8 Apr 2015 We have reworked and updated our popular guide to London's ever-changing wine scene, originally written many years ago and frequently updated, to reflect the very latest changes. It is presented here as a Throwback Thursday article, and includes lots of crowd-sourced additions from various helpful members who are attributed in parentheses. Please continue to suggest new places we should mention via the contact form.
Walk down St James's Street, SW1. Not only is there St James's Palace at the bottom, but various gentlemen's clubs adorn either side - look for a handsome 18th-century building with no or extremely discreet markings by the door and/or well-tailored men stumbling out in the afternoon or languidly reading newspapers in drawing rooms inside; there are more of them along Pall Mall to the left at the bottom of the street. The newest addition to these is 67 Pall Mall, a club devoted entirely to wine lovers, which opens in 2015. Brooks's at the top on the right as you walk down St James's Street is the club favoured by the late Harry Waugh and by Michael Broadbent. Boodles is an even prettier, white building almost opposite. At number 61 on the right is Justerini & Brooks, the energetic fine-wine merchant that can offer some hand-picked treasures. Buyer, now managing director, Hew Blair works far harder than he need, thank goodness.
Further down on the opposite side at number 3 is J & B's longstanding rival Berry Bros & Rudd, which owns an extraordinary proportion of the real estate in this sector of St James's (just opposite Clarence House, home of Prince Charles, on Pall Mall). This is the real reason for your saunter down this street - which continues to undergo a flurry of renovation with smart restaurants and even hotels going up at a giddy rate. BB&R was for long rather moribund and financed by Cutty Sark whisky, but in recent years it has become one of Britain's most dynamic wine merchants in its own right. The Berrys and Berry-Greens have been clever enough to realise that its strongest distinguishing mark is its long history, which is celebrated in full at St James's Street. The buildings in which it conducts its London business (the real work is done in less romantic surroundings in Basingstoke, called by them in their literature 'our Hampshire cellars') have recently been tarted up, and the extension to the shop now has many a bottle on display. But step on to the bare boards of the original wine shop and you will get something of the flavour of an 18th-century London merchant. Berry Bros still have the weighing scales and records of the weights of Regency dandies and worthies, and the well-suited young men may now use computers but they (the computers rather than the young men) are cunningly inset into old-fashioned high wooden desks. Have a snoop around and ask if you can see their recently restored cellars on at least two floors below in which many wine events are held. See our 2014 comparison of Berrys and Justerinis. While here you could turn in to King Street and see if there's a wine sale going on in one of the grand old, or pretend grand old, salerooms at Christie's. Check Christies.com first.
And no wine-loving visitor to London should miss the nearby Russian-owned treasure trove that is Hedonism wine shop in Mayfair. See more details below.
If you are that way inclined, you might enjoy immersion in the City of London, basically London's financial district. More and more banks and other financial institutions are moving east to the modern wastes of Canary Wharf but you can still get the flavour of this very particular part of London by blinking your way up into the daylight from Bank tube station and watching People at Work, generally dashing about and looking harassed - a highly satisfactory sight when on holiday, I find. Hardly anyone actually lives in this area (it's deserted at weekends) but you can get the historical picture by visiting the Museum of London near the modern Barbican (an exceptional, for the City, housing and cultural development) and, if you're fit, climb the Monument for a better view.
Most wine merchants have been driven out of the City by the high rents but Uncorked (pictured above) at 15 Exchange Arcade, Broadgate, London EC2, is an exception. This is a tiny operation that specialises in supplying City wine lovers so you should find something of interest here. A newer addition is the New Street Wine Shop near Liverpool Street (see below), which has the increasingly common Enomatic wine dispensing machines.
Free vintner John Davy has a string of faux-Victorian Davy's wine bars all over the City (and elsewhere in the middle of London) which have particularly good value vintage port, sawdust on the floor, etc. Corney & Barrow have several modern wine bars in the City and can offer some interesting wines by the glass, and the opportunity to study one particular subspecies in considerable detail. Go to one of these bars only if you have high testosterone tolerance, however. Sweetings is the most stereotypical City restaurant.
While you're in this part of London, cross the Thames at Southwark Bridge, noticing Vintners' Hall on your right, where so much wine was once offloaded from the river, and which still houses the offices of the Vintners' Company. Once over the Thames, turn left and walk along the south bank of the river by the Financial Times HQ to Vinopolis, London's rather diluted wine-based tourist attraction - but hurry, because this well-known venue is closing its doors at the end of 2015. Nearby there is also Neal's Yard Dairy, Brindisa's tapas bar and the rest of the vibrant Borough food market as well as a retail branch of Laithwaite's, Britain's biggest mail order wine retailer now expanding internationally, inside Vinopolis.
If it's more wine accessories than wine that you're after, EuroCave UK in Marylebone (previously called Around Wine) is a wine lover's toy shop, selling everything from foil cutters to EuroCave wine-storage systems.
As reported here, independent wine merchants are thriving in Britain, but many of the best are spread around the country and occasionally the suburbs, operating from printed and electronic lists rather than cute little boutiques in the capital - although there has recently been an increase in the latter. Hooray.
10 Cases in Endell St, Covent Garden, has a Cave à Vin just next door to their popular bistro, offering a great selection of wines to take home, to taste from their Enomatic machines, or to enjoy by the glass, carafe and bottle with charcuterie and cheese in the shop.
Albion Wines in Lambs Conduit Street, near Russell St tube station, has been going strong for over 30 years supplying the trade and private customers with an interesting selection. Enomatic machines in-store for tasting wine.
Bottle Apostle in Victoria Park, Crouch End, Clapham and Stratfield's East Village - offers sampling via Enomatic machines.
Borough Wines, which started only in 2002, already has six venues (Borough Market, Hackney, Dalston, Clerkenwell, Kensal Rise and Stoke Newington) and is still expanding! Strong on off-piste wines from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, Borough Wines is well known for offering its customers wine straight from the barrel, sfuso style.
City Beverage Company, Old Street - a little pricey [a description vigorously contested by Stuart Edwards of CBC - TC] but decent selection and, again, good beer selection.
D Vine Cellars, 74 Landor Rd, North Clapham, always have 16 wines on Enomatic machines for tasting, along with charcuterie and cheese to nibble on while assessing the relative merits of their 'niche, ethical and artisan' wine selection.
Dynamic Vines, 'to capitalise on the increasing popularity of Maltby Street (and the surrounding area), this importer of (predominantly) biodynamic wines now opens on Saturdays to sell directly to the public'. (Dave Stenton)
The Good Wine Shop has three shops in Kew, Chiswick and most recently Esher (not really in London), selling wines from small producers.
Handford Wines, 105 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 (very close to Christie's, South Ken). Small, very personal shop whose stock is driven by passion and interest - especially good at burgundy, southern French, South African and Portuguese table wines.
Haynes Hanson & Clark in Elystan Street, just off Chelsea Green, SW3. Master of Wine Anthony Hanson is buying consultant. Burgundy a speciality.
Hedonism, 3-7 Davies Street, London W1, is by far the most luxurious central London wine store. Owned by a Russian tax exile, it is an extraordinary treasure trove of bottles of interest to anyone seriously interested in wine with, for instance, Yquems and Sine Qua Nons coming out of its ears. Prices are not as sky-high as one might expect and there are usually some tip-top wines on taste by the glass. Many a wine lover could spend hours in here.
Highbury Vintners, Highbury - fantastic selection of wine but also a wide range of microbrewery beers.
Huntsworth Wine Co - opposite-ish the Notting Hill branch of Lea & Sandeman. Strong Burgundy and Bordeaux focus but there's a smattering of wines from further afield.
Jeroboams, fine-wine stores dotted around central London with a pretty good selection.
Lea & Sandeman, 301 Fulham Road, London SW10, and 211 Kensington Church Street, London W8, close to Notting Hill Gate tube station, and 51 Barnes High Street, London SW13, and now in Chiswick W4 at 167 Chiswick High Road. These bright, modern shops offer a wide range of individually chosen wines. The selection is particularly strong on Tuscany, Rhône, Burgundy and south-west France.
Market Row Wines in Brixton is run by ex-Oddbins David Simpson, who focuses on £8-12 wines from artisan producers.
Newcomer wines offers an all-Austrian wine selection housed in the BOXPARK 'pop-up mall' in Shoreditch.
New Street Wine Shop - in the city close to Liverpool Street and set-up by D&D London (see Pont de la Tour below). They have an eclectic range of wines that can be taken away or enjoyed on site at a very reasonable corkage charge (£8 last time I asked). Their small but frequently refreshed wine list offers an interesting selection, generally a little off the beaten track (in tasting-size pours or full glasses), along with small bites. Relaxed atmosphere and good service.
New Zealand Wine Cellar - opened at Pop Brixton in May 2015 thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that showed how much support there was for Mel Brown's project - in London and back in New Zealand. Winner of the Decanter 2015 award for Specialist New Zealand retailer.
Noble Fine Liquor - a new shop on Broadway Market (a short walk from 259 Hackney Road) run by two young Kiwis. Natural wines from the Loire rub shoulders with rare burgundy and New Zealand's Pyramid Valley. They also work closely with the small Italian importer Tutto Wines so are one of the few UK stockists of the excellent Ar.Pe.Pe Nebbiolos.
P. Franco, 'sister shop to Noble Fine Liquor, has opened on Lower Clapton Road (which is unrecognisable compared with when I lived just off it up until two years ago: I counted at least a dozen new businesses as I walked along it on Saturday evening). It's a wine shop but they're also licensed to sell wines by the glass, so morphs into a bar in the evenings.' (Dave Stenton)
Park + Bridge, 73 Churchfield Road, Acton. Strong focus on biodynamic, organic and minimal-intervention wines.
Philglas & Swiggot, a small group of shops specialising in hand-picked wines, notably but not exclusively Australian. Recently bought by Justin Knock MW and his business partner Damien Jackman.
Planet of the Grapes just south of the British Museum is very individual, and as an added bonus they also have two wine bars in the city at Bow Lane (with restaurant) and Leadenhall Market, both of which are shops as well where you can buy to take away or drink in with a simple flat corkage rate of £10 on top of the retail price. Purple Pager Henry Jeffreys tell us that 'at Planet of the Grapes on New Oxford Street they spend a lot of time sitting round a big wooden table trying samples (it makes one want to become a wine merchant). If you spend long enough in there, then you will be handed a glass of something and asked your opinion.'
Pont de la Tour, Shad Thames, Butlers Wharf, London SE1, is the very well-stocked wine store attached to the Conran restaurant of the same name on the south side of Tower Bridge. Excellent and unpredictable selection but Sir Terence believes in robust pricing. (See the D&D website for details of all their wine shops.)
Prohibition Wines - a new shop run by a young couple of wine enthusiasts in Muswell Hill. She is a lawyer, I believe.
Roberson, Kensington High Street, London W14. Large, modern, cavernous shop with a wide selection at the Olympia end of Kensington High Street. Under their head office in Seagrave Road (two minutes from West Brompton tube just west of the shop) is their urban winery, London's first, London Cru.
The Sampler, very useful pair of shops in Upper Street, Islington, and by South Kensington tube station, which offers a rotating range of very fine wines indeed by the 25 ml pour and also has one of the UK's most wide-ranging selections of fine wines available anywhere retail.
Theatre of Wine in Greenwich and now in Tufnell Park, north London, is also run with great personal dedication.
Vagabond Wines, Fulham and Charlotte Street - also has Enomatics (and is cheap compared with others - they had a 2005 Alion for £2 a taste when I last visited).
Victualler is all about natural, organic and biodynamic wines, and can be found in Wapping.
Vin Vixen, is 'an urban winery in the heart of Hackney' (see pic below by Ana Verastegui), with a range of artisan wines, cheeses, olives, and refill-your-own olive oil.
The Winemakers Club opened in 2014 under the vaulted arches of Holborn Viaduct as an outlet for the independent importer of the same name, and offers an eclectic selection of wine to take away as well as a bijou wine bar area.
The Wine Tasting Shop in Balham, run by Julia Michael, 'the very engaging owner' – a recommendation from Purple Pager and winemaker Jonathan Hesford.
The Wine Pantry is a wonderful little shop (and wine bar) selling only English, Welsh and Cornish wines in Borough market.
The Winery in Clifton Road, London W9. Excellent hand-picked, actually foot-driven, selection from anywhere that owner David Motion has recently visited. Dry Germans are a speciality.
Zelas is a wine shop in Highbury with the best selection of Bulgarian wines in the country, we are reliably informed, as well as natural wines from elsewhere in the world.
There are other small outfits all over the capital. If you are a real-wine junkie, or a wine professional, you may want to see where Brits typically buy their wine. About 70% of all wine in the UK is bought at one of the big supermarkets: Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda, Morrisons, the Co-operative, or (slightly better than the rest) Marks & Spencer and Waitrose - all of them increasingly challenged by the discount supermarkets Aldi and Lidl. Branches vary enormously in the range they offer. Flagship stores include Waitrose at Canary Wharf and Halkin Street, SW1, Sainsburys at Gloucester Road and Tesco not far away where the Cromwell Road becomes elevated. If you are staying with a native, rather than in a hotel, ask them to show you their nearest supermarket. You will see just how cut-throat the wine business is at this level. Majestic is a highly successful chain of wine warehouses with a flagship fine-wine store in St John's Wood, NW8.
For recommendations of London restaurants that have no particular wine connection, check out Nick's weekly recommendations - or you could put 'London restaurants' in the search box, having chosen the Everything else option from the drop-down menu. See also this 2011 guide to London wine bars. The wine-bar scene has improved enormously in the last few years. Here is a selection of some favourites - with Spanish-style tapas bars listed together at the end.
28-50 describe themselves as 'wine workshop and kitchen' and cannot really be pigeon-holed as wine bar or restaurant but do both equally well. Established by French sommelier Xavier Rousset and his business partner from Texture restaurant (see below), first in Fetter Lane EC4 and now in smartly casual and welcoming venues in Mayfair (just off Regent St) and Marylebone. Excellent range of at least 30 wines by the glass (small measures great for sampling a wide range) and an interesting 'collector's list' - mainly older vintages of fine wines at very good prices.
Andrew Edmunds in Soho is recommended by Dave Stenton: 'I ate there last weekend and was struck by the number of rare burgundies and bordeaux they were selling for not much more (and in some cases less) than retail.'
Antidote is a wine bar that has been around for a while but seemed to escape people's attentions. However, Mikael Jonnson – he of Hedone – now oversees the menu, which, judging by a recent visit, has resulted in renewed interest.
Bar Boulud is in smart Knightsbridge, in the basement of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, with a fine, mainly French, wine list and always something superior available by the glass.
Brawn in Columbia Road is a sister restaurant of Terroirs, specialising in natural wine.
Cork & Bottle is one of several of the old guard of wine bars, in the tourist eipcentre of London, Leicester Square.
The English Wine & Spirit Co, at 8 Devonshire Row, is just around the corner from Liverpool St station. Owned by the passionately patriotic Julia Stafford of The Wine Pantry in Borough Market, and selling exclusively English wine (still and sparkling), English spirits and other English beverages - you can buy a bottle to take home with you if you like.
Fortnum & Mason has, like Selfridges, a wine bar as well as a wine shop on the premises.
Gordons - the oldest wine bar in London, apparently, is a popular cave-style venue that is nearly always crowded and has recently expanded to sprawl over the path that runs alongside it.
The Kensington Wine Rooms and Fulham Wine Rooms were early adopters of Enomatic machines and have a wide selection available, including several more expensive options. There is also a full menu available, and wine can be bought to take home.
Mission in Bethnal Green is the second venture of Sager & Wilde (see below), and is a more formal restaurant, albeit with the same much vaunted wine selection, including a strong emphasis on Californian wine.
'Happily for me, Primeur has opened very close to where I live in Highbury. It's a really beautiful space (formerly a 70s car-repair shop, and retains some of the original features). I've eaten there three times in as many weeks; standing room only on my most recent visit. Short-ish wine list (but I think it's expanding) with emphasis on Italy and Alsace (one of the co-owners is from Alsace). I think Nick would like it.' (Dave Stenton)
Polpo, reviewed by Nick shortly after it opened on Beak St (between Soho and Regent St), now has several branches (Chelsea, Covent Garden, Notting Hill, Smithfield, etc). Owner Russell Norman describes it as a bàcaro, a Venetian word meaning 'a humble restaurant serving food and good, young local wines'. It's noisy and fun, the tables are tightly packed (at least in the Beak St branch) and pretty much fills Norman's description.
The Quality Chop House just round the corner from Exmouth Market in Farringdon, EC1, has a friendly wine bar (pictured) next to the dining room described below.
The Remedy, 'a small wine bar in Fitzrovia - and just behind the Executive offices of the Institute of Masters of Wine - has been open for a while now but seems to operate slightly under the radar. It's run by Terroirs alumni.' (Dave Stenton)
Sager & Wilde in Hackney Road is one of the newer, most interesting and buzziest wine bars with a particularly famous selection of great-value fine wines.
Soif in south London is another Terroirs relative.
Shampers is, with Gordons and Cork & Bottle, one of London's old-fashioned stalwart wine venues, much beloved and conveniently situated on the western edge of Soho.
Selfridge's recently refurbished wine bar is definitely worth checking out when on Oxford Street.
Trangallán, 'a short walk from Primeur on Newington Green, is another local favourite of mine (although it's not new; it's been open a couple of years). The owners are Galician and the wine list (Imbibe's 'Spanish wine list of the year' in 2013) has lots of great wine from NW Spain as well as the odd bottle from Italy and the Jura; great sherries too.' (Dave Stenton)
Toasted is 'the latest member of the Terroirs family (alongside Brawn, Soif, etc.) but the only one (I think) that is licensed for off-sales; particularly worth visiting on Mondays, when they have a rotating selection of bottles available to drink in at retail prices'. (Dave Stenton)
Verden 'just off Lower Clapton Road is a brand new wine bar and deli, which has just recently opened. An eclectic and keenly priced by-the-glass list with lots of meat and cheese to match. Incidentally, I visited Noble, P. Franco and Verden on Saturday and was struck by the fact that they appeared to list more wines from the Jura than from anywhere else.' (Dave Stenton)
Vinoteca is a thriving wine and food destination with branches in Farringdon, Marylebone, Soho, Chiswick and King's Cross.
Canary Wharf's Waitrose offers customers the chance to drink bottles bought on the premises paying very modest corkage.
London now has a few sherry/tapas bars that are worthy of the name such as Barrafina (always with queues outside, it seems to me), Brindisa (several branches), Dehesa, Meson Don Felipe, Morito (son of Moro in Exmouth Market below), The Opera Tavern, Pepito near Kings Cross and in Canary Wharf, El Pirata and Salt Yard. One tweeter mentioned Capote y Toros, 'probably the best sherry bar in London'. Another is Drakes Tabanco in Fitzrovia. Long may they all flourish.
WINE-MINDED RESTAURANTS IN AND AROUND LONDON
Our son Will Lander reopened the listed Victorian working-men's dining room that is The Quality Chop House in Farringdon Road, specialising in really interesting wine at good prices and British, produce-driven food in a restaurant and next-door wine bar. For obvious reasons, I strongly recommend it and it has garnered some rave reviews from highly respected third parties. (It won The World of Fine Wine's first-ever Best Short Wine List in Europe award.) Equally well-received has been his more central second venture Portland in Great Portland Street just north of Oxford Circus. The food here is a little lighter and has been described by the guides as 'modern European'.
Under the rumbling railway arches of London Bridge you'll find 40 Maltby Street - more wine-bar-serving-food than restaurant, the small plates cooked to order in their postage-stamp kitchen are delicious and the wine list is full of unusual gems featuring a lot of natural and biodynamic producers. You can take a bottle home at retail price, and the mark-ups are transparently low.
St John, 26 St John Street, London EC1, has a wine importer attached. It's world-famous, very minimal, very meaty, very English, near the old Smithfield meat market, where there are now lots of bars and restaurants. 'Nose to tail eating' is what they claim to offer. Some, especially vegetarians, find it a little stark. Quite interesting French wine list but not great glasses. Also in the St John empire is the more basic St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, near Liverpool Street station.
You could do a lot worse than wander round the Smithfield area. If you're interested in eating French cuisine, you might try the Club Gascon, 57 West Smithfield, for lots of little portions of foie gras, local sausages, etc, and interesting wines from SW France. Anyone for Marcillac?
Serious gastronomes should check out Nigel Platt-Martin's group comprising The Square in London W1, Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, The Glasshouse in Kew, La Trompette in Chiswick and The Ledbury in Notting Hill, with exceptional wine lists and well-educated staff in each of them. Superior and delicious food, too, with great wines that are not too overpriced (most other places will make you scream at the greed).
The restaurant at Tate Britain has long been famous for the scope and fair prices of its wine list, even if the food is far from exceptional. Great setting, too, and you can take in the Turners en route.
Texture near Marble Arch, a modern European restaurant with champagne bar, associated with the expanding 28-50 group (see above), warrants a worthy mention. MASH on Brewer St is cavernous and has a large, US-centric (but not exclusively) wine list, low mark-ups, £15 corkage, no corkage on Sundays.
Pretty much everything in London costs a fortune. The spreading rash of gastropubs, old pub premises converted into casual restaurants, are probably the best bet for good-value eating. Try www.zagat.com for the Pub dining section and more details. When in London, you could also buy either Hardens or the Time Out restaurant guides.
Another potential budget-priced option is to eat Indian. London has hundreds of Indian restaurants and almost any of them would provide novelty to most foreigners (with the exception of Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, of course). Ask wherever you are staying for local recommendations. Most Indian restaurants are inexpensive and vary from interesting to good. An exceptionally good - and more expensive - example is Gymkhana in Albemarle Street.
If you're prepared to spend and travel to find something really out of the ordinary (strange combos done with conviction and real technical expertise), you could try The Fat Duck, High Street in Bray (tel +44 (0)1628 580333) - train to Maidenhead then taxi. The whole team decamped to Australia in 2014 but look out for news of reopening. Great wine list. Also worth an expedition west of London - trains direct from London to Great Bedwyn or via Reading and then taxi - is the Harrow Inn at Little Bedwyn, run by chef-proprietor Roger Jones and his wife Sue, who are very serious about their wine and have a great list, with particular strengths in Australia and many old vintages of classics such as Viña Tondonia.
Just bring loads of money... London is pretty poor at cheap food. Marks & Spencer stores and the Prêt à Manger chain are probably best for sandwiches, etc, and see Nick on restaurants for some suggested cheaper places and more recent openings.
Thinking about it does make me wonder how we afford to live here.
See also this thread in the forum about London restaurants' policy on BYO.