Tuesday, 17 June 2008


"Btw, Vinoteca is my favouritist place in the whole world". As a morning-after assessment from the Recanted Vegetarian, one of my most fastidious foodie friends, it's an invitingly simple recommendation that should be stencilled on the window in five-foot high letters. Such a succinct verdict captures the charm of Vinoteca so perfectly that the City firms who specialise in charging vast sums of money for telling people what they already know should be clamouring for his services.

Vinoteca inspires such a child-like, wide-eyed admiration that the sheer simplicity of the concept almost goes unnoticed. Simplicity is the name of the game here: a small room, simply furnished, with brasserie-style oak furniture and a short, classic but ever-inventive menu. As I'm often moved to complain after yet another disappointing gastropub meal, if you're going to do simple, you've got to do perfect, and Vinoteca does. The room is always immaculate (faint praise, perhaps, but I'm constantly astonished by the number of restaurants and bars littered with cardboard boxes and yesterday's coffee cups), the staff are bright, relaxed and impeccably-informed, and the food is creative, hearty and perfectly judged.

The central pillar of Vinoteca's success, though, is the lengthy, lovingly-compiled, awe-inducing wine list. If, like me, you ignore the menu in favour of the wine list for at least the first twenty minutes of any meal, you'll find yourself being swept up at midnight having not even glanced at the food on offer: even the most perfunctory scan down the list will draw nods of recognition, exclamations of surprise and gasps of I-thought-I-was-the-only-one-who-knew.

Two recent visits demonstrate the versatility of Vinoteca's concept: one on a dull Monday in the office, when a walk to Smithfield and a lengthy lunch seemed the only respite from the long minutes of corporate slump, and the other late on a Friday evening with the Recanted Vegetarian, seeking solace after an extraordinarily incompetent meal at Ortega (about which more Whining later).

Our evening visit, after a meal of such appalling hopelessness that anger subsided in favour of pitying disbelief, was the perfect tonic to the rough end of London's abscess of restaurant mediocrity. The Recanted Vegetarian and I almost exhausted our thirsty friends' patience in our increasingly excitable perusals of the wine racks, before settling on a mind-bogglingly good bottle of 'Hilltops' Shiraz from Clonakilla. The bar staff, including one with the most encyclopaedic knowledge of the Canberra District I've ever encountered, coped admirably with my requests for an ice bucket, a decanter, and, later, an ice bucket for the decanter, and struck the balance between satisfying our anorak pretensions and allowing our friends to believe that we might one day remove our noses from the glass and speak to them. Our faith in humankind restored by one of the deepest, most fragrant bottles of Australian Shiraz I've ever tasted, we finished with a chilled half-bottle of Quinta do Infantado Tawny Port and wandered (read: ran headlong for the last Tube) into the night.

At lunchtime the following Monday, Vinoteca was the perfect hideaway, with owner Brett Woonton (he of the Refreshers-tube shirts and Media glasses, formerly of Enotria and the superb Liberty Wines) manning the bar and a restaurant full of work-shy twenty-somethings. My companion - a Diesel-wearing, Aviator-sporting, Vespa-riding management consultant, achingly cool despite living with his parents in Richmond - had a chargrilled Bavette steak (medium-rare, as instructed on the menu: that's a gratifyingly ballsy chef) with the menu-paired glass of Dolcetto, whilst I came over all vegetarian and had an excellent asparagus tart, always a tricky one to match, with an honest, crisp, citrussy Vin de Pays du Gers. We finished with espressos (i?) and homemade chocolate truffles, before rolling back to the office in a considerably finer mood.

Simplicity is an admirable aim. When food is well-sourced and a menu well constructed, when a wine list is carefully selected, when the room is simply furnished, and when the staff are pleasant and knowledgeable, the perfect restaurant needs little more. Too often, the search for simplicity ends up falling short of even the most conservative expectations, but Vinoteca leaves even the harshest critic reaching for his dusty adjectives of acclamation: it is, quite simply, the finest wine bar in London, and, indeed, a strong contender to be my favouritist place in the whole world.

Vinoteca, 7 St John St, Smithfield, London, EC1M 4AA
020 7253 8786

Food: 7
Drink: 10
Service: 7
Atmosphere: 9
Total: 33

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Rob,

I am not sure if it's wrong to comment on a post that is written about Vinoteca, am I possibly breaking some unwritten blog rule? Either way I just wanted to say thanks! The way you feel about Vinoteca is exactly what we're aiming for, and it is great to hear that you enjoy all aspects of Vinoteca. Please keep coming, and let us know about each visit, feedback is very helpful, and can only help us to maintain and improve what we have worked so hard to achieve at Vinoteca.

Hope to see you soon!

Caitlin (Marketing & Events Manager)