London is not the world’s wine capital but it certainly has some great wine bars and restaurant with impressive wine lists. There is also great excitement around the London scene for wine - people seem to swap the martinis and the beers more in the favour of a glass of wine. And that’s partly because of the growing numbers of wine bars, pop up stores, wine tasting events and independent wine shops sprouting around.
One day in August i went on to discover the wine bars of Soho and Covent Garden - the tube strike was on so i found a new way to explore the city...a sidecar! (the motorbike not the cocktail:-)
I am not the bike chick type but when i saw Chris’ SideCar City Tours I had to give it a go! Its a funky 1960’s looking vintage motorcycle personalised with stickers from his epic 18,000km sidecar ride from London to Rio in 2014. Nowadays Chris offers fun personalised adventures around London’s big sights and small secrets for curious tourists & locals alike. Plus his local insider knowledge means you will actually learn some amazing things (spoiler alert below)!
I’ve been a Londoner for nearly 10 years now but I’ve never seen London like this before…No matter what part of London we were in, we got the same reaction from passers by - smiles and waves. Now that’s an unusual reaction to get in London, normally you get the busy Londoner indifference or the bewildered tourist look. Driving in a sidecar almost opened a new London door for me and one i didn’t think it exists. It really gave me the sensations that i knew everyone and they knew me. But don’t take my word for it try for yourself
We started off from Westminster and Houses of Parliament, the political epicentre of Britain offering fantastic views of the river and London Eye. We then drove through Mayfair’s glitzy streets with the sophisticated restaurants, luxury shops and jaw dropping terraced houses. We made a quick stop by Green Park where Chris told me the story of the park’s name. In 1660, King Charles II acquired the land calling it Upper St James's Park. The Queen, Catherine of Braganza, discovered that Charles had picked flowers in the park and given them to another woman. In revenge, she ordered that every flower in the park should be pulled up and no more planted. True or not, there are still no formal flowerbeds in The Green Park!
After a quick tour of Westminster and Mayfair, we made our way to Covent Garden, the bustling area of London with its iconic cobbled streets drawing many art and West End theatre lovers. Whether you are looking for pre or post theatre spot, or just want to relax with a glass of wine these places will have you drooling over the wine list plus you can have a bite or two.
An unpretentious French Bistro and Cave a Vin, situated on a less busy side street in Covent Garden. It has an interesting name choice as 10 plays an important role here - only 10 cases of each wine, only 10 tables situated at number 10 (Endell Street not the Prime Minister’s residence!).
The place is a well kept secret among London’s wine lover’s community. I’ve been here a few times and every time this places surprises me. The friendly and knowledgable waiters quickly recommended a wine flight suitable not only to our palate but also the weather.
We didn’t eat this time but it’s a perfect spot for lunch or dinner (reservations recommended). The menu is creative and seasonal and their small platters are perfect for sharing. If the sound of padron peppers, charcuterie, escargots and pan fried scallops sound good to you then you’ll love the unfussy and tasty treats.
Wines we had: Chateau de Roulerie 2011, (Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley) and Occhipinti SP68 2014 (a blend of Albanello and Moscato, Sicily)
Address: 22 Wellington Street, Covent Garden
This one is for the Champagne and cheese lovers! This French bistro & shop has a rustic, cozy feel with fresh French produce. Their specialities are the grower Champagnes so don’t expect to see the commercial ones here (this is great in my view as where else would i be able to try grower Champagne?).
Aside from Champagne, the menu include tatines, cheese boards, salads and sumptuous desserts served the French way. If you happen to arrive at tea time don’t miss the special Afternoon High Tea - a selection of teas, a glass of the daily grower Champagne, macaroons and French cheeses.
We tried a glass of the daily grower Champagne and a goats cheese board. The waitress kindly personalised the cheese choices after a brief consultation of my palate. Champagne + (goats) cheese - perfect pairing in my mind!
Champagne + Fromage is also present in Brixton Village and most recently in Greenwich.
Our final stop was in the neighbouring hip district of Soho, at Vinoteca, a wine bar and restaurant. Vinoteca has established itself as a chain of wine bar gurus in London always innovating and providing an extensive selection of wines from around the world.
Even though it has 285 wines on offer, Vinoteca’s wine list is very well structured and i don’t feel overwhelmed. Every day they have an updated list of wines by the glass plus a monthly wine flight. What i like is the fact that you can try so many wines by the glass, encouraging you to be more adventurous and learn more about your wine palate as you drink. Even if you didn’t hit jackpot with the first wine you can keep trying with their small wine glasses.
We had the very cool themed wine flight “The Chilled Factor” - 3 young reds served at below room temperature. I think it truly showcases the beauty of these young wines and i wouldn’t have them any other way. It was also exciting to see the same style of wine but from three different countries and grapes: Domaine de la Rocaillerc 2013 (Beaujolais Villages, France), Belisario Lacrima di Muro d’Alboa 2013 (Marche, Italy) and Thymiopoulous Naussa Young Vine 2013 (Naussa, Greece).
What? Wine on tap???
The other pleasant surprise was the “wine on the keg” or tap. I can hear you wonder - wine on the tap? Yes, and it’s an innovative way to serve good quality wines at an affordable price that would otherwise cost 1.5 times more due to shipping and packaging. Vinoteca three wines served on the tap, and we tried their Neiss 2013 Riesling - i got so excited about this i poured it myself. Verdict? For £4.25 for a small glass of Riesling you can’t beat it. It was slightly warmer and slightly spritzy but that didn’t bother me that much.
Thumbs up to Vinoteca for going outside the winebox box and thinking beyond stereotypes when it comes to wines.
If you'd like to explore London landmarks and stop at a wine bar or two, book a tour with Chris! Prices start from £60 only.