Peckham’s outstanding Italian restaurant, Forza Win, has opened a new wine bar at 133 Rye Lane. Forza Wine, according to Forza Win co-owner and founder Bash Redford, will continue the formula that has earned its south east London warehouse considerable acclaim: “We try not to take ourselves very seriously, but we do things really well.”
While the mantra stays, Forza Wine — built for drinks, snacks, and views from its fifth floor restaurant and terrace, with a lift — is meant to be “more of a boozy fun time place.” Redford is excited about the chance to serve food meant for drinking and having a good time: “order enough and it’s a meal, but the key difference is an occasion. The snacks are amazing, and if you ordered five you’d be full, but it’s mostly about the booze.”
A working menu of Italian drinking food, “substantial antipasti,” created by Redford and his co-owner, former River Cafe chef Michael Lavery, who credits influential wine bar Terroirs for honing his skills, includes the following dishes and initial ideas; expect regular changes:
- Flatbread, done on a wood grill and served with aioli, or a sausage and onion ragu, or courgettes and basil — toppings will be rotated on a regular basis
- Blistered friggitelli peppers, with chianti vinegar
- A mortadella and fontina toastie with hot sauce
- Spiedeni, Italian skewers: first ideas include a lamb and rosemary number with anchovy sauce
- Fried bocconcini
- Clams, verdicchio, and butter
- A salad — a first one might be grilled aubergines, lemon, mint, and hazelnuts
- Chicken milanese with a spicy tomato sauce
- Milk soft serve with salted olive oil caramel and biscotti, a house serve from a new ice cream machine that will also feature rotating flavours.
Drinks, meanwhile, are extensive. Redford describes the Italian wine list — aided by importer Les Caves de Pyrene but charted by himself, general manager Louise, a new wine specialist soon to join the staff, and Lavery — as “absolutely incredible,” and is particularly happy that its breadth will offer customers something accessible, whether it be a familiar wine or a first venture into, perhaps, natural wine. Cocktails include an entire section devoted to the “basic, but incredible breakfast drink,” the Garibaldi — a double measure of Campari and fresh orange juice that is both harder to get right than it sounds and obviously incredibly hard to get right because it only has two ingredients — the sgroppino, and frozen negronis. Not frogronis, Redford hopes — but he accepts the inevitable.
The revelatory custardo, that started as a “funny joke” and now sees hopeful diners queue outside Forza Win in the way, Redford says, that “people line up when t-shirts drop” will be there, with trials for a boozy version ongoing; the artichoke-based Cynar and Forza’s own amaretto are winning pairings thus far.
When asked about the process behind the opening, Redford revealed that the exchange on the lease happened two years ago, as developer and architect Frame changed its proposed use for the development after protests over its potentially deleterious impact on Peckham’s Bussey Building. The landlord approached the restaurant. Now, it’s a co-working build, with restaurants and bars attached: ramen juggernaut Tonkotsu will join Forza’s fifth floor outpost, which has capacity for 110 in the kitchen but only 40 in the dining room: Redford is under no illusions that the terrace — “we’ll cover half of it, eventually” — has to be a success. A late license until 1:30a.m. should help, aided and abetted by Jay Rayner’s praise for the area’s licensing officers in his glowing review of Forza Win’s “exceptionally brave” Peckham venture.
Forza Win started life as a fledgling supper club on top of the Truman Brewery, with Redford in partnership with Thom and James Elliott of Pizza Pilgrims. It lasted two weeks before being shut down over planning legislation. It didn’t stop it, with the operation moving to Oval Space in Bethnal Green before settling, with Redford, at The Culpeper on Commercial Street — then The Princess Alice. Redford is frank about the fact that he had the opportunity to “make mistakes on someone else’s cash” when it resided on the top floor of The Culpeper, on Commercial Street. Nonetheless, the growth of the restaurant — first into its warehouse space 18 months ago, and now into this new, lofty good-time terrace — leads Redford to reflect on how restaurants can maintain their vibe as spaces, and the pressures of solo, then co-ownership, get bigger:
The supper club business washed its own face, it had incredible brand presence — it became an outlet for me in the sense that at the Culpeper I had to wear one hat — but at Forza I could say, “here’s some fucking natural wine it’s well nice try that” — and that’s the hat I believe in, while the former was not somewhere I really feel that comfortable. I find some parts of the industry really vacuous: the hospitality part, being in the restaurant you’ve created and making sure you know every single part of it, every single person working, I love.
Forza sort of grew parallel to the other stuff I was doing, and that other stuff allowed me to do this raw and real reflection of what I wanted to do in the food world, people round a table and getting people to enjoy something that would otherwise cost them too much to enjoy. That had a limited shelf life, and required an almost incredible amount of generosity — buying the same ingredients, from the same suppliers, building relationships and brand on the back of doing that.
Lunch will be a heavy focus, with the aim of offering a sandwich, salad, and perhaps a drink but keeping things under the weight of a £10 note; the new opening is a chance for exciting collaborations with local icons — more on that soon, he says — and a chance to further spread Forza Win’s approach to what Italian dining is. Redford says people often forget that this kind of food — heavy on seasonal produce, bright colours, and, fine, a lot of butter — is actually “pretty healthy,” but that’s far from the be-all-and-end-all, especially at a rooftop bar serving frozen negronis that make a lift more of a necessity than a luxury come the early hours.
Redford puts himself, his experience, and his money into Forza Win and now Forza Wine: ““fiercely independent” is often meaningless, but the whole restaurant here has been done on turnover.” Once he’s finished hauling floor tiles up five flights, with the promised lift not yet installed, the real work can begin: bringing Peckham another restaurant that serves its people, and offers a good time with a little help from Italy.
Forza Wine, 133 Rye Lane, SE15 4ST.
Kitchen hours: Tuesday — Sunday 12:30p.m. — 3:30p.m.
Tuesday — Wednesday 6p.m. — 12:30a.m.; Thursday — Saturday 6p.m. — 1:30a.m.