When a European is in search of inspiration, London is the place to look at. Brits seem to have a special talent for creativity and entrepreneurship that other countries lack. Could it be our education, Sir Ken Robinson? Whatever it is, this is what I was looking for in my last visit to London. What was happening in the the UK capital, winewise?
First of all, as reflected in The Telegraph newspaper last October when new Michelin stars were announced, I realized that “Gastro-pubs and relaxed hipster hangouts” were the places to go. So, determined to have a hands-on experience, I headed to some of them to check how Spanish wines were involved in this exciting trend. But before you continue reading, a word of warning: In London, “laid-back”, “relaxed” and “hipster” are not necessarily synonyms of affordable.
Starting off with Spanish restaurants, Salvador & Amanda, with their two venues in Bloomsbury and Covent Garden, are an example of how Spanish restaurants are contributing to the London scene of relaxed eateries offering authentic and easy-going Spanish food and wine. They have a short (understood as a virtue), risk-free, reasonably priced wine list that can suit almost every Spanish wine lover. Nothing off the beaten track, but enough wines to match every dish on the menu.
El Pirata celebrated its 20 years in Mayfair in 2014. It can boast plenty of positive reviews about the tapas-based menu and certainly about the wine list, one of the highlights of the restaurant, Regional Winner of the Spanish Wine List Competition. The list is comprehensive, covering every possible category, including sweet wines, Cava and Sherry. Anyone looking for exciting Spanish wines won’t be disappointed: reliable brands, upcoming regions, light-bodied, powerful, classic, newcomers, etc.
In terms of Spanish food-related projects, we need to mention Barrafina, with its recently awarded Michelin star (Frith Street). Sam & Eddie Hart opened Fino (another Spanish institution in London) in 2003 inspired by Cal Pep in Barcelona. But Fino was clearly oversized for that. In 2007, the first Barrafina opened on Frith Street and in 2013, the second one was born in Adelaide Street (Covent Garden). It is a great concept: a bar (barra) where you can enjoy a short selection of delicious contemporary dishes, full of flavour and honest ingredients. The wine list is equally short, relevant and to the point: Txakolí, Ribeiro, Albillo from Madrid, Manzanilla pasada en rama specially selected for Hart Brothers, Bobal, Carinyena from Empordá, Garnacha, Graciano… Concise and exciting. What else could you ask for?
Moving aside from purely Spanish restaurants, we headed towards Marylebone High Street, a must for London visitors. On number 89, you will find Fish Works, with a sister venue in Swallow Street and included in the book Where Chefs Eat. An amazing restaurant, obviously specialized in fresh fish, where you can pick your fish straight from the fishmonger’s counter at the entrance or go straight to the menu. Spanish wines are present in the by-the-glass selection (Volteo Garnacha, Ramón Bilbao, Fasto Verdejo and Mar de Frades). Their house wine is also Spanish: Xarel-lo from Ferret Guasch.
And the more hipster you get, the further east you need to move in London: so, we headed east. Starting in the southeast, with London Bridge and Bermondsey, home of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, Vinopolis, Spanish bar Brindisa and Borough Market, I always enjoy passing by Bridget Jones's apartment above The Globe pub and popping into Bedale’s, one of the best wine shops in London. They have two more venues in East London: the beautiful Leadenhall market in the City and Spitalfields, where you can actually breathe the atmosphere of new trends and alternative ways of living and working.
The fever of street food is spreading worldwide, but London has found in it a perfect way to match its built-in tendency to eat fast food with the hipster taste for healthy ingredients. And… street food needs to be matched to street wine.
First of all, containers. We saw them everywhere, especially on the South Bank. We found a beautiful pop-up store and terrace built in a container by fine wine importer and distributor Vinorium. You could enjoy Luis Cañas, and Álvaro Palacios wines, overlooking the Thames. Luxury! (Check out Shoreditch Boxpark if you like the containers idea!).
And last, but not least, in this walk around trendy London, we bumped into the Wondering Wine Bar. A wine bar that pops up in events throughout the UK. They include some Spanish wines in their offer: Bodegas Castro Martín, Freixenet and Dinastía Vivanco.
So, as you can see, London is more than ever a source of inspiration for restless vinous minds.