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Wine-lined interiors at Diogenes the Dog, a new wine bar for London in Elephant and Castle
The wine shelves at Diogenes the Dog
Daniel Ogulewicz

The Most Interesting Places to Drink Wine In London

The truth is, it’s (still) not all natural

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The wine shelves at Diogenes the Dog
| Daniel Ogulewicz

It’s been over a decade since London began its rise to the top table of global food capitals; it is only recently that its wine lists finally caught up. If the new wave of London restaurants that opened during the twenty-teens were characterised by youthful, exuberant openness to the new and exciting, it definitely took a while for a similar spirit to make its way into how the capital drinks.

Now, though, it is safe to say that London stands on the verge of a new era. Standards have risen across the board, ensuring that great wine can be found in places like pubs and cafes; lists are increasingly willing to embrace new regions and unconventional varietals; the natural wine debate is over, its final belligerents safely locked away in their personal echo chambers. More than anything, London finally seems to appreciate wine as something to be enjoyed, rather than tolerated as a restaurant’s last desperate attempt to gouge some margin out of its customers. Something to be enjoyed, moreover, as a living thing, something every bit as diverse and vital as the constellation of Londoners drinking it. Here are some of the best places to share and savour that liquid joy.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Medlar

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438 King's Rd
London SW10 0LJ, UK

A Michelin star may have come and gone at this discreet Chelsea stalwart, but the food has barely changed in the decade since it opened. For the avoidance of doubt, this not necessarily a bad thing: the duck egg tart to start remains a perfect dish; Belted Galloway rump with triple-cooked chips and béarnise will never not hit a certain kind of diner’s pleasure centre. Where things definitely have evolved is on the wine front: head sommelier Melania Battiston has worked wonders on a list that used to be as awash in claret as some of the more bibulous regulars, and these days, Australia and Northern America are just as prominent as some real heavy hitters from Northern Italy and the Rhone. Sub-£50 bottles see decent representation and there is even more than a passing nod to natural wine hotbeds like Jura and the Loire. Perhaps most importantly, the staggeringly reasonable corkage charge remains in place, ensuring that most of the most impressive bottles drunk at Medlar may not even come from its own cellar.

9 Seymour St
London W1H 7BA, UK

Mayfair, tasting menu; the crown of perhaps London’s buzziest restaurant: there are plenty of red flags that suggest Kol could be the worst most overpriced kind of trap into which a thirsty wine-lover could fall. And yet the block capitals that greet the reader opening the relatively svelte list are “CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE,” and the ethos articulated is to “champion products that are grown and made respectfully and are of high quality,” regardless of perceived prestige. When the Michelin inspectors inevitably garland Santiago Lastra with their fanciest baubles this will, therefore, be perhaps the only high-end place in London where wines from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Croatia go toe-to-toe with established classics from Germany and Austria; or where the usual Grand Marque champagne houses and baller Barolos are relegated to a “rest of the world” section where they must vie for supremacy with the likes of the UK’s Tillingham and Marcos Markovitis’s Xinomavro. The food subverts expectations just as deftly: Anyone dreading multi-course tweezer fatigue will find the main event carnitas tacos very much to their liking.

3. Lorne Restaurant

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76 Wilton Rd, Pimlico
London SW1V 1DE, UK

With time at departed Mayfair doyenne The Square under her belt, sommelier Katie Exton is no stranger to uncorking bonkers-expensive bottles. But her list at Lorne offers remarkable value for any stripe of customer: the standard selection boasts recherché German labels and cult Aussies (as well as some interesting riffs on more conventional Old World picks), whilst for the real nerds there’s a separate “single bottle” sheet on which Barolos and Burgundies receive only the most cursory of markups. For those looking for something sweeter, there’s also a selection of Rivesaltes and Banyuls with vintages that go back the best part of a century.

4. The Mulwray

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First Floor, The Blue Posts, 28 Rupert St
London W1D 6DJ, UK

Like many wine bars on this list, The Mulwray carries a small sense of adventure to start, with the vertiginous walk up from The Blue Posts in the heart of Soho. Run by Honey Spencer, Sarah Wright, and Esme Graham, a list is divided into chapters according to mood, revels in the full spectrum of pinks, crimsons, corals, and reds that make up “rosé,” and has lately introduced a transportive “sundowner” flight of pink, orange, and chilled red. Both grown-up and free-spirited, it’s a very modern, very London look at what a wine bar can be.

5. Noble Rot Soho

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2 Greek St
London W1D 4NB, UK

Second children, as a rule, tend to “bounce off” their older siblings, developing opposite traits and zigging where they zagged. Not so for Noble Rot 2.0, which instead seems like an intensification of everything that made the Lambs Conduit Street firstborn so special: in the site formerly occupied by The Gay Hussar, lights are dimmer, furnishings more opulent, spaces cosier and even more convivial. Ex-Sardine head chef Alex Jackson has wrought similar magic on the menu, taking the loosely European signifiers of the Holborn original and distilling them through several hundred pages of Richard Olney. The instant-classic but also deeply classical chicken with vin jaune and morels is the perfect expression of everything this very new, very old institution is all about: sumptuous, decadent, as happy paired alongside Andre Perret’s Condrieu, a viognier grown in granite soils, as it is Domaine Bachelet’s heady Burgundy pinoit noir, Gevrey-Chambertin. Make sure to order pudding.

6. 10 Cases

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16 Endell St
London WC2H 9BD, UK

The food and wine available at this Covent Garden half-bar half-restaurant are notable enough in their own right. But the real jewel in the team’s crown is their app, Drop, which revolutionises wine delivery in much the same way that Amazon Prime did consumer retail (this is another way of saying it’s highly addictive, and highly dangerous to the impulsive). A huge range of wines is searchable by price point and style; there is no minimum order and delivery can be arranged within the hour (and can even be on ice). Drinking at home no longer has to feel like the opening credits to the Bridget Jones movie — just another sign of how much the game in London has changed in the past few years.

7. Quality Wines

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88 Farringdon Rd, Clerkenwell
London EC1R 3EA, UK

Baseball scouts have long sought out the near-mythical “five-tool player” — someone adept in all the sport’s central disciplines, with no obvious flaws in their skillset. After its recent refurb, Farringdon Road’s Quality Wines is now approaching a similar status. With a little more space and equipment at his disposal, chef Nick Bramham is now turning out a weekly menu as suited for off-the-cuff post-work snacks as it is a date night or an order-the-whole menu bender with friends; a small-but-perfectly-formed by the glass list supplemented by an idiosyncratically recherché selection of bottles means everyone from the nattiest juice bro to the starchiest classicist will leave happy. Former QW sommelier Gus Gluck’s lockdown baby GB Wine Shippers also supplies some of the surest bargains in town: if Muchada-Léclapart’s dazzling unfortified whites from the centre of Jerez sherry country are on the shelves, stock up by the case.

8. The Drapers Arms

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44 Barnsbury St
London N1 1ER, UK

Historically, “pub wine” was effectively a category in its own right — one step up from discount supermarket stuff, perhaps, but hardly something to push the needle beyond the usual dry / sweet and red / white binaries. London’s best example of the new wave of pub lists can be found at Islington’s Drapers Arms, where pét-nat and skin contact renegades jostle for space with labels from underappreciated regions like the Cotes Catalanes and Georgia. A dedicated reserve list features the sort of prestige cuvées — from Burgundy, Bordeaux and Northern Italy — that might turn an already-heroic Sunday lunch offering into the stuff of legend.

9. Top Cuvée

Copy Link
177B Blackstock Rd
London N5 2LL, UK

Shitposts, memes, growth-hack marketing campaigns: the benevolent edgelords at Top Cuvée have given them all a crack during the last year of lockdowns and, in doing so, have done more than any other brand to popularise a specific school of easy-to-drink, even-easier-to-reorder-online-when-drunk vin de soif. In Keeling + Andrew’s Chin Chin, this Highbury bar created arguably the UK’s first viral wine; in collaborating with Instagram icon Raven Smith it’s well on its way to creating its second. A new Bethnal Green site is forthcoming; whatever happens, the Instagram account is bound to be essential viewing.

10. Diogenes The Dog

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Diogenes The Dog, 96 Rodney Rd
London SE17 1BG, UK

Named after a famous Ancient Greek cynic, Diogenes The Dog aims to make what can at times feel like an elitist and inaccessible space something far more approachable and enjoyable. It takes a genuinely globalist approach to the problem, too, elevating producers from Texas, Bulgaria, The Czech Republic and Brazil in the process. Cheeses, cured meats, and an array of seasonal toasties are at hand for those who want some actual food with their food for thought; a relaxed house style courtesy of owner Sunny Hodge stops things from ever feeling like too much hard work.

11. Flor

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1 Bedale St
London SE1 9AL, UK

London had never really got its head around a modern British version of the French cave à manger, despite having a decent handle on so many of the fundamentals: great domestic cheese; great domestic charcuterie; venerable buildings with plentiful romantically illuminated nooks and crannies. And then along came Flor, and a lightbulb went off. Although there are tables upstairs, it is the open bar on the ground floor that acts as the room’s focal point, a perfect lookout from which to observe Pamela Yung and her tiny team perform minor miracles. The food they produce is a little more refined than the sort of fare one might encounter in the likes of La Cave du Paul Bert a few hundred miles away, but the spirit informing it is the same: resourceful, hyper-seasonal, laser-focused, and mindful of global inflections. The pared-down wine list, lean and mean as a prizefighter, should be an object lesson to some of the capital’s grandes dames that confuse plenitude with quality, although this is probably true of Flor more generally: Like those caves in Paris, it’s what happens when a restaurant reduces eating and drinking to their most unadorned, straightforwardly pleasurable parts.

12. 40 Maltby Street

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40 Maltby St
London SE1 3PA, UK

Obviously, one of the best blackboard menus in town. Obviously, one of the most intriguingly stocked cellars, courtesy of pioneering, city-redefining Gergovie Wines. But even this fulsome praise does 40 Maltby Street a disservice. On the blackboard, it’s not just the words themselves but the unseen dark matter between them: a judicious, stealthy additional ingredient here; an unassuming-sounding assembly there that is in fact the standout dish. On the plate, it’s the flawlessness of Steve Williams’ all-around game that soon becomes apparent: the mastery of a range of techniques (especially deep-frying and anything involving pastry) that most cooks would be content to deliver at 7/10 standard. And in the glass, it’s the sense that these are wines made for, and by, a community: not an exclusive clique, but a like-minded collective that sees the sort of wine that Gergovie curates and the sort of food that Williams cooks as two sides of the same coin. So: 40 Maltby Street, the best restaurant in London? Maybe. But it’s also so much more than that.

13. Terroirs East Dulwich

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36-38 Lordship Ln, East Dulwich
London SE22 8HJ, UK

The younger sibling of dearly departed natural wine trend progenitor Terroirs Covent Garden, which first opened in 2009. That restaurant and bar was a de facto shop window for the now ubiquitous natural wine import company Les Caves de Pyrene, introducing many then-unfamiliar styles of wines alongside robust, regional French cuisine to a newly curious customer base. In Dulwich, twelve years later, Terroirs still features “classic” dishes, such as smoked eel and celeriac remoulade; steak tartare; and homemade charcuterie platter. It still features 10 natural wines “on tap” and a list comprising 300 “favourites, from artisans that are still making wine by hand with minimal chemical intervention.” The difference is it now feels more like comfort than dissension, and that’s all to the good.

14. Newcomer Wines Dalston

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5 Dalston Ln
London E8, UK

Like a number of London’s newest independent wine bars, Newcomer is first and foremost a shop. Unlike almost anywhere else in the city, Newcomer sells and serves varieties almost exclusively from Austria. Founder Peter Honegger opened the shop last year and imports wines served at a number of other places on this list. But to get a full understanding of wines from the region, this is the place to visit — over 250 wines are available to take away or drink in, the majority of which are sourced directly from their network of winemakers in Austria. The by the glass selection changes daily, depending on the owners’ mood; food is usually charcuterie and cheese with bread and pickles, but it’s currently running a summer dinner series with a little more heft, alongside SSAW Collective.

15. SAGER + WILDE

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193 Hackney Rd
London E2 8JL, UK

There was something radical about Michael Sager and his then business partner, Charlotte Wilde, opening this bar on Hackney Road in the summer of 2013. For a start, there were (and still are) many more-than-average options by the glass. The menu normally lists around 30, with prices ranging from £4 to £15.50. Also notable about the selection was the availability of old vintage, new world wines, thanks largely to the education Sager had undergone in California. West Coast U.S. wines are still a speciality here. Not that this gets in the way of a fantastic range of French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian wines too.

16. Brawn

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49 Columbia Rd
London E2 7RG, UK

First off, it’s just a perfect name for a restaurant: a statement of intent that positioned Ed Wilson and co’s beautifully rickety dining rooms as an evolution of the blueprint laid out by St John. But it’s also a slightly misleading handle: brawn, after all, proverbially comes at the expense of brains, and in the years since it opened in 2010, this self-professed neighbourhood restaurant has savvily moved in lockstep with the area around it. Immaculate oysters and Cantabrian anchovies are just as likely to kick things off these days as pig’s head terrine; the gentle influence of Campania (the restaurant round the corner, maybe also the Italian region) can be felt on a list of pastas that seems to only improve with age. Factor in a dining room ripped straight from date night fantasy, and perhaps the single best compendium of low-intervention French bottles in town, and there’s plenty to suggest Brawn remains just as essential in its second decade as its first.

17. Forza Wine

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The Rooftop, 133A Rye Ln
London SE15 4BQ, UK

“Italy” and “fun” don’t have to mean priapic puddings and puns that put the “italia” in “genitalia”: they can mean eating a plate of little fried things and drinking something cold and fizzy from the Veneto before tucking into a litre of Pugliese red and setting the world to rights with friends as a steady stream of simple, delicious things emerge from the kitchen. Better than anywhere else in London, Forza Wine nails both the food and wine sides of this surprisingly tricky simultaneous Italian equation: the cauliflower fritti are so good it probably makes sense to place one order per person; the list contains both exactly the sort of stuff one would want to drink on a balmy summer’s night in Naples and exactly the sort of stuff one would want to drink as the Tuscan winter drew in. Nothing is gimmicky, nothing is fancy, nothing is anything other than resolutely affordable — and so it follows that with the right people and on the right night, nothing could be more fun.

18. The Laughing Heart

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277 Hackney Rd, London, E2 8NA, London
Hackney E2 8NA, UK

Gone are the stuffed olives, gone is the Sichuan crème brûlée, but at its core The Laughing Heart remains unchanged. The idiosyncratic lighting — don’t even think about getting a glossy shot for the ‘gram — is as atmospheric as ever, the welcome is as warm, and a shift to a prix fixe menu has allowed the kitchen to focus on delivering a very specific kind of hospitality. “Generous” can mean a whole host of things: the pleasurable excess of an honest-to-goodness cheese trolley in 2021; the beautiful, textbook canelés that bring dinner at to a close; the munificence of putting on Pierre Frick’s magisterial pinot gris “V” as a by-the-glass selection. The Laughing Heart has always been singular; it is only grammatically incorrect to say that these days it’s even more unique.

19. Bright

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1 Westgate St
London E8 3RL, UK

Bright opened in 2018. In the last 18 months, it has been so many things — bottle shop, traiteur, al fresco terrazza, hypebeast squid sando maven — that it is easy to forget that for the year and half before that it was quietly ploughing its own furrow as one of London’s most low-key clever and high-key delicious restaurants. Headed up by Will Gleave, the kitchen is not without an eye for the theatrical, especially when it comes to frying things (for that pre-pandemic lasagna fritta, see this summer’s courgette and anchovy number) but below the gorgeous surface has undeniably robust fundamentals. For all the eyecatching Gabrio Binis decorating the shelves, the list is likewise a case study in strength in depth, as well as a rebuke to anyone claiming natural wine is always overpriced.

20. P. Franco

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107 Lower Clapton Rd, Lower Clapton
London E5 0NP, UK

“Our band could be your life’,” sang The Minutemen on ‘History Lesson Part 2,’ and when P. Franco opened its doors for the first time midway through the last decade, it promised something similar. If great wine captures the essence of a time and a place, great wine bars do, too: for anyone trying to understand natural wine, and East London, and natural wine in East London, this remains the first port of call. Some of the team may have moved on to pastures new; these days it is Chase Lovecky doing extraordinary things with a fridge and an induction hob. P. Franco has changed, just like the world around it. But the lightning remains safely trapped in the bottle.

1. Medlar

438 King's Rd, London SW10 0LJ, UK

A Michelin star may have come and gone at this discreet Chelsea stalwart, but the food has barely changed in the decade since it opened. For the avoidance of doubt, this not necessarily a bad thing: the duck egg tart to start remains a perfect dish; Belted Galloway rump with triple-cooked chips and béarnise will never not hit a certain kind of diner’s pleasure centre. Where things definitely have evolved is on the wine front: head sommelier Melania Battiston has worked wonders on a list that used to be as awash in claret as some of the more bibulous regulars, and these days, Australia and Northern America are just as prominent as some real heavy hitters from Northern Italy and the Rhone. Sub-£50 bottles see decent representation and there is even more than a passing nod to natural wine hotbeds like Jura and the Loire. Perhaps most importantly, the staggeringly reasonable corkage charge remains in place, ensuring that most of the most impressive bottles drunk at Medlar may not even come from its own cellar.

438 King's Rd
London SW10 0LJ, UK

2. Kol

9 Seymour St, London W1H 7BA, UK

Mayfair, tasting menu; the crown of perhaps London’s buzziest restaurant: there are plenty of red flags that suggest Kol could be the worst most overpriced kind of trap into which a thirsty wine-lover could fall. And yet the block capitals that greet the reader opening the relatively svelte list are “CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE,” and the ethos articulated is to “champion products that are grown and made respectfully and are of high quality,” regardless of perceived prestige. When the Michelin inspectors inevitably garland Santiago Lastra with their fanciest baubles this will, therefore, be perhaps the only high-end place in London where wines from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Croatia go toe-to-toe with established classics from Germany and Austria; or where the usual Grand Marque champagne houses and baller Barolos are relegated to a “rest of the world” section where they must vie for supremacy with the likes of the UK’s Tillingham and Marcos Markovitis’s Xinomavro. The food subverts expectations just as deftly: Anyone dreading multi-course tweezer fatigue will find the main event carnitas tacos very much to their liking.

9 Seymour St
London W1H 7BA, UK

3. Lorne Restaurant

76 Wilton Rd, Pimlico, London SW1V 1DE, UK

With time at departed Mayfair doyenne The Square under her belt, sommelier Katie Exton is no stranger to uncorking bonkers-expensive bottles. But her list at Lorne offers remarkable value for any stripe of customer: the standard selection boasts recherché German labels and cult Aussies (as well as some interesting riffs on more conventional Old World picks), whilst for the real nerds there’s a separate “single bottle” sheet on which Barolos and Burgundies receive only the most cursory of markups. For those looking for something sweeter, there’s also a selection of Rivesaltes and Banyuls with vintages that go back the best part of a century.

76 Wilton Rd, Pimlico
London SW1V 1DE, UK

4. The Mulwray

First Floor, The Blue Posts, 28 Rupert St, London W1D 6DJ, UK

Like many wine bars on this list, The Mulwray carries a small sense of adventure to start, with the vertiginous walk up from The Blue Posts in the heart of Soho. Run by Honey Spencer, Sarah Wright, and Esme Graham, a list is divided into chapters according to mood, revels in the full spectrum of pinks, crimsons, corals, and reds that make up “rosé,” and has lately introduced a transportive “sundowner” flight of pink, orange, and chilled red. Both grown-up and free-spirited, it’s a very modern, very London look at what a wine bar can be.

First Floor, The Blue Posts, 28 Rupert St
London W1D 6DJ, UK

5. Noble Rot Soho

2 Greek St, London W1D 4NB, UK

Second children, as a rule, tend to “bounce off” their older siblings, developing opposite traits and zigging where they zagged. Not so for Noble Rot 2.0, which instead seems like an intensification of everything that made the Lambs Conduit Street firstborn so special: in the site formerly occupied by The Gay Hussar, lights are dimmer, furnishings more opulent, spaces cosier and even more convivial. Ex-Sardine head chef Alex Jackson has wrought similar magic on the menu, taking the loosely European signifiers of the Holborn original and distilling them through several hundred pages of Richard Olney. The instant-classic but also deeply classical chicken with vin jaune and morels is the perfect expression of everything this very new, very old institution is all about: sumptuous, decadent, as happy paired alongside Andre Perret’s Condrieu, a viognier grown in granite soils, as it is Domaine Bachelet’s heady Burgundy pinoit noir, Gevrey-Chambertin. Make sure to order pudding.

2 Greek St
London W1D 4NB, UK

6. 10 Cases

16 Endell St, London WC2H 9BD, UK

The food and wine available at this Covent Garden half-bar half-restaurant are notable enough in their own right. But the real jewel in the team’s crown is their app, Drop, which revolutionises wine delivery in much the same way that Amazon Prime did consumer retail (this is another way of saying it’s highly addictive, and highly dangerous to the impulsive). A huge range of wines is searchable by price point and style; there is no minimum order and delivery can be arranged within the hour (and can even be on ice). Drinking at home no longer has to feel like the opening credits to the Bridget Jones movie — just another sign of how much the game in London has changed in the past few years.

16 Endell St
London WC2H 9BD, UK

7. Quality Wines

88 Farringdon Rd, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 3EA, UK

Baseball scouts have long sought out the near-mythical “five-tool player” — someone adept in all the sport’s central disciplines, with no obvious flaws in their skillset. After its recent refurb, Farringdon Road’s Quality Wines is now approaching a similar status. With a little more space and equipment at his disposal, chef Nick Bramham is now turning out a weekly menu as suited for off-the-cuff post-work snacks as it is a date night or an order-the-whole menu bender with friends; a small-but-perfectly-formed by the glass list supplemented by an idiosyncratically recherché selection of bottles means everyone from the nattiest juice bro to the starchiest classicist will leave happy. Former QW sommelier Gus Gluck’s lockdown baby GB Wine Shippers also supplies some of the surest bargains in town: if Muchada-Léclapart’s dazzling unfortified whites from the centre of Jerez sherry country are on the shelves, stock up by the case.

88 Farringdon Rd, Clerkenwell
London EC1R 3EA, UK

8. The Drapers Arms

44 Barnsbury St, London N1 1ER, UK

Historically, “pub wine” was effectively a category in its own right — one step up from discount supermarket stuff, perhaps, but hardly something to push the needle beyond the usual dry / sweet and red / white binaries. London’s best example of the new wave of pub lists can be found at Islington’s Drapers Arms, where pét-nat and skin contact renegades jostle for space with labels from underappreciated regions like the Cotes Catalanes and Georgia. A dedicated reserve list features the sort of prestige cuvées — from Burgundy, Bordeaux and Northern Italy — that might turn an already-heroic Sunday lunch offering into the stuff of legend.

44 Barnsbury St
London N1 1ER, UK

9. Top Cuvée

177B Blackstock Rd, London N5 2LL, UK

Shitposts, memes, growth-hack marketing campaigns: the benevolent edgelords at Top Cuvée have given them all a crack during the last year of lockdowns and, in doing so, have done more than any other brand to popularise a specific school of easy-to-drink, even-easier-to-reorder-online-when-drunk vin de soif. In Keeling + Andrew’s Chin Chin, this Highbury bar created arguably the UK’s first viral wine; in collaborating with Instagram icon Raven Smith it’s well on its way to creating its second. A new Bethnal Green site is forthcoming; whatever happens, the Instagram account is bound to be essential viewing.

177B Blackstock Rd
London N5 2LL, UK

10. Diogenes The Dog

Diogenes The Dog, 96 Rodney Rd, London SE17 1BG, UK

Named after a famous Ancient Greek cynic, Diogenes The Dog aims to make what can at times feel like an elitist and inaccessible space something far more approachable and enjoyable. It takes a genuinely globalist approach to the problem, too, elevating producers from Texas, Bulgaria, The Czech Republic and Brazil in the process. Cheeses, cured meats, and an array of seasonal toasties are at hand for those who want some actual food with their food for thought; a relaxed house style courtesy of owner Sunny Hodge stops things from ever feeling like too much hard work.

Diogenes The Dog, 96 Rodney Rd
London SE17 1BG, UK

11. Flor

1 Bedale St, London SE1 9AL, UK

London had never really got its head around a modern British version of the French cave à manger, despite having a decent handle on so many of the fundamentals: great domestic cheese; great domestic charcuterie; venerable buildings with plentiful romantically illuminated nooks and crannies. And then along came Flor, and a lightbulb went off. Although there are tables upstairs, it is the open bar on the ground floor that acts as the room’s focal point, a perfect lookout from which to observe Pamela Yung and her tiny team perform minor miracles. The food they produce is a little more refined than the sort of fare one might encounter in the likes of La Cave du Paul Bert a few hundred miles away, but the spirit informing it is the same: resourceful, hyper-seasonal, laser-focused, and mindful of global inflections. The pared-down wine list, lean and mean as a prizefighter, should be an object lesson to some of the capital’s grandes dames that confuse plenitude with quality, although this is probably true of Flor more generally: Like those caves in Paris, it’s what happens when a restaurant reduces eating and drinking to their most unadorned, straightforwardly pleasurable parts.

1 Bedale St
London SE1 9AL, UK

12. 40 Maltby Street

40 Maltby St, London SE1 3PA, UK

Obviously, one of the best blackboard menus in town. Obviously, one of the most intriguingly stocked cellars, courtesy of pioneering, city-redefining Gergovie Wines. But even this fulsome praise does 40 Maltby Street a disservice. On the blackboard, it’s not just the words themselves but the unseen dark matter between them: a judicious, stealthy additional ingredient here; an unassuming-sounding assembly there that is in fact the standout dish. On the plate, it’s the flawlessness of Steve Williams’ all-around game that soon becomes apparent: the mastery of a range of techniques (especially deep-frying and anything involving pastry) that most cooks would be content to deliver at 7/10 standard. And in the glass, it’s the sense that these are wines made for, and by, a community: not an exclusive clique, but a like-minded collective that sees the sort of wine that Gergovie curates and the sort of food that Williams cooks as two sides of the same coin. So: 40 Maltby Street, the best restaurant in London? Maybe. But it’s also so much more than that.

40 Maltby St
London SE1 3PA, UK

13. Terroirs East Dulwich

36-38 Lordship Ln, East Dulwich, London SE22 8HJ, UK

The younger sibling of dearly departed natural wine trend progenitor Terroirs Covent Garden, which first opened in 2009. That restaurant and bar was a de facto shop window for the now ubiquitous natural wine import company Les Caves de Pyrene, introducing many then-unfamiliar styles of wines alongside robust, regional French cuisine to a newly curious customer base. In Dulwich, twelve years later, Terroirs still features “classic” dishes, such as smoked eel and celeriac remoulade; steak tartare; and homemade charcuterie platter. It still features 10 natural wines “on tap” and a list comprising 300 “favourites, from artisans that are still making wine by hand with minimal chemical intervention.” The difference is it now feels more like comfort than dissension, and that’s all to the good.

36-38 Lordship Ln, East Dulwich
London SE22 8HJ, UK

14. Newcomer Wines Dalston

5 Dalston Ln, London E8, UK

Like a number of London’s newest independent wine bars, Newcomer is first and foremost a shop. Unlike almost anywhere else in the city, Newcomer sells and serves varieties almost exclusively from Austria. Founder Peter Honegger opened the shop last year and imports wines served at a number of other places on this list. But to get a full understanding of wines from the region, this is the place to visit — over 250 wines are available to take away or drink in, the majority of which are sourced directly from their network of winemakers in Austria. The by the glass selection changes daily, depending on the owners’ mood; food is usually charcuterie and cheese with bread and pickles, but it’s currently running a summer dinner series with a little more heft, alongside SSAW Collective.

5 Dalston Ln
London E8, UK

15. SAGER + WILDE

193 Hackney Rd, London E2 8JL, UK

There was something radical about Michael Sager and his then business partner, Charlotte Wilde, opening this bar on Hackney Road in the summer of 2013. For a start, there were (and still are) many more-than-average options by the glass. The menu normally lists around 30, with prices ranging from £4 to £15.50. Also notable about the selection was the availability of old vintage, new world wines, thanks largely to the education Sager had undergone in California. West Coast U.S. wines are still a speciality here. Not that this gets in the way of a fantastic range of French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian wines too.

193 Hackney Rd
London E2 8JL, UK

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16. Brawn

49 Columbia Rd, London E2 7RG, UK

First off, it’s just a perfect name for a restaurant: a statement of intent that positioned Ed Wilson and co’s beautifully rickety dining rooms as an evolution of the blueprint laid out by St John. But it’s also a slightly misleading handle: brawn, after all, proverbially comes at the expense of brains, and in the years since it opened in 2010, this self-professed neighbourhood restaurant has savvily moved in lockstep with the area around it. Immaculate oysters and Cantabrian anchovies are just as likely to kick things off these days as pig’s head terrine; the gentle influence of Campania (the restaurant round the corner, maybe also the Italian region) can be felt on a list of pastas that seems to only improve with age. Factor in a dining room ripped straight from date night fantasy, and perhaps the single best compendium of low-intervention French bottles in town, and there’s plenty to suggest Brawn remains just as essential in its second decade as its first.

49 Columbia Rd
London E2 7RG, UK

17. Forza Wine

The Rooftop, 133A Rye Ln, London SE15 4BQ, UK

“Italy” and “fun” don’t have to mean priapic puddings and puns that put the “italia” in “genitalia”: they can mean eating a plate of little fried things and drinking something cold and fizzy from the Veneto before tucking into a litre of Pugliese red and setting the world to rights with friends as a steady stream of simple, delicious things emerge from the kitchen. Better than anywhere else in London, Forza Wine nails both the food and wine sides of this surprisingly tricky simultaneous Italian equation: the cauliflower fritti are so good it probably makes sense to place one order per person; the list contains both exactly the sort of stuff one would want to drink on a balmy summer’s night in Naples and exactly the sort of stuff one would want to drink as the Tuscan winter drew in. Nothing is gimmicky, nothing is fancy, nothing is anything other than resolutely affordable — and so it follows that with the right people and on the right night, nothing could be more fun.

The Rooftop, 133A Rye Ln
London SE15 4BQ, UK

18. The Laughing Heart

277 Hackney Rd, London, E2 8NA, London, Hackney E2 8NA, UK

Gone are the stuffed olives, gone is the Sichuan crème brûlée, but at its core The Laughing Heart remains unchanged. The idiosyncratic lighting — don’t even think about getting a glossy shot for the ‘gram — is as atmospheric as ever, the welcome is as warm, and a shift to a prix fixe menu has allowed the kitchen to focus on delivering a very specific kind of hospitality. “Generous” can mean a whole host of things: the pleasurable excess of an honest-to-goodness cheese trolley in 2021; the beautiful, textbook canelés that bring dinner at to a close; the munificence of putting on Pierre Frick’s magisterial pinot gris “V” as a by-the-glass selection. The Laughing Heart has always been singular; it is only grammatically incorrect to say that these days it’s even more unique.

277 Hackney Rd, London, E2 8NA, London
Hackney E2 8NA, UK

19. Bright

1 Westgate St, London E8 3RL, UK

Bright opened in 2018. In the last 18 months, it has been so many things — bottle shop, traiteur, al fresco terrazza, hypebeast squid sando maven — that it is easy to forget that for the year and half before that it was quietly ploughing its own furrow as one of London’s most low-key clever and high-key delicious restaurants. Headed up by Will Gleave, the kitchen is not without an eye for the theatrical, especially when it comes to frying things (for that pre-pandemic lasagna fritta, see this summer’s courgette and anchovy number) but below the gorgeous surface has undeniably robust fundamentals. For all the eyecatching Gabrio Binis decorating the shelves, the list is likewise a case study in strength in depth, as well as a rebuke to anyone claiming natural wine is always overpriced.

1 Westgate St
London E8 3RL, UK

20. P. Franco

107 Lower Clapton Rd, Lower Clapton, London E5 0NP, UK

“Our band could be your life’,” sang The Minutemen on ‘History Lesson Part 2,’ and when P. Franco opened its doors for the first time midway through the last decade, it promised something similar. If great wine captures the essence of a time and a place, great wine bars do, too: for anyone trying to understand natural wine, and East London, and natural wine in East London, this remains the first port of call. Some of the team may have moved on to pastures new; these days it is Chase Lovecky doing extraordinary things with a fridge and an induction hob. P. Franco has changed, just like the world around it. But the lightning remains safely trapped in the bottle.

107 Lower Clapton Rd, Lower Clapton
London E5 0NP, UK

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