Ignore Google maps and don’t panic: just keep going past the uninspiring chain restaurants until you see the glowing beacon of The Colonel, then promptly ignore it and duck right into the cosy, sultry sanctuary of The Truscott Cellar. Dark wooden, candle-lit tables enclosed within burgundy booths create an intimate atmosphere at this new Belsize Park wine bar, even though the room was packed by 7pm on a dreary Monday night, just a month after opening.
This is the second venture from Andrew and Mary Jane Fishwick, who own The Truscott Arms, but wine is unashamedly the focus this time round, with a list comprised of nearly 400 bottles from a wide variety of regions. 80 are available by the glass (starting from just £4). While all the big regions are name-checked, the idea behind the menu is to experiment with wines that you may not have otherwise experienced, like a floral Riesling from Croatia, or a syrah/cab sauv/cab franc blend from Lebanon.
We started with a glass of Terre Di Brognoglio soave; driven by green apple with notes of stone fruits, and an organic, biodynamic Loimer grüner veltliner from Austria; a creamy, full-bodied wine with flavours of peach and apricot alongside some more vegetal, spicy notes, to sip with some homemade vegetable crisps (carrot, parsnip, beetroot and not at all greasy).
The menu is made up of sharing boards including meat (pressed pork, potted duck and cured beef served with sourdough and gherkins), cheese, and a crispy pig board (pig’s head, crispy belly scratchings and pig’s ear) and a trio of filled heritage potato cakes, of which the blackened Lancashire bacon, ragstone cheese and luxurious truffle oil was the stand-out. These are great options if you’ve just popped in for a glass of wine and a snack, but there are ‘cellar plates’ as well, such as a meltingly-soft beef cheek served with perfectly smooth, subtly-smoked mash and contrasting crispy shallots, which was the epitome of autumnal comfort food and almost impossible to share, particularly when paired (by our friendly and attentive waiter’s suggestion) with a petit verdot from Mendoza, Argentina: deep ruby red and packed with intense flavours of dark fruits, soft, rounded tannins and a long finish that matched the earthy smoke of the mash.
Cornish cod, salsify, greens, cider sauce and mussels was an equally good lighter option, with the crisp-skinned cod and sea-salty salsify providing the perfect foil to a creamy cider sauce. This was paired with a glass from a region not typically associated with white wine, a Collefrisco pecorino from the D’Abruzzo region, that bursted with floral notes on the nose, and delivered rich tropical fruits with a slightly mineral, salty finish. There are great veggie options, too, like the on-trend roasted squash, spelt and rocket salad, served with a generous dollop of creamy, tangy goat’s curd and a honey truffle dressing.
The cellar plates sit somewhere between sharing plates and main meals, making it a little tricky to order, but the friendly and knowledgeable staff are on hand to guide you. Our three plates were plenty for two, but we couldn’t resist pudding (it’s a different stomach, after all), a succinct list that includes rice pudding with apple and cinnamon ice cream and grated nuts, and a beautifully-presented chocolate mousse with honeycomb and chocolate soil, which felt like a very grown-up crunchie bar with smooth, rich chocolate (more like a mousse/chocolate pot hybrid) punctuated with sweet, crunchy honeycomb.
With such an extensive wine list, we were ready for the food to feel like an after thought, but this couldn’t be further from the truth – head chef Aidan McGee and his team do a fantastic job, and it’s clear that the front of house staff are really clued-up when it comes to pairings. We can’t wait for our next chance to settle into one of those booths and explore the wine list further.
Wines by the glass from £4, sharing boards from £7pp, cellar plates from £6. Thetruscottcellar.co.uk
Written by Sarah Kingsbury, October 2015.