a long table to sit at while you enjoy your Le Coste Rosato. A bottle-shop during the day, the evening light sees the bar awaken and a menu of tasty morsels that’s garnered much applause on the tables.
107 Lower Clapton Road E5 0NP
All peeling external paintwork, tottering candelabras and hastily arranged blooms in antique vases, this bastion of old Soho is the perfect spot to hid away from the torturous no-bookings queues and mile-long communal tables you’ll encounter at more recent openings in the area. Cherishing a reputation for romantic rendezvous – though their basement tables are surely London’s most popular haunts for adulterous couples – Andrew Edmunds sits within an 18thcentury townhouse, just as raffish and rakish as it was at opening in the late 80s. Expect informal service, a buzzing atmosphere that can rise to raucous when the hour is late and an unfussy food menu of classics that pairs well with a good value wine list.
46 Lexington Street W1F 0LP