Looking for wine bars in London? Want to find the best wine shops in the UK? 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.
- Looking for an English vineyard break? Check out our favourite vineyards in the UK for tours, tastings and overnight stays among the vines
Best wine bars in London…
Top Cuvée, Highbury
This friendly, understated neighbourhood wine bar and restaurant on Blackstock Road is a relaxed affair but there’s some serious drinks talent behind it, from owner Brodie Meah (ex-Heston Blumenthal drinks expert) to business partners Max and Noel Venning, owners of acclaimed cocktail bar Three Sheets in Dalston.
Their wine list changes regularly but focusses on interesting low-intervention bottles, with mostly light reds and textured whites on offer. The menu lists only a few options by the glass but this is deceptive – staff are happy to let you try most wines, depending on what’s open. Winners on our visit included Lucy M 3 Colours Red: a juicy, gluggable red made, unusually, with pinot noir and two white wine grapes – pinot gris and sauvignon blanc.
Another hit, Podere Pradarolo Vej 210, was a lovely malvasia with bold stone fruit notes. They also have a cocktail list courtesy of Three Sheets, featuring an elegantly tropical take on a G&T as well as a deliciously tannic margarita made with an orange wine reduction. Drinks are accompanied by an affordable, seasonal small-plates menu – try the likes of beef dripping potatoes with aïoli, charred leeks and smoked cream, and Blythburgh pork chop with burnt apple purée.
Passione Vino, Shoreditch
Wine importers Luca Dusi and Federico Bruschetta have run this Shoreditch shop since 2013, supplying Italian wines from 75 different producers to top restaurants including Hélène Darroze at The Connaught and The River Café. Behind the shop itself is a ‘secret bar’ which also spills downstairs to the basement with small tables which can be booked. There’s no wine list or menu as customers are encouraged to discuss their tastes so the team can recommend something just a little out of their comfort zone.
Noble Rot, Holborn
Noble Rot is unique in that it started out as a cult wine and food magazine, which then grew into a wine bar and restaurant in Lamb’s Conduit Street. Since it opened three years ago, it has won numerous awards (earlier this year it was the only UK winner in the World Restaurant Awards) for its wine but also its food, which is overseen by head chef Paul Weaver and consultant chef Stephen Harris (of the acclaimed Sportsman in Whitstable) who backed owners Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew.
The self-styled ‘Franglaise’ menu includes beef bourguignon with kale and mash; and braised turbot with fennel and saffron velouté, which can be matched with wines ranging in price from a £22 bottle of Portuguese vinho verde to a 1990 bottle of red burgundy at £4,500.
Elliot’s, Borough Market
Since opening in 2011 in the buzzing surroundings of Borough Market, Elliot’s has focussed on working with small-scale producers for both its drinks and produce, much of it sourced from the market itself. The bar adopted an all-natural or low-intervention wine list early on and has worked with Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron on its wine list.
All the wine producers share the same mindful approach to wine-making as chef-owner Brett Redman does to cooking simple dishes such as grilled sweet and sour squash with chicory and Tunworth cheese, or cauliflower caponata and flaked almonds. Elliot’s also makes its own soft drinks and seasonal infused spirits.
The 10 Cases, Covent Garden
The name stems from the fact that this buzzy little Covent Garden bar and bistro only ever buys 10 cases of the wines on the concise list in a quest to offer customers new experiences each time they visit. It was opened in 2011 by Ian Campbell and Will Palmer, who were bored of overpriced wine lists that never changed.
Will says: “I think part of the success of 10 Cases is the constantly changing wine list and having more than 300 wines with very small cash mark-ups and small corkage charges. I think the ability to be able to drink really good and interesting wine in an unpretentious setting strikes a chord with many people.”
Vermuteria, King’s Cross
Vermuteria opened at Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross, in October 2018 and it’s the first café and bar created by chef Anthony Demetre and designer Michael Sodeau. As well as charcuterie and dishes combining European and British influences (think rabbit in mustard sauce, potato and kale; Galician octopus and chickpeas; or venison ragu and gnocchi), there are more than 70 vermouths on the list. The vermouth takes centre stage in the form of simple aperitifs and a base for cocktails such as the sbagliato (Cinzano Rosso, Campari and prosecco).
Terroirs, East Dulwich
A veteran of London’s wine bar ‘new wave’, the original Terroirs opened close to Trafalgar Square in 2008 and it has since been joined by a second restaurant in East Dulwich. Both sites offer the same range of natural wines, including amber (or ‘skin-macerated’ whites) and ‘oxidative’ wines – exposed to oxygen during the wine-making process to enhance their flavours. The wines are global but the food is more European: expect duck confit, quince, ginger and pangrattato, perhaps followed by halibut, kohlrabi, mussels and seaweed butter.
Quality Wines, Clerkenwell
Part of the neighbouring Quality Chop House restaurant, Quality Wines is run by wine expert Gus Gluck and chef Nick Bramham. By day a deli and wine shop, it morphs into Quality Wines from 4pm with 20 seats, a vintage record player and Nick cooking delicious dishes such as slow-braised squid and Roman-style braised globe artichokes.
There are around 200 bins at any one time and, since it opened in June 2018, almost 2,000 different wines have graced the shelves. Gus says: “We try to keep things interesting and ever-changing, with around 18 wines by the glass. Many of our customers end up talking to each other and sharing wine – that is a particular source of pride.”
P Franco, Clapton
P Franco opened on the site of a former Chinese takeaway in Clapton in 2014. Owners Liam Kelleher and James Noble are also directors of Noble Fine Liquor, a company which has retail-only shop on Broadway Market. Initially, P Franco was a simple takeaway shop that offered a small selection of hams and cheeses, although you could have a few glasses of wine while selecting a bottle.
The venue always had a lot of chefs and wine people visit, and over time it grew with resident chefs cooking down one end of the table, and there are no reservations, with walk-ins only. Anyone who cooks at P Franco has only two induction hobs to work with and they do six-month residencies with the seasonal menu changing daily. Recent residencies have included George Tomlin of The Clove Club and ex-Rochelle Canteen chef Anna Tobias.
Le Bar a Vin, Blackheath
Parisian Jean-Philippe Tessier has created his own corner of France in this Blackheath wine bar, where cheese and meat platters are served alongside Gallic classics such as quiche lorraine, chicken chasseur and duck leg confit. What was once a neighbourhood Indian restaurant has been given the full French makeover, right down to the vintage belle époque posters.
Jean-Philippe runs his intimate, minimalist and relaxed bar almost single-handedly and is always willing to share his wine knowledge, whether it’s about his beloved natural and biodynamic wines or which French cheeses work best with them.
The Winemakers Club, Holborn
A shop and wine bar in the Victorian arches beneath the Holborn Viaduct, the site of this bar was a wine cellar for more than 150 years, including a spell as the Oddbins’ fine wine store. The bar offers wines from small organic and biodynamic producers from around the world, all them working with the same philosophy of focussing on the region and the grape varietal, and not using chemicals.
The short weekly-changing seasonal menu includes root vegetables with farro and yogurt, and pigeon, bread sauce and hazelnuts.
Sager + Wilde, Hackney
With its many wines by-the-glass, 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, and it’s still one of our favourites.
Best wine bars across the UK…
A stylish, European wine bar and restaurant – named after the French word for tipsy – from husband-and-wife team Pascal and Laura Wiedemann.
Head chef Pascal helped open acclaimed new-wave London wine bar Terroirs (he also put in a stint at Racine and ran the kitchen at Six Portland Road) so the wine list is predictably interesting, a collection of Pascal and Laura’s favourite regions, styles and producers, with natural and low-intervention wines, as well as more classic ones. There’s an emphasis on France, but the menu still covers a lot of geography, from English fizz to Spanish manzanilla sherry and Georgian orange wine.
The food at Pompette is gloriously French, with an emphasis on the hearty cuisine of Alsace, where Pascal’s family is from. The bar menu is simple but refined and indulgent (chips with rouille, anyone?).
When Marty Grant and Richard Knighting opened the first Corkage bar at the back of a small pop-up wine shop in Bath back in 2015, their philosophy was simply to make great wine and food accessible to all in a fun, unstuffy atmosphere. Such is its popularity that there are now two permanent branches in Bath and plans for more in other cities. There is no printed menu, with all seasonal small plates listed on little blackboards read to customers at the table. And there’s no wine list, so well-informed staff can offer suggestions to match the food.
Bodega, Christchurch, Dorset
Megan Spink and Andy Fielden’s wine bar, deli and shop has picked up countless accolades including two in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. The pair pride themselves on searching high and low for products from the very best artisans and producers. The wine menu and cheese/cured meat selections change regularly and there are weekly events including wine tastings, cocktail masterclasses and cheese and wine pairing nights.
The Lygon Arms, Broadway, Worcestershire
This famous 17th-century Cotswolds coaching inn now has its own separate wine bar specialising in Italian and European wines by the glass, carafe and bottle. A selection of antipasti and light bites, as well as pasta, pizzas and paninis with wine-friendly fillings such as butternut squash, blue cheese and walnuts. And if you are particularly partial to one of the wines you taste, they are all available to buy in the hotel’s boutique.
“Salut aims to be the place where you want to break bread and drink wine with your pals,” says Sara Saunby, co-founder of Salut Wines, which she opened with husband Jon in 2014. With the help of an Italian Enomatic wine preservation and serving system, Salut offers around 60 wines by the glass as well as a large range of craft beers and spirits.
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, but you’ll find regional wines from Knightor or Polgoon on its shelves.
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.
Loki Wine, Birmingham
A wine merchant and bar with its own tasting rooms, Loki has two sites in Birmingham and more than 800 wines on its list. Customers can enjoy any of these bottles on site for a nominal £7 drink-in corkage charge and Loki’s wine dispensing machines enable the bars to serve tasters of some 70 wines, which tend to be exciting new discoveries such as bottles from Japan, China and Israel, alongside classic wines from the New and Old Worlds. As well as charcuterie and cheese, sandwiches and scotch eggs, Loki also works regularly with street-food businesses to provide guest pop-ups.
Carruthers & Kent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Located in the Gosforth district, Carruthers & Kent is wine bar, shop and deli all rolled into one, with a tasting room where owners Claire Carruthers and Mo O’Toole host events with visiting winemakers. Carruthers & Kent serves 16 wines by the glass and any bottle off the shelves can be enjoyed for just a £5 corkage fee. There are also wine flights, a range of additional fine wines, boards of cheese and charcuterie, and homemade pies and parfaits.
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 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.
A wine shop, café and bar on vibrant Cowley Road, Vine specialises in artisan, unusual and organic wines served with cheese and charcuterie boards in a bar with a distinctive tin roof and bare brick walls. The regularly changing wine list offers a range of up to 20 wines by the glass, focussing on small producers, natural and biodynamic wines, and sustainable wine-making. It also includes vegan-friendly wine options, and the menu offers a selection of gluten-free dishes with its Spanish-, Italian- and French-inspired small plates. Vine also has a growing retail section of more than 70 wines to take away (or you can enjoy them in the bar for a small corkage fee).
Smith & Gertrude, Edinburgh
Launched in 2015 by Amy and Duncan Findlater, Edinburgh’s Smith & Gertrude was inspired by the couple’s time living and working in Melbourne, San Francisco, New York and Italy. Wines (more than 20 by the glass) and cheese are the focus but music and books come a close second with an ever-expanding and eclectic vinyl collection (team members buy one new record a week so it’s as democratic as possible) and a monthly wine and book club in collaboration with local bookshop Golden Hare Books.
Founded by brothers Ben and Joe Wright, there are now three Porta wine and tapas bars spread across the north-west, the latest of which opened in Salford at the end of 2018. The Iberian-influenced tapas – staples of jamón, croquetas and patatas bravas but also slow-roasted ox cheek, pickled walnuts and purple sprouting broccoli with romesco sauce – is complemented by a carefully curated selection of Spanish wines, cava, beer, sherries and vermouth.
“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) 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.”
Ox Cave, Belfast
Next door to Belfast’s Ox restaurant, Cave is a wine bar where you can enjoy light bites such as pickled Irish herring on toasted sourdough, or plates of carefully sourced charcuterie and cheese accompanied by high-quality wines from all over the world. It’s owned by Belfast-born chef Stephen Toman and French sommelier Alain Kerloc’h, who met while working in a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. To encourage customers to experience new wines, you can try any by the glass and there are monthly wine tastings.
Wright’s Wines, Cardiff
An offshoot of the brilliant family-run Wright’s Food Emporium at Llanarthney on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, this wine bar in Cardiff’s Victorian-built Castle Arcade is certainly compact but it goes big on natural wines from small growers, served by the glass and bottle. With so little space, the food menu is understandably concise but includes coppa and piccalilli, and a welsh rarebit and leek sandwich. Visit on Sundays when it sells any bottle at ‘shelf price’ with no corkage if you drink it on the premises, which essentially means a saving of more than a third.
Cave du Cochon, York
Cave du Cochon is owned by Victoria and Josh Overington, who also run the restaurant Le Cochon Aveugle nearby. This wine bar and bistro serves small plates, farmhouse cheeses and charcuterie from across Britain and France, with the 200 wines on the list sourced from the smaller grower-producers, most of whom use low-intervention methods. Sommelier Victoria says: “We like our wines to be a true expression of their terroir, to tell the story of what happened with each vintage. They don’t have to be specifically natural or organic, we just choose delicious wines.”
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), charcuterie and cheeses.
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, served with chef Dan Heffy’s creative bar menu (eg. aubergine tempura with molasses syrup).
Beckford Bottle Shop, Bath
What started as a modest shop in the Wiltshire village of Tisbury has recently grown into a flagship bar, restaurant and wine shop in Bath, which has already received rave reviews. Beckford Bottle Shop serves inventive small plates, British charcuterie and cheeses, and an enormous range of wines. This is a place where locals pop in for an informal lunch but in the evenings there are regular wine talks, wine and food courses, and private dining. All the wine shop’s bottles can be opened to enjoy with a meal in the restaurant for a simple corkage charge, which gives customers reasonable prices and a wide variety.
Joe’s Bar, Dartmouth
On the quayside, Joe’s is a standalone bar but also an integral part of The Seahorse restaurant run for the past 10 years by chefs Mitch Tonks and Mat Prowse. This intimate, wood-panelled bar has been likened to Harry’s in Venice and it’s used by diners before and after dinner at The Seahorse, and by locals dropping in for a drink. As well as a superb range of wines (many by the glass and half-bottle), vermouths and spirits, it serves Italian salamis and cheeses, and small plates and cicchetti from The Seahorse’s kitchen.
Andy Maul and his wife, Ellen, launched their eponymous wine bar on Fish Row at the end of 2017, although it wasn’t the easiest of beginnings given that the street was closed off for several months during the Novichok poisonings investigations. Business has certainly picked up since and you have to book a table most evenings, when around 30 wines by the glass are served alongside sharing slates of artisan cheeses and cured meats.
The Wine Store, Charlestown, Cornwall
Slap-bang in the quaint fishing village where they film much of the TV series Poldark, The Wine Store opened at the end of 2018. Adjacent to The Longstore restaurant, this new tasting lounge and shop is run by the Pollocks Pub Co and offers a wide selection of wines by small artisan producers, and resident sommelier Gina Barr is often on hand for advice on the wines and host regular tastings and events.
The Bishop’s Cave, Bishop’s Stortford
“I think what people enjoy about our bar is the simplicity,” muses Dan Leak, who owns The Bishop’s Cave in Hertfordshire with dad Steve. “We specialise in wine, craft beer and cheese, and we try to do them all well. We keep it relaxed, informal and sociable.” Every item is hand-picked and tested, and as well as a fantastic range of wines, the food is simple, with antipasti and cheese/charcuterie boards alongside pork pies or scotch eggs with piccalilli.
Barrique, Lytham, Lancashire
Paradise for the curious, this buzzing wine shop, deli and bar offers 24 wines in measures from 25ml. Graze on salads and charcuterie.
David Brown’s Deli and Wine Bar, Whitstable
A small but perfectly formed wine bar with just one table; book it to enjoy a lunch of small sharing plates such as antipasti, chicken liver parfait and locally caught fish. Swing by on a Friday night in the summer and people will be spilling out onto the street.
Words by Mark Taylor, Tony Naylor and Hannah Guinness
Photographs by Sam Ashton, John Carey, Tom Parker Bowles and Whitney Hocking