My favourite wine bar, The Vine Above Earth, is only two minutes from a tube stop, but it is on a side street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights.
The wine list is far from the longest in town. Boasting hundreds of the world's most sought-after wines proves only that its architect has more money than imagination. The finer art is to compile a relatively short list that can beguile drinkers of every persuasion.
The Vine Above Earth carries fewer than 100 wines because they believe brevity is the soul of wine lists. They also serve a few local beers, some craft spirits and proper cider - but never cocktails. Cocktails belong to a different space with a different atmosphere, plus they take forever to serve.
Decor at The Vine is considered but informal. A large wooden bar dominates the room. Intimate tables pepper the rest of the space, and through a discreet back door lies a quiet paved terrace that catches the sun all afternoon. Stools and upturned barrels sit amid leafy shrubs in terracotta pots, and on the far wall water trickles into a small pool.
Back inside, the eye roams from low lamps with candescent filaments to a back bar chaotic with bottles and decanters, then up to rows of gleaming glassware hanging from racks above. A handwritten blackboard detailing wines by the glass claims the length of one wall, while the others feature a hotchpotch of framed prints and old photographs.
Like the wine list, music at The Vine ranges from obscure to familiar, with one unifying theme: it's all good. It never intrudes, but plays along to the hum of conversation, radiating mellowness both subliminal and sublime.
Food is ancillary to wine at The Vine. Plates of cured ham and various cheeses are shared across tables, accompanied by warm bread and good olives. A select few dishes waft their scent as they are carried past: garlic prawns, earthy mushrooms, citric calamari.
The people sitting here are as diverse as the wines being served. This is not a place of niche exclusivity, it suits anyone with curiosity and good taste. It's always busy but never crowded.
And nobody is on their phones.
This piece (and especially the opening sentence) was inspired by George Orwell's paean to the perfect pub, The Moon Under Water - which famously doesn't exist. Perhaps the perfect wine bar doesn't exist either - but here are five London classics that I reckon come very close.
- The Remedy, Cleveland Street W1
- The 10 Cases, Endell St WC2
- Sager + Wilde, 193 Hackney Road E2
- Vinoteca King's Cross, King's Boulevard N1
- 28-50 Marylebone, Marylebone Lane W1