Cheese and Wine in Covent Garden
World Best Bar
Mar 29, 2018
10 January 2019
Covent Garden, traditionally a delightful mix of cocktail bars and tourist cafés, is the latest venue for French and Italian entrepreneurs and their cosy wine bars. London, for all its charms, will never pull off pavement-style seating the way Paris or Rome can, but the city has adopted this latest continental export with stylish ease. We sent writer Claire Sherwood to Covent Garden to investigate the slow invasion of good cheese and great wine.
As a daytime café and evening bar, Il Tempo is the perfect place to start the evening, to be found on the outskirts of Covent Garden and a stone’s throw from Charing Cross station. Keeping with the café décor it’s a relaxed, well-lit, deli-style interior with tables and benches to perch on. The small space creates an intimate relationship between yourself and the server and we immediately placed ourselves in the hands of a charming Italian barkeep who was happy to recommend the wine they source from small Italian producers.
Styling itself as London’s first authentic Aperitivo bar there’s complimentary snacks to accompany the wine and everything is chosen to complement each other, depending on the season. Our lack of Italian wine knowledge was quickly put to rights as we tried a fruity red and a refreshing mineral white by the glass, enjoyed, of course, alongside the laid-out food which included cheese and mini-quiches.
So far Italy was doing a great job, but as we ambled up through seven dials to Neal’s Yard, a tiny inlet surrounded by cafés and beauty shops, we were excited to see France’s offering. There is already a hugely-successful Compagnie Des Vins Surnaturels in Paris, which was created by the team behind Experimental Cocktail Club, both the New York and London branches. Their London venue is newly launched and hasn’t attracted too much attention.
Divided over two floors it’s decorated like a stylish living room with low-slung couches, small round wooden tables and patterned wall paper. They have a handful of outside tables but with the drizzly rain London specialises in, it seemed safer to stay indoors. A young French woman introduced herself as the wine expert and talked us through the choices, of which there is plenty. We obviously ended up with a French wine, convinced of another mineral white.
After carefully considering the small plates we opted for cheese, French again, and by this stage all memory of Italy was long gone. When the French get something right it really is sublime. Oddly enough as soon as 8pm kicked in the music turned from subtle lounge to Top 40 and loud beats ensued.
We left with the taste of smelly cheese lingering on our palates and headed for Kopapa, back on Seven Dials, moving away from the Europeans and toward a New Zealand influence. This small café-styled bar and restaurant is well-known for its laid-back vibe and tasty meals. Perched at the bar, and faced with a bartender rather than sommelier for the first time all evening, we went back to our comfort zone; a cocktail.
The list included twists and classics and I opted for their Whiskey Almond Sour while my date ventured for a Gin Martini made with Hendricks. It felt like a cleansing way to end the evening and, safe back on home territory, we concluded that Covent Garden still has its gems, despite its reputation as tourist heaven. As for the wine bars, they are a genuinely delightful way to spend an evening to the point where you wouldn’t guess at being in central London.
Written by Claire Sherwood