clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Guests sit at two windows of a small, bistrot-style restaurant, with a black door in the middle.
Rita’s, in Soho, has one of the best short wine lists in London
Ben McMahon

London’s Most Exceptional Short Wine Lists

Compelling, curated wine lists that add up to more than the sum of their parts

View as Map
Rita’s, in Soho, has one of the best short wine lists in London
| Ben McMahon

What constitutes a “short wine list” depends entirely on context. The Star Wine List panel each year doles out awards for “Best Short List:” eligible restaurants will have less than 200 bins on their menu. Relative to some of the world’s greatest and most comprehensive lists, a list hosting only 199 wines may indeed seem quaint. But, simply put, it’s still a fairly sizeable menu. And at that scale, restaurants and bars inevitably have heftier buying power, flexibility, and room to move — taking the burden off any single wine needing to be an absolute standout.

There’s therefore something incredibly challenging about putting together a wine list of only 10, 20, 30 wines, since each needs to stand alone, do something exceptional and versatile with the food offerings at hand, and must capture the attention of a wide audience.

Listed here are a few spots around London that have compiled brief but compelling, curated little wine lists that add up to more than the sum of their parts.

For London’s best natural wine bars, find the guide here.

For more general wine drinking here.

And for anyone interested in checking out Eater editors’s favourite summer wines over at RAW, check here.

Cheers.

Read More
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Norman's Cafe

Copy Link

This throwback cafe is so worth the visit even if there’s no intention of drinking wine alongside your full English. So quaint is the space, the service as brusque and hurried as anyone could hope to find in a proper caff’, the food perfectly pitched, quietly elevated version of the nostalgic favourites. There’s confidence in a space like this, built into its concept and execution, and now that’s carried over to a quick and straightforward little wine list for those looking to expand their brunch routine. The list is simple, approachable, and everything on it functions in the world of “breakfast wine.” As it should. 

This undeniably vibey little Soho spot offers plenty of extremely tempting drops, from a neatly curated cocktail list to the wildly fabulous wet gin martini-gildas combo. Tucked between the zine-like pages of the space’s drinks list you’ll find a sweet and simple wine selection with buzzy, energetic wines that suit the room and snacks to a tee. Christophe Lindenlaub’s Je Suis au Jardin muscat gives a bit of prickly acidity and just a whisper of that varietal-led stone fruit note: a perfect pair for the sweet-spicy, somewhat international array of flavours hosted here.

Frankly, wine wouldn’t be the first thing that most people would reach for in a space serving up spice-led, sour and fragrant northern Thai cuisine. And yet, at Kiln, the list slots in nicely alongside a few fresh, simple cocktails and cold draught beer served in frosted mugs. Here, the skin contact section makes brilliant sense alongside the food. A bit of tannic structure from maceration and a touch of savoury fruit stands up to the powerful flavours coming out of the kitchen. And quite smartly, many of the wines listed across the categories have a bit of that savoury grippy edge, so needed against a challenging menu pairing like Kiln’s. 

Garden Museum

Copy Link

A little jewel tucked into the grey, hurried Thames-adjacent scene in Lambeth, the Garden Museum Cafe brings diners into a calm, airy, green space for a bit of reprieve from the London happening just outside. Beautifully executed, seasonal dishes are a star in their own right alongside the idyllic setting, and a quick one-page wine list allows diners to slip into the experience without too much fuss. Clean, versatile, and effortless wines suit the space so clearly; a simple verdicchio eases one dish into the next with a bit of ripeness and texture, not trying to be the star of the show, just elaborating on an already beautiful experience. 

The Plimsoll

Copy Link

On first glance, The Plimsoll appears very much like any other neighbourhood pub: a bit of bunting, wood panelling, a few dusty lampshades and well-worn chairs here and there. But in the kitchen something quite exciting is happening — the Four Legs popup, born in lockdown and now a full-blown operation in its own right, is turning out exciting small plates of food that are at once both casual and well-designed, entirely simple but decidedly new. Against the backdrop of the buzzy kitchen, post-punk, and a sea of 20-somethings seemingly just out of fashion school, there’s an interesting little wine list being put together by the team that features some exciting bottles you won’t see everyday in a pub. Orange wines by Cantina Giardino certainly fit the brief, and for those wanting something a bit lighter on the ABV, the list boasts some impeccable Skyborry ciders from Wales. 

Towpath

Copy Link

There’s always a hesitation in writing about the Towpath Cafe, should too many people catch on to the sheer pleasure coming from this tiny, Regent’s Canal-front space, and that one day there will be queues rounding the bends and turns of the river until ever-increasing numbers of those unlucky last diners will be turned away to go in search of some deeply disappointing alimentation further afield. But such is the nature of food and wine writing, and good things cannot be gatekept for the sake of this writer’s midweek rituals. Much has been said about the joy and humility of the food at Towpath and how the simplicity of each thing combined makes for a symphonic experience. The wine list is exactly as you’d want it to be, short and well-curated; just lovely, versatile wines that find a happy home on the table. Malauva Bianco, for instance, is pitch-perfect for a leisurely afternoon sat at Towpath, gaze fixed outwards onto the canal, as dishes find their way to the table in a delicious crescendo. 

Brilliant Corners

Copy Link

Brilliant Corners has quietly been turning out one of the best-curated short lists for years, giving east Londoners the option to drink some exceptional wines while on a night out on the high-fidelity 1’s and 2’s. Ever-changing and always interesting, the selection ranges from the easy and straightforward to the elegant and esoteric, oscillating coolly between both with intersections and rounded edges. There’s something exceptional to drink here in all corners of the menu, be it Vergano vermouths or Neta mezcals, so it’s hard to go wrong. But with a group, there’s always joy to be had in the magnum section.

Norman's Cafe

This throwback cafe is so worth the visit even if there’s no intention of drinking wine alongside your full English. So quaint is the space, the service as brusque and hurried as anyone could hope to find in a proper caff’, the food perfectly pitched, quietly elevated version of the nostalgic favourites. There’s confidence in a space like this, built into its concept and execution, and now that’s carried over to a quick and straightforward little wine list for those looking to expand their brunch routine. The list is simple, approachable, and everything on it functions in the world of “breakfast wine.” As it should. 

Rita's

This undeniably vibey little Soho spot offers plenty of extremely tempting drops, from a neatly curated cocktail list to the wildly fabulous wet gin martini-gildas combo. Tucked between the zine-like pages of the space’s drinks list you’ll find a sweet and simple wine selection with buzzy, energetic wines that suit the room and snacks to a tee. Christophe Lindenlaub’s Je Suis au Jardin muscat gives a bit of prickly acidity and just a whisper of that varietal-led stone fruit note: a perfect pair for the sweet-spicy, somewhat international array of flavours hosted here.

Kiln

Frankly, wine wouldn’t be the first thing that most people would reach for in a space serving up spice-led, sour and fragrant northern Thai cuisine. And yet, at Kiln, the list slots in nicely alongside a few fresh, simple cocktails and cold draught beer served in frosted mugs. Here, the skin contact section makes brilliant sense alongside the food. A bit of tannic structure from maceration and a touch of savoury fruit stands up to the powerful flavours coming out of the kitchen. And quite smartly, many of the wines listed across the categories have a bit of that savoury grippy edge, so needed against a challenging menu pairing like Kiln’s. 

Garden Museum

A little jewel tucked into the grey, hurried Thames-adjacent scene in Lambeth, the Garden Museum Cafe brings diners into a calm, airy, green space for a bit of reprieve from the London happening just outside. Beautifully executed, seasonal dishes are a star in their own right alongside the idyllic setting, and a quick one-page wine list allows diners to slip into the experience without too much fuss. Clean, versatile, and effortless wines suit the space so clearly; a simple verdicchio eases one dish into the next with a bit of ripeness and texture, not trying to be the star of the show, just elaborating on an already beautiful experience. 

The Plimsoll

On first glance, The Plimsoll appears very much like any other neighbourhood pub: a bit of bunting, wood panelling, a few dusty lampshades and well-worn chairs here and there. But in the kitchen something quite exciting is happening — the Four Legs popup, born in lockdown and now a full-blown operation in its own right, is turning out exciting small plates of food that are at once both casual and well-designed, entirely simple but decidedly new. Against the backdrop of the buzzy kitchen, post-punk, and a sea of 20-somethings seemingly just out of fashion school, there’s an interesting little wine list being put together by the team that features some exciting bottles you won’t see everyday in a pub. Orange wines by Cantina Giardino certainly fit the brief, and for those wanting something a bit lighter on the ABV, the list boasts some impeccable Skyborry ciders from Wales. 

Towpath

There’s always a hesitation in writing about the Towpath Cafe, should too many people catch on to the sheer pleasure coming from this tiny, Regent’s Canal-front space, and that one day there will be queues rounding the bends and turns of the river until ever-increasing numbers of those unlucky last diners will be turned away to go in search of some deeply disappointing alimentation further afield. But such is the nature of food and wine writing, and good things cannot be gatekept for the sake of this writer’s midweek rituals. Much has been said about the joy and humility of the food at Towpath and how the simplicity of each thing combined makes for a symphonic experience. The wine list is exactly as you’d want it to be, short and well-curated; just lovely, versatile wines that find a happy home on the table. Malauva Bianco, for instance, is pitch-perfect for a leisurely afternoon sat at Towpath, gaze fixed outwards onto the canal, as dishes find their way to the table in a delicious crescendo. 

Brilliant Corners

Brilliant Corners has quietly been turning out one of the best-curated short lists for years, giving east Londoners the option to drink some exceptional wines while on a night out on the high-fidelity 1’s and 2’s. Ever-changing and always interesting, the selection ranges from the easy and straightforward to the elegant and esoteric, oscillating coolly between both with intersections and rounded edges. There’s something exceptional to drink here in all corners of the menu, be it Vergano vermouths or Neta mezcals, so it’s hard to go wrong. But with a group, there’s always joy to be had in the magnum section.

Related Maps