Vinoteca Farringdon, at the Smithfield market end of St John Street, has been a Barbican favourite ever since it first opened around 10 years ago. It is a combination restaurant and wine shop – much in the Italian Enoteca style, but with a far more varied wine selection from around the world. The food it serves is perhaps best described as British/European and has always attracted great reviews from diners.
Our local Vinoteca is the original, opened in 2005, but its success has spawned four more branches – in Chiswick, Marylebone, Soho and their most recent, and most ambitious opening, in Kings Cross – each with their own individual chefs who have put their own stamp on the fairly compact menus on offer. The chef at Vinoteca Farringdon is John Cook who has returned to Vinoteca after a stint as head chef at the late lamented Kentish Canteen.
The restaurant is quite small and unpretentious with polished wooden tables and wooden chairs fairly tightly packed into the space. It has a great buzz and atmosphere and a reputation for serving reasonably priced and very tasty food and boasts a remarkable wine list. The front of the restaurant can be opened out in fine weather to extend the space onto the pavement. Tables may be booked at lunchtimes, but in the evenings – often very busy – it works on a walk-in policy which means, at peak times, you may have to wait for a table to become available – but there’s always a great selection of wines available at the bar to help while away any waiting time. The Michelin Guide describes it thus “This cosy and enthusiastically run ‘bar and wine shop’ is always busy and full of life. The thrilling wine list is constantly evolving and the classic European dishes, cured meats and cheeses are ideal accompaniments.”
Vinoteca Farringdon has recently had a light facelift, but those familiar with it before won’t see anything to upset them. The food remains pretty much as before – a small varied menu with a daily changing ‘dish of the day’ very much bistro-style and, as always, a great selection of wines (they say 285 different wines are available, mostly from small producers from around 20 different countries). There is a changing listing of around 20 different wines available by the glass and the menu also suggests wines by the glass to be paired with each course.
As to the food the menu offers a selection of seven starters varying in price from £6-11, five regular mains from £12-£16.50 plus a dish of the day which usually comes in at £10 and four desserts (£5-5.50) plus a selection of cheeses and biscuits to follow. The restaurant makes its own bread served warm to the table.
For starters we chose chicken liver paté, homemade pickles and toast (£6.50) – a very generous portion which was much appreciated by my dining companion – and mussels cooked in white wine with smoked bacon and lovage (£6.50) – also a fairly decent serving for the price, and good.
Mains – my companion chose hake with cannelloni beans, chorizo, spring greens and caper sauce (£15) well-presented and excellent flavours.
I chose slow roast shoulder of lamb with broad beans, pearl barley and beetroot leaves (£16) with the lamb able to be eaten with a fork alone if one wished. Again a good combination of flavours. By all accounts too their bavette steak, served medium rare (seems to be no choice here) with herbes de Provence butter, chips and horseradish sauce at £16.50 comes in for good praise from reviewers.
For dessert I thought at least I should try one – all in the line of duty of course! Had the Vanilla cheesecake with blackberry coulis (£5.50). Nice but nothing too out of the ordinary. The coulis was laden with blackberry fruit which was a pleasant surprise rather than it all being just a thick sieved or blended sauce which tends to be the norm.
So pricewise, not bad for the area. Three courses came in at £27.50. Add in a couple of glasses of wine (small glasses – 125ml – start at £3.50 for white and £3.70 for red) and you could probably get away with around £35 a head plus service, or perhaps nearer £30 if one takes the main dish of the day and less still if one sticks to tap water to wash it all down. Personally, for a light lunch I’d probably just go for a couple of the excellent starters – definitely including the paté as one of them – and a glass of wine – costing up to say around £20 in total.
It’s also worth noting that on Mondays Vinoteca offers diners taking a main course wine by the bottle at wine shop retail prices which saves on average at least 50% over restaurant wine list prices.
The restaurant also has a private dining room downstairs from the restaurant and wine shop – also recently refurbished – which offers a completely exclusive space with its own kitchen, personal chef, and dedicated waiting staff. It can seat up to 30 people or 40 standing
Vinoteca is at 7 Saint John Street, London EC1M 4AA, and is open from 12 noon to 11 pm Monday to Saturday. Telephone 020 7253 8786 for lunchtime reservations.