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

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About Henry

Henry Jeffreys was born in London. He has worked in the wine trade, publishing and is now a freelance journalist. He specialises in drink and his work has appeared in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Economist, the Financial Times, the Oldie and Food & Wine magazine. He was a contributor to the Breakfast Bible (Bloomsbury 2013) and his book Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass was published in November 2016.
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