Tasting the Pleasures of London’s Hippest Wine Bar
written by MARY JANE GRANT | photography courtesy of MARY JANE GRANT
I’m always happy to stroll along Lamb’s Conduit, a block-long pedestrian street in the heart of London’s Bloomsbury. For over two hundred years this passage has been been lined with one-of-a-kind shops, a tradition that lends a persistent air of classic charm. As I wandered down the street recently, I made my usual quick stop into Persephone Books, a quirky shop selling its own list of nearly forgotten female authors. Shelves and tables, nooks and crannies overflowed with Persephone’s distinctive dove grey books. Resisting the urge to linger, I headed next door to meet my son at London’s newest and possibly most innovative wine bar.
In a location that has been a wine bar since 1973, Noble Rot has resisted the temptation to make major changes. A log fireplace warms the front room, which is furnished simply and decorated with artwork from the covers of the magazine Noble Rot. Partners Mark Andrew and Dan Keeling started the magazine in 2013, and have now completed their vision by launching the companion wine bar and restaurant.
The magazine and wine bar share the same goal – to offer wine as an accessible product, worth exploring through all the senses.
“With the magazine, we set out to reframe the wine conversation. We’re not afraid to be a bit irreverent. But that doesn’t mean we don’t think the wine is fantastic,” said Mark Andrew. “Now we can do the same thing with food. We love great food, prepared in an unfinicky way and served in an unstuffy place.”
Lighthearted without being lightweight
With a special emphasis on smaller producers, Noble Rot takes enormous pleasure in bringing fantastic wines to the fore. The opportunity to sample from a long list by the glass or bottle, paired with an inventive food menu, makes it all the better.
We settled into our table in the dining room at the back of the establishment and sipped on glasses of Hambledon Classic Cuvee sparkling wine from Hampshire. This bright and toasty bubbly recently bested French champagnes and others in a blind taste test. It offers a winning combination, balancing fruity freshness against a touch of creaminess.
For the first course, my glass of 2013 “Bas de Chapelot” Chablis from France was a perfect complement to the plump piece of slipsole – a small whole fish served bone-in with brown butter and a courageous dash of paprika.
My son started with duck hearts served with soft ribs of romaine and dressed with a bright aioli. To support his starter and take us through the rest of the meal, we had a bottle of Bugey Montagnieu Mondeuse from the southern slopes of the Jura mountain range overlooking the Rhone river. The cherry-pepper balance of this varietal made from the distinctive Mondeuse Noire grape took us beautifully through the mains as well: roasted mallard duck with soft wedges of sweet roasted pumpkin and turnip tops for me, and classic roast lamb with potatoes, kale and mint sauce for my son.
At dessert we splurged on the warm chocolate mousse – warm and runny with a pinch of salt. The perfect partner for the mousse was a glass of sweet red ‘Elysium’ with heady tones of berries and tea.
Noble Rot offers a string of pleasant contrasts: classic English food made modern… a decades-old wine bar made relevant to changing tastes… and a menu that educates the palate and the mind – without getting too serious!
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