Finding a needle in a haystack might be hard, but finding a good quality yet affordable needle in a haystack is even harder. Likewise for BYO restaurants in London.
There are plenty of lists of BYO options in London (see these Google results), but when you look closer there is usually a catch. Many of them only offer corkage on a Monday night, which is a logical policy to encourage custom on the quietest night of the week, but for the same reason it's the least appealing night of the week to go out for dinner.
Others have prohibitive corkage charges (above £50 per bottle in some cases) or are located in distant parts of the city, or cook a particular style of food which might not be the most wine-friendly cuisine. Sometimes these places can work out perfectly - but in my experience, they are often not quite right.
Which is why I was so delighted to discover Foxlow. It's a small chain of casual restaurants with branches in Balham, Clerkenwell and best of all, Soho. It's an offshoot of Hawksmoor (itself a popular Monday-night BYO option, though the menu isn't cheap) and therefore has a good pedigree of well-sourced ingredients. The Foxlow menu is basic and the cooking is straightforward - and that's a very good thing. They have a choice of good steak, burgers and fried chicken plus one or two more fancy items, such as whole fried bream and smoked mackerel salad.
It's a relaxed room with good acoustics, friendly young staff and quick service. But the real kicker is unlimited, free corkage every Tuesday. I've been twice with a large group - most recently the bill came to £24 each, which bought us more food that we could finish, plus unlimited BYO.
BYO Tuesday with #thethirst11 - a Rioja from my birth year, courtesy of @mattwallswine, and an anonymous 1950s Carinena, courtesy of @RichardHemming, and apparently from the cellar of Hardy Rodenstock. My Campo Viejo Crianza 2016 is up next... pic.twitter.com/ILaffITMYA— Guy Woodward (@guyawoodward) March 13, 2018
Other underrated stars of tonight’s show, not including the 1973 El Coto Rioja reserva, this gracious dusty botella de garnacha from Cariñena circa 1950 made for a celebration that never happened (both still drinkable, tea leaf in essence, but still with great fruit considering, the latter particularly-bergamot and (non aromatic) incense spice, an experimental skin contact white Grenache from @herencialteswines, a @boroughwines Casa de la borracha, a delightful priorat from @alimann2001 and this Faustino 1994, thanks @guywoodward whose aroma was iodine and intense bar none... and a quality Verdejo from @berrybrosrudd #wine #byo #spain #foxlow #nosherryinsight #outrageous #txacolineither #andwedidntcrackthecava #priorat #garnaxta #grenache #carinena #faustino #rioja #vino #winechums #brilliant #Tuesday #yum🍷
It's not a Michelin-starred affair, and not trying to be. But for a good-quality casual dining option it is incredibly good value. Quite how they can stay profitable for £24/head I don't know, especially with the squeeze that so many restaurants are feeling right now. (In fact, their Chiswick branch has recently closed down, which I hope is a one-off.)
But there's no other restaurant in central London I know of that offers free mid-week corkage with good quality crowd-pleasing food. For the wine trade, this is a godsend - and we should make maximum use of it so that it doesn't get lost back in the haystack.