A basic Covent Garden bistro offering an ever-changing wine selection, and a menu of brutal simplicity; an early-days visit suggested this appealing-sounding formula is in need of a little refinement.
The idea sounds so attractive. A bistro named after its ever-changing wine selection: ten whites and ten reds, all bought in (at most) ten case parcels. Offer straightforward food to go with it, and serve it in a cramped and decidedly no-nonsense setting handy for, say, the Royal Opera House. Et voilÃ !
Well, not quite: we found the reality less compelling. Let’s start with the ‘marquee attraction’: the wine list. There’s just one house champagne, from a little producer called’ Moët & Chandon. Wouldn’t your typical oenophile hope to be introduced to some marque rather less grande than the world’s biggest fizz? It seemed an odd start.
Rather similarly, the list of still wines seemed disappointingly straightforward for a place that plays on its wine appeal. But the main impression was how expensive the wines were by the glass.
Surely the joy of a place like this is to sample? Yet 1/6-bottle glasses of wine are generally priced somewhere round one third the price of a full bottle. Why a premium approaching 100% for samplers? And if you’re going to offer just one dessert wine, should it be a Sauternes at £10 a glass?
The blackboard menu is short to the point of brutal. Three main courses always available, and a changing, but very small, selection of more transient plats, most so straightforward that their description requires no more than a couple of words. Puddings were tarts – pear or lemon?
It makes perfect sense for a small kitchen to do a few things well, but results here were variable. Starting at the end, with those tarts, the one we chose (pear, as it happens) was dull and a bit flabby.
Earlier dishes had their highs and lows. The house salad – a warm affair with pancetta and a duck’s egg on top – was described by a guest as a ‘warm mush’. A tranche of salmon, however, was unusually well cooked – evenly all through, which is no easy feat. A chicken terrine was straightforward, and none the worse for that.
Bread was pretty horrible. Hardly surprising: baguettes in London are almost always like cotton wool. But this isn’t a French restaurant. Why not give people the best local-style bread? Or, in London, pain rustique is invariably a better choice. The coffee was unremarkable too.
So a rather muted welcome from us for an operation we rather expected to like. It seems to us that if you hone your operation down to the essentials, you better be pretty damn sure that you’ve got those essentials right. Quite a lot of work required, we think, to reach that position here.