Restaurants Wine articles

Bloomsbury old and new – Noble Rot and Ciao Bella

I’ve just written something for the Financial Times Hidden Cities supplement on London wine bars. The hook was that the Vats, a great stalwart of Lambs Conduit Street, has been taken over by the team behind Noble Rot magazine. I’m a natural conservative so even though Vats didn’t have the best wine list, I mourned its passing. The article looks at some of the old surviving wine bars and how they differ from the new wave places:

“People aren’t going to photograph a bottle and put it on Instagram. The wine is there to be drunk while friendships are affirmed, deals done and seductions attempted. If Noble Rot’s owners preserve some of that old louche atmosphere, they might just have the best wine bar in London.”

I went along to the launch of Noble Rot a few weeks ago and I’m happy to say that with a few reservations, the wall of covers of their magazine is a bit lacking in modesty, the transformation is successful. In fact the back bar hasn’t changed a bit. There’s still the table specifically for customers to break up with their partners. You think I’m joking? Two people I met at the launch party told me about the story and how they had both been dumped/ ended a relationship at this very table. Alexei Sayle, a regular at Vats, said that whenever he was in, there was always a man at a table trying to end it with his secretary.

The food at the party was as you might expect excellent. The salt cod brandade stood out. As was the wine, a very nice Vinho Verde and some Billecart-Salmon champagne. But there wasn’t quite enough of it (food that is) so my wife and I staggered off to Ciao Bella up the road. I always think I’m going to like old school trattorias but seldom do. This place though was perfect. It was rammed. The waiters were charming. The pasta puttanesca was rich and pungent, the portions massive and the bill tiny. Even the house wine was quite nice.

I last went to this place about 15 years ago for a friend’s leaving do and remembered loving it then. How wonderful when London is changing so fast, not always for the worse, that some things have stayed the same.

Note almost unchanged interior at Noble Rot. Only the pictures are the same. The breakup table is on the other side of this room. Photo Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures

Wine articles

Top Garnacha (comin’ atcha)

As part of the new World of Booze, here’s a wine that I really like. No silly stories. No anecdotes about boarding school. Just consumer advice. Like Jane McQuitty. And very short sentences. Like Ernest Hemingway. Here goes:

Vega Sindoa Old Vines Garnacha 2013

This is from Navarra in Spain but it reminded me of something from Santa Barbara in Southern California. It’s got the brightest red strawberry fruit combined with some quite firm tannins and a not inconsiderable amount of alcohol. It’s so fresh and fragrant that you barely notice all that booze. There’s no jam and no soup. My Californian wife who rarely has more than a glass had three.

The wine it reminded me of was  Qupe Grenache that costs about £30 a bottle. The Vega Sindoa is £7.99 or £9.99 if you only buy one. And for the first time ever, you can buy one because Majestic have dropped their six bottle rule.

I should have taken a photo of the bottle like a proper wine blogger but I chucked it out whilst high on wine. Oh well. Small steps. Here’s a picture of Ernest Hemingway instead. At his. Typewriter.