WINTERY WINE & CHEESE NIGHTS

Wine and cheese. The classier, Frenchier version of a pint and a packet of crisps. And while the French may produce the stuff better than we do, us Londoners are undoubtedly better at eating and drinking it. So here’s where you should be indulging yourself:

Grays and Feather

As Charles Beaudelaire so philosophically put in the 1850s, “One should always be drunk.” He was French, so he should know. It is rather fitting, therefore, that Grays and Feather has taken over the former office of his literary contemporary – and London’s favourite scamp – Charles Dickens, for us all to take heed of his advice. Whimsical in its interior, with the stunning Rococo picture window taking centre stage (only slightly upstaged by the stuffed peacock) G&F posits itself as a haven for wunderlusting wine drinkers; the only region of wine to be celebrated here is global.

Specialising in sparkling wines, from English fizz to Brazilian Bruts, you won’t even notice the absence of Champagne from the 70-strong menu (sorry Chaz). Each wine comes with a story of its origin, so you can bore/impress your friends on your next visit. So as not to upstage the wine (or you), food is limited to a few small plates of wine-friendly cold assemblies such as miso-cured aubergine, smoked salmon tartare and the always highly anticipated cheese sharing board. It is said that Dickens would drink a pint of sparkling wine of an afternoon before writing. Don’t mind if we do.

Noble Rot Wine Bar

Sounding like most of the stuff that comes out of The Cabinet these days, Noble Rot is in fact one of those places you’d want to spend time in. More than that, you may never want to leave. A wine bar and restaurant, it’s one of those places that is as reliable as the old family labrador for comfort and exuberance. They should know their stuff, they also run a wine magazine of the same name and ex-head sommeliers of Hawksmoor, Clove Club and Sager + Wilde are counted among the staff. Don’t be put off by the fancy Bloomsbury townhouse you find yourself in, the convivial-yet-boisterous Franglaise atmosphere is reflected in both the wine list and unfussy – albeit exquisite – food menu. Much like the rather relaxed interior.

OK, so the wine list may look a little like the old-school Yellow Pages in terms of length, but staff are more than happy to point out a few options that will keep both your palate and wallet happy. Food is excellently paired to plonk, and on the right side of fancy; braised Hereford ox cheek sits happily on the menu alongside gnocchi with garlic cream, and puddings hark back to school favourites like steamed ginger sponge with custard, and warm chocolate mousse.

P Franco

This unassuming Clapton wine bar changed the game entirely when it started bringing in chefs to cook for drinkers from its two basic induction hobs at the end of the one communal table. The result has been a series of fantastic residencies that have seen some of the most inventive, exciting, restaurant-quality food served up alongside the beautiful natural wines that P Franco was already known for. Couple that with the super relaxed convivial atmosphere – and the impossibly friendly and knowledgeable staff – and you’ve got yourself one of the most exciting places to eat and drink in London.

Currently finessing the hobs is natural wine darling Seb Myers who cut his teeth working under Nuno Mendes at Viajante before going on to run the kitchen at Chiltern Firehouse, The Laughing Heart and then most recently at the renowned Auberge de Chassignolles in the French countryside. We can expect his food to be hyper-seasonal and with the kind of French decadence we all crave in the winter months.

WC Clapham

Toilets and romance, like George Michael unfortunately found out, do not necessarily go hand-in-hand, as it were. Yet bucking that trend is the rather cleverly-named WC Clapham, a wine and charcuterie bar located in a (thankfully disused and disinfected) subterranean Edwardian public bog. As diverse as the venue may be, the wine list follows suit with an ever-changing selection of Old and New World while the food menu centres on everyone’s favourite: cheese. It is almost disgustingly romantic with all the candlelight, black leather banquette seating and original mosaic tiling, as is their street-level alfresco terrace.

From the humble cheese board paired with a bottle of Savvy B to the oozing Reblochon of the trouser-busting tartiflette, our card comes out most for the Malbec and garlicky baked camembert during the live acoustic sets every Sunday evening. Finally, a WC with more class than ass.

Sager & Wilde

You’ve got to be pretty confident in your offering to name a place after yourself, and luckily for Michael Sager and Charlotte Wilde, it’s good enough to whack their first names up there too. And their middle. DOB. And pin code. If exposed brickwork, dim lighting, and up-cycled London-drain-cover décor sounds like your cup of tea – coupled with an extensive and handpicked wine list – then this is the place for you. It’s the kind of wine bar you take a first date to, only to return a year later on your anniversary. Simultaneously cool and welcoming, don’t be intimidated by the overflowing wine racks or abundance of choice on the menu. The bar staff are well versed at matching the perfect wine with your palette or choice of cheese / charcuterie board. You can order nearly all by the glass, but who are we kidding, you’ll be staying for the bottle. With a cheese toastie to polish it all off with.

Humble Grape

In our humble opinion, the humble grape should always be consumed in an ancient church crypt. Luckily for you and us, the Humble Grape in Fleet Street offers exactly that. Beneath St. Bride’s church you’ll find a heavenly wine bar with a love for sustainable wine at its heart. Each bottle on offer – over 400 – is personally selected by the owners who have travelled the world seeking out the best production vineyards. If you’re not sure what to drink then they’ll happily offer you a few tasters until you find the perfect glass. As an independent wine merchant you can also purchase bottles to take from their collection every Monday.

They offer up a pretty decent breakfast menu (sans wine unfortunately) with classic favourites like eggs benny, shakshuka and smashed avo. But you’re here for the wine, so come during the evening for a cheese plate, or something more substantial like thyme and garlic flat iron steak or duck breast with cranberry sauce. Or simply crack open a bottle to enjoy with the live jazz every Wednesday. This is a date spot par excellence.

Good Neighbour

What makes a decent neighbour? Is it not complaining about your third dinner party of the year that has descended into you and your friends singing along to 90s hip hop at full volume? Is it not stealing your Yodel delivery that the driver has carelessly left in your shared driveway? Or is it an endless supply of charcuterie, small plates and fantastic wine? The answer is all three, but this neighbour is all about the latter.

One look at the flickering candlelight, the comfy banquette seating and enticing menu of sharing foods should tell you: this is an excellent choice. The food menu changes regularly but you should expect some fantastic cheeses and charcuterie; dishes of well-dressed veggies like fennel, blood orange and almond salad; and seafood and meat small plates like a wild boar ravioli or salted cod with spiced cauliflower and pear with most things sitting comfortably between £5 and £10. The wines are great too, with a nice selection for less than £30 and a few above for if you’re feeling splashy.

La Fromagerie

It’s all about Friday night down at the ol’ La Fromagerie (read in a Del Boy accent for added effect) in Marylebone, and it’s all about the cheese lovers. This infamous cheese shop opens up its tasting cafe for an evening of wine and cheese (obviously), as well as a selection of small plates that include roast artichoke hearts, halloumi fries, and slightly larger plates of duck confit and Scottish venison and mushroom pie. Everything is paired to something from the shop’s extensive wine archives, which is why coming for their scrumptious weekend brunch or lunchtime selection of doorstop sarnies seems a little pointless if there’s no wine involved, even though there is plenty of cheese. It’s worth booking ahead for these Friday evenings as, unsurprisingly, cheese and wine is a very popular way to start the weekend.

The Laughing Heart

If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to have a classy night out down the dodgy end of Hackney Road in Bethnal Green, then it may come as a surprise that yes, yes you can. Named after the jovial Charles Bukowski poem, The Laughing Heart is a bottle-shop-cum-late-night-wine-bar-cum-restaurant. With archetypal exposed brick walls, it’s the mezzanine you want to head for to indulge in a late night bottle or two from their extensive list, paired with something from head chef Tom Anglesea’s contemporary British food menu; it’s seasonal, so you’ll find anything from Yorkshire rabbit tortellini to Cornish squid. Open until 2am at the weekend, if you’ve found a bottle you’re particularly fond of then head downstairs to the off licence to pick up a couple for a nightcap when you get back home.

Winemakers Club

If you walk beneath the arches under the impressive Holborn Viaduct you can’t help but notice a giant red door with the words “Winemakers Club” emblazoned across the top. And as soon as you walk through said red doors, it’s as if you have stumbled into the HQ of some secret society. With wine. Impressive and romantic, the 150-year-old domed brick room is illuminated by the flickering of candles bouncing off hundreds of bottles of wine. Aside from the dramatic setting, the available wines are diverse in their selection from Hungary to Australia and are – thankfully – very reasonably priced by the glass or bottle. The food offering is simple and focuses mostly on cheese (thank god).