They have both a weekend brunch menu & an à la carte menu
I had the sneaking suspicion before I ever entered The Kensington Wine Rooms (TKWR) that I was going to love (not just like) this place. Opened about 7 weeks ago, it is one of the only places in London to have Enomatic wine dispensing machines. These clever devices keep bottles of wine at the perfect temperature and serve the wine in three sizes – a taste (a half-shot), a small glass or a large glass. The food has been rumored to be pretty good too. So, needless to say, the ‘bar’ was set pretty high in terms of expectations.
In order to celebrate moving into a new flat (completed on Saturday) and my belated birthday, we had called ahead to book a table for 2 for lunchtime on Sunday. This turned out to be unnecessary as the place was fairly empty when we got there. Our smiling French waiter promptly greeted and seated us at our table, which was in the bar area (the front half of the place) and which had a card with our name and the time of the booking clearly displayed on it.
The interior design of the place is very pleasant overall. There is a definite but subtle wine theme running throughout, with the upholstered bench seating across the walls in the bar area being decorated in a burgundy colour with an abstract circular pattern that has clear wine bottle connotations. There is also a lovely circular table which can seat about 6-8 people in the bar area, which echoes of wine. In addition to a number of smaller tables in the bar area, there are also some skinnier raised rectangular tables with comfortable stools (that have lower back support!). The rest of the bar area is mostly modern dark wood, and the smallish bar also displays some impressive hanging cured meats, chili peppers and other assorted foodstuffs (a good sign of things to come). I say ‘small’ bar, because the sleek stainless steel Enomatic machines take up a lot of the wall space, and these are the primary focus when you walk in. My only aesthetic complaint in the bar area is that the inside of the facade’s wall is painted in too crisp a white and doesn’t really blend with the dark wood and burgundy fabrics.
The rear part of the venue is pleasant, bright and surprisingly big. It is arranged in various different table sizes, and there is a very nice exposed brick wall covering the entire back wall of the restaurant. This is where you can have more of a proper sit-down meal should you want to. It still retains a very nice casual air, which is consistent with the overall nice-but-not-stuffy atmosphere of the place.
The Food & Drink
The menu on offer at the time we dined was a ‘Weekend Brunch Menu’. It had a small but nice selection of options, from some small plates (assorted charcuterie amongst others), to a few traditional brunch options (various iterations of eggs Benedict) to more traditional European lunch fare with a bit of flare (bavette and fillet cuts of steak, a few salads, etc). All of the dishes on the menu have a suggested wine pairing beneath (with the price of a small and large glass clearly displayed). I was informed that during the week, they have mostly utilize a small plate menu, and that for lunch there is a 2-course (£12.50) and 3-course- (£14.50) deal.
I settled on the tempura-style fish and chips, accompanied by minted mushy peas, while my wife opted for the spinach and goats cheese salad. We both had the suggested wine pairings, mine being a blend of Verdelho and Albarino from Spain, and my wife’s being an Australian Sauvignon Blanc. After ordering, the manager came over to us and explained that in addition to the table service, you can purchase a card (which can be topped up with any amount of money you want), which you can then use to serve yourself from the Enomatic wine machines. This means that you can get up whenever you want and select a taste or a glass of whatever wine you and your fellow diners fancy – that’s cool in my book.
While we were waiting for our food and wine to arrive, we walked around and had a closer look at the machines, which digitally display the price of a tasting portion of each wine in red. The staff have also written up short tasting notes for each wine beneath the bottle, along with the price of a small and large glass.
Our food arrived relatively quickly, and looked very nice. The main part of my dish (the fish) was served in 2 long and skinny tubes of light tempura batter, and was very fresh and tasty. It was accompanied by hand-cut chips (which still had the skins on), which were perfectly crispy, hot and well salted (not too much, not too little). The small dish of mushy peas was accented nicely by the mint and had a good, thick texture (slightly sinewy, maybe by virtue of the mint leaves and/or the pea shoots being blended in). The other accompaniment was a homemade tartar sauce, which is one of the best I’ve tasted – with the richness being perfectly balanced by the right level of sharp acidity. I started dipping my fries in the tartar sauce instead of the ketchup I had poured after a while. The wine went down a treat with the fish – but then again Albarino and fish are meant to go hand in hand :). It was very crip, dry and light – and had some length – so was a nice complement to the dish. All in all, a very good combo.
My wife’s salad was also very good – and let me tell you, she is very picky with her salads as she is French and makes some very mean salads and vinaigrettes herself. The goats cheese itself was excellent, and the freshness and flavor of the spinach and other greens was impressive, especially given the fact that we were eating on a Sunday (which often means a lack of fresh ingredients in the kitchen). She couldn’t fault the vinaigrette which, as I said before, is saying something. Her accompanying wine was surprisingly good for the price. It was very complex for an Aussie Sauvignon (more Pouilly-Fume) and had a nice hint of passion fruit on the nose, with an underlying minerality on the palate and a lingering length.
Instead of going for one of the deserts (the baked chocolate mousse with black pepper ice cream paired with a sweet French Grenache sounded good), we opted for the English cheese plate. The manager kindly gave us a selection of all 4 cheeses (from Neal’s Yard Dairy) on offer in a 1-person portion, which we shared. There was a Stilton (very strong but very good), a camembert-type soft cheese (my favorite), a mature cheddar, and a youngish goats cheese (also excellent). They were matched with a sweet Australian Muscat, which really stole the show. The wine was perfectly chilled and was divine. Lots of raisin on the nose; fresh Seville orange and burnt caramel on the palate…it was perfect with the cheese and would be very good on its own.
As you can probably already tell, I really liked TKWR. The concept/format is fairly new to London, and I really hope it becomes a success. The owner of TKWR, Thor Gudmundsson, has set up a successful chain of pubs in France (that takes balls!), so hopefully this UK venture will follow a similar path. It provides a great alternative to the pub, and the fact that you can walk in and try a Chateau Margaux for £12.73 (granted, that’s only for a taste, not a glass!) is pretty cool.
TKWR’s atmosphere is nice but casual, which I like – it was pretty empty when we were there so it would be good to see it on a weekday evening, when I imagine it would have a nice buzz. The staff are helpful, informative and friendly (but not too friendly). The food – from the small sampling we had – is top-notch (which you don’t necessarily expect from a ‘wine bar’, with the other notable exception being Terroirs) and is also fairly priced, with most starters around or under £5 and most mains around or under £10 (except for the steaks). The wine is also priced well, and I like the fact that the place also functions as a retail shop and that you can buy any of the wines at non-restaurant retail price and take them away (there is a separate retail shop price list for the wines, which on average are slightly less than half of the in-restaurant price).
My only beefs would be (and I am clutching here) that (1) they should offer a broader selection of new world wines as Western Europe, Chile and Australia seem to dominate (2) for me, the menu was a tad too short – I would consider adding 2 more dishes, and (3) there is only one of them and it is not quite within walking distance of my flat!
For more about my rating scale, click here.
*Note: I have only been to TKWR once, only tried a small selection of food, and the restaurant was nearly empty when I dined there.*