A new wave of hip, ultra-casual wine bars are transforming how we drink and eat. Heres our pick of the UK bars going big on exciting new wines and high quality rustic food that are set to overtake the modern British gastropub.
Scarlet Wines & the Vineyard Table, nr. St Ives, Cornwall
“When we started, English wine was very specialist and a bit of a joke. People take it seriously now,” says Jon Keast, whose cute combined deli, bar, wine shop and restaurant is a great exponent of Cornish wines.
It’s only just warm enough in Britain to grow grapes, which makes it climatically suitable for “light, aromatic, crisp white wines”, and sparkling wines that utilise the acidity of almost under-ripe grapes. Scarlet carries a global wine selection, including 10 by-the-glass (from £4), but you’ll find regional wines from Knightor or Polgoon on its shelves (£6 corkage to drink-in).
Jon particularly rates Camel Valley’s sparkling rosé (pinot noir rosé brut) and Trevibban Mill’s white merope. The latter
is great with the kind of sun-kissed Mediterranean seafood that appears on the Vineyard Table menu. It includes small plates (crispy squid with tomato and pepper salsa), creative flatbreads (pork and pomegranate molasses kofta) and sharing deli platters. Dishes £3.50 – £9.50, platters from £16/ £26; scarlet-wines.co.uk
In wine, size isn’t everything; vast lists can be both thrilling and intimidating. Occasionally, you just want an expertly chosen menu of a few genuinely exciting finds. That’s where Porta comes in.
This unusually good tapas bar – try the croquetas, secreto pork and the knockout picos de europa blue cheese with caramelised walnuts, sultanas and honey – carries a mere eight wines. “We keep them interesting and change them often,” says co-owner, Ben Wright, who has a second Porta in Altrincham. “This isn’t some snooty sommeliers’ back-slapping exercise. It’s fun and we keep prices low (from £3-a-glass).”
In essence, Ben hunts out great wines made from relatively obscure grapes, often in areas of Spain not particularly known for wine: “We find wonderful wines in Somontano and Navarre and cava quality is at an all-time high. For me, it offers the best value fizz in the world.” Dishes £3.95 – £9.50; portatapas.co.uk
Noble Rot, London WC1
The way Britain enjoys wine is undergoing a revolution. Forget the pompous hierarchies of traditional ‘wine appreciation’ or splashing big money on mature claret. Instead, modern drinkers are embracing interesting and affordable wines from, say, Greece and the Canary Islands (two Noble Rot tips), or the lesser French appellations (growing regions).
If Sager + Wilde was the first venue to cater for this new attitude (see page 77), the magazine Noble Rot is the same movement’s in-house journal. “We love wine but the culture was staid,” says co-founder Dan Keeling. “We wanted to bring the irreverence of magazines like The Face to wine.”
The same attitude underpins the magazine’s eponymous bar and restaurant on Bloomsbury’s historic Lamb’s Conduit Street. In this retro, bistro-styled space, you’ll find 40 wines served by-the-glass (from £2 for 75ml), and – in order to make classic wines accessible – the more expensive bottles from its 700-bottle cellar are marked-up by as little as 20% (the industry standard is 70%). “We have 1978 Château Phelan Segur, St Estephe, on for £80, which retails online for £90,” explains Dan.
Stephen Harris, chef-owner of the Michelin-starred The Sportsman, oversees the menu. Barflies can snack on oysters, bellota, goose liver parfait, British cheeses and homemade focaccia. In the restaurant, expect slip soles with smoked butter or suckling pig, puy lentils and salsa verde. Bar dishes around £6 – £14. Search for spring shoulder lamb on Omagazine.com for a recipe from the team; noblerot.co.uk
Friends of Ham, Ilkley
At its buzzy, informal West Yorkshire venues, Friends of Ham pushes artisan food in all its forms, from charcuterie and craft beer to small plates of raclette, boquerones or bath chaps.
The European wine list at its Ilkley bar, deli and restaurant includes 25 by-the-glass (from £3.50) with newly popular styles such as the orange wine, Baglio Bianco Catarratto, or a Melaric’s Petillant Naturel Rosé. “Pet-Nats” are sparkling wines bottled halfway through fermentation; “a great alternative to prosecco,” says owner Anthony Kitching, who is about to launch the wine-focussed Ham & Friends in Leeds. Dishes from £6.50; friendsofham.co.uk
Cheval Blanc, Moseley, Birmingham
“People don’t want mass-produced, they want to drink new things,” says Abigail Connolly, Cheval Blanc’s GM and sommelier, whose natty cellars (spiralling burrows visible through portholes in the floor of this striking bar) contain many surprises, from Turkish öküzgözü grape wines to orange wines. Orange wines use white wine grapes but are fermented with the skins, which gives them a darker colour and complex flavours.
Cheval Blanc deliberately buys from what Abigail calls “off-appellations” (less popular but good-value growing areas), as well as “wines that have fallen out of fashion”. There are usually at least 20 wines available by-the-glass (from £3.50) and the food menu is notable, too. French chef Cydric Tachdjian’s small plates range from confit onion and goat’s cheese tart to venison carpaccio with beetroot mousse and a blackcurrant and hazelnut dressing. Dishes £6 – £10; chevalblancbar.co.uk
Smith & Gertrude, Edinburgh
“We didn’t want Smith & Gertrude to be a ‘wine bar’,” says Duncan Findlater. He and his wife, Amy, wanted to make a break with all the naff ʼ80s associations. Their modish bar (bit Brooklyn, bit Scandi) is a homely place to hang-out, with 20 wines by-the-glass (from £4) and a stock that takes in orange and natural wines.
Food is simple but effective: serious cheeses from George Mewes, charcuterie, and a handful of more elaborate dishes. This year, S&G will launch tastings which may well explore its current hot-tip, Austria. “Its wines are exactly what customers want right now: elegant, precise, restrained,” says Amy. Dishes £4 – £7, sharing boards from £9.50; smithandgertrude.com
Bar Buvette, Bristol
Previously the long-standing head chef at Bristol’s Riverstation, Peter Taylor now runs a boutique hotel in France, L’Auberge de Chassignolles. Bar Buvette was meant to be a pop-up that would keep him busy over winter. However, its exemplary produce (Pipers Farm meats, breads from Totterdown’s Baked), its rustic French small plates – confit duck and puy lentils; ox-tongue salad; tartiflette; and less French but equally good cheese toasties – and its focus on organic and/or natural wines, has turned it into a now-permanent Bristol favourite.
According to Peter, the European wine scene is in ferment (pardon the pun), and Buvette captures this excitement across 15 wines by-the-glass (from £4) and many bottles. “User-friendly, varietal-led New World wines demystified wine and now younger winemakers are looking at issues in agriculture and making sustainable, natural wines which truly reflect the terroir.”
Like its cheeses and charcuterie, many of Buvette’s wines come from artisans who Peter knows or uses at Chassignolles. But he and wife, Max Ososki (the designer who styled this charming space), also import wines from talented small producers. Peter particularly rates winemaker Axel Prüfer from Le Temps des Cerises and Philippe Wies of La Petite Baigneuse: “He uses no chemicals but produces wines which age brilliantly.” Dishes £4 – £9.50; barbuvette.co.uk
“It’s so fresh and vivid that once you’ve tasted natural wine there is no step back,” insists Thierry Pluquet, co-founder of Brighton’s evangelistic bar-restaurant, Plateau. Around 99% of its 100+ wines are natural; that is, wines made with almost no chemical or technological intervention.
The natural wine movement, which began in Beaujolais in the ʼ70s, has recently swept the major French cities and is now making serious inroads in the UK. To its supporters, natural wine is a rediscovery of the true flavour of various wine styles without the dulling effects of stabilisers and preservatives such as sulphites. Chef Dan Cropper’s Plateau menu is suitably full of vibrant flavours. It takes-in bar nibbles, charcuterie and plates of cured salmon with oyster, fennel and blood orange or onglet with jerusalem artichoke.
Thierry recommends easy-drinking wines from the Ardèche as an entry-point (try the Domaine les Deux Terres’ Grenache Vin Nu). Critics claim that natural wines (17 by-the-glass, from £5) don’t age well and, lacking preservatives, develop “off” flavours, but Thierry insists that problem is being resolved: “Makers are producing more stable wines, but still experimenting.” Small plates from £5; plateaubrighton.co.uk
Five more new-wave bars serving sensational wine
Le Pinardier, Deal, Kent
This sister venue to the Frog & Scot restaurant serves predominantly French organic or natural wines (10 or more by-the-glass, from £3.50), charcuterie and cheeses. Deli boards £10; @Le_Pinardier
Sager + Wilde, London E2
With its many wines by-the-glass (from £6.50), its adventurousness (bottles from the Balkans and beyond), and its legendary cheese toasties, this East End venue was the first of the Capital’s new-wave wine bars. Small plates from £6.50; sagerandwilde.com
Buyers’ Club, Liverpool
This bar, restaurant and music venue carries organic wines from as far afield as Serbia and Oregon, many natural or biodynamic.
14 by-the-glass (from £3), served with chef Dan Heffy’s creative bar menu (eg. aubergine tempura with molasses syrup). Dishes £4.50 – £7; buyers-club.co.uk
Barrique, Lytham, Lancashire
Paradise for the curious, this buzzing wine shop, deli and bar offers 24 wines in measures from 25ml (sometimes starting at a mere 60p). Graze on salads and charcuterie. Food menu £4 – £10; barriquelytham.com
All scaffolding poles and thick wooden planks, this hip spot straddles the divide between wine bar, shop and bistro. 55 hand-poured wines by-the-glass (from £3.50) and a sharp, global small plates menu that includes its excellent Devon crab on toast. Dishes £3.50 – £8.50; corkagebath.com
This week we celebrate Yorkshire Day with web editor Alex Crossley (who also happens to be from Yorkshire!). Alex returns to her home county to explore the independent food scene in Leeds including a lesson in British charcuterie from Friends of Ham as well as matching speciality coffee with Yorkshire-made sweet treats at North Star.
olive magazine podcast ep63 – Leeds independent food scene special