Picture the scene: it’s a drizzly Saturday night in 2007 and your parents have got their “glad rags” on because they’re heading out to the local wine bar, while teenage you intends on moping around the house in your PJs watching High School Musical. Which is to say: wine bars were definitely not the place to be.
But in 2020 the wine bar is very much back. Since Clapton hipster magnet P Franco became the name-drop of choice a couple of years back, wine bars have been shaking off their stuffy image and cool venues such as Noble Rot and The Drop have laid down roots all over the city. Hell, there are three within walking distance of my Leyton flat.
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And it’s not just the perky pét-nat that’s the draw – laidback industrial interiors, small plates from the UK’s most exciting chefs, and friendly staff who truly know their stuff have seen us flocking back to the humble grape (that’s another wine bar, by the way) in our droves.
This new breed of wine bars is about more than just the booze. Sure, there’s a well-chilled bottle of picpoul ready and waiting for you, but venues are branching out to incorporate bakeries, deli counters and bottle shops, too, ensuring there’s little reason to ever leave.
From on-trend east London bars focusing on natural wine, such as Peg, to Weino BIB, an eco-friendly spot that sells sustainably packaged wine out of a box, there’s a world of choice out there. So here are eight of the best wine bars in London.
Diogenes The Dog, Elephant And Castle
Named after a Greek philosopher, this south London bar aims to upend everything you know about wine. The menu is arranged by ‘tone’ not country, so you’re encouraged to swap your trusty pinot noir for a lesser-known grape from an emerging region such as Texas or Poland.
There are regular poetry workshops, jazz nights and LGBTQ+ events, as well as wine-tasting courses, while the bottle shop means you can take your favourite vino home with you. And think about it. Deeply.
Flor, Borough Market
Lyle’s in Shoreditch was one of just two UK restaurants to make the World’s 50 Best list last year, so all eyes are on the team’s next venture: a wine bar and bakery in Borough Market.
Taking inspiration from the low-key drinking establishments of Paris and San Sebastián, you can tuck into cured mangalitsa and comté sandwiches while working through the 100-strong wine list. And the bakery sounds insane: caramel-filled brioche, birch syrup Kouign-amanns and sourdough loaves. Bread and wine elevated to divine status.
Lady Of The Grapes, Covent Garden
Sometimes we feel like a bit of a broken record here at Stylist but wine-making, like many, many other industries, is dominated by men. So Carole Bryon set up Lady Of The Grapes to redress the balance.
The bar champions female vintners, with 80% of the wines on offer made by women (their names are included on the menu for a well-deserved shout-out), and the teeny, candlelit venue has an excellent selection of cheeses – an essential wine accompaniment.
The Drop, Kings Cross
An intimate, bare-brick hideaway in winter, The Drop comes into its own in summer, with space for 50 to perch around barrels while sipping rosé and pretending you’re on the Côte d’Azur.
It’s from the brains behind Barrafina and El Pastor, so food is top-rate, while the wine list focuses on low-intervention varieties. Plus, each month there’s a themed Drop-In event with specially selected wine and food pairings, and a relaxed pay-as-you-go approach.
Noble Rot, Bloomsbury
OK, we’re slightly biased as this dream of a wine bar and restaurant is roughly 100m from the Stylist office (#blessed). The bricks-and-mortar embodiment of the wine magazine of the same name, Noble Rot has embedded itself on Lamb’s Conduit Street and become something of a London institution.
With a staggering 700-odd wines to choose from, and around 30 available by the glass (including a supremely drinkable vinho verde), it certainly doesn’t lack options. Do not – we repeat, do not – leave without ordering the bread basket. The focaccia will change your life.
Where: 51 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1N
Sager + Wilde, Hackney Road
The precursor to the popular restaurant Sager + Wilde in Bethnal Green (which, by the way, serves an excellent pét-nat), this laidback wine bar on Hackney Road does a great line in affordable wines by the glass, including a particularly funky orange wine, while the approachable staff will help you navigate the menu and sniff out a real gem.
Snack-wise, beetroot hummus with sourdough, and nduja cheese toasties will keep you sated while perched at the bar – the centrepiece of the understated room, made from reclaimed pavement lights.
Where: 193 Hackney Road, E2
P Franco, Clapton
For arguably the capital’s best selection of natural wines – as well as food from London’s hottest young chefs – P Franco should be top of your wine list.
Where: 107 Lower Clapton Road, E5
Grays & Feather, Covent Garden
Consider Grays & Feather your wine Tardis: what appears to be a small but airy wine bar at ground level opens up into a spacious underground cavern of peacock murals and curios-filled cubbyholes.
If you’re searching for the next prosecco, you’re in luck, as the menu centres on sparkling wine – from new English wines such as a full-bodied Dorset blanc de noirs to a gently fruity malbec rosé – while its Covent Garden location makes it an ideal spot for pre- or post-theatre bubbles. Fun fact: the building was once home to Charles Dickens’ office.
Where: 26 Wellington Street, WC2E
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Jenny Tregoning is deputy production editor and food editor at Stylist, where she combines her love of grammar with lusting over images of food