For a pre-theatre drink: Bedford & Strand
At this much-loved subterranean wine bar they tell it like it is. “Reliable” wines include dependable classics like Vin Pay’s d’Oc Sauvignon, while more of a splurge pushes you into “good” – old vine Californian Zinfandel and the like. Spindle-backed chairs, chequerboard tiling and a menu of bistro classics give the place a thoroughly French feel: it’s hard to believe you’re just a stumble from the West End. Head down an inconspicuous staircase on Bedford Street to find the entrance.
Bedford & Strand, 1A Bedford St, WC2E 9HH
Photograph courtesy of Bedford & Strand
For dinner with friends: Toast(ED)
Toast or Toasted, no one can quite agree, but there’s no debate as to whether this wine bar, restaurant and shop is worth the schlep out south to East Dulwich. Their ballsy, distinctive wines will be a revelation for the uninitiated. Sparkling reds, unusual sweets and cloudy-orange natural wines: you’ll find them all here. Exciting small plates such as raw grey mullet or sourdough beignets are dreamt-up daily to accompany the booze.
Toast(ed), 36 Lordship Lane, SE22 8HJ
For adventurous palates: Vivat Bacchus
You can’t fault Vivat Bacchus’s motto. Life is too short to drink bad wine. With bars on either side of the City in Clerkenwell and Southwark, this South African-run mini-chain once made a name for themselves hawking £1000 tasting menus to bankers, but have thankfully since reassessed their strategy. Though the décor’s not much to write home about, the new-world wine list and unusual menu (expect zebra and springbok) make it worth seeking out.
Vivat Bacchus, 47 Farringdon St, EC4A 4LL and 4 Hays Lane,
Photograph courtesy of Vivat Bacchus
For a meeting: 28°–50°
This “wine workshop” mini-chain is expanding apace. Created by Xavier Rousset and Agnar Sverrisson – the duo behind the Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant, Texture – this place has the smarter end of the market sewn up. Filament light bulbs, wrap-around bars and exposed brickwork typify their sleek, industrial vibe. The wine list is highly curated, with just fifteen reds and fifteen whites available by the glass, carafe or bottle at one time. The selection might range from a heavy, tannic Madiran to Spain’s rising star, the aromatic Albariño.
28o–50o, 15–17 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2NE; 140 Fetter Lane, EC4A 1BT; 17–19 Maddox Street W1S 2QH
For lunch: Vinoteca
Since opening their first branch in 2005, Vinoteca has expanded to four locations across the capital. These airy, accessible bars have a legion of fans and are just as welcoming during the day as after sundown. They’re known for tackling established wine wisdom, offering prosecco on tap and ten-litre “bag in a box” wines that are bottled on site. Above all, they pride themselves on offering “small production wines with huge character [and] real drinkability”.
Vinoteca, 7t John Street, EC1M 4AA; 15 Seymour Place, W1H 5BD; 53–55 Beak St, W1F 9SH; 18 Devonshire Road, W4 2HD
© Anna Berdnik/Shutterstock
For Francophiles: Terroirs
Terroirs is a little more grown up than some of the bars on this list, popular with a slightly older clientele. Stick to the ground floor, where the focus is on the wine rather than the food. As their moniker suggests, they try to find “wines that encapsulate the notion of terroir”, so expect to find plenty of natural and biodynamic bottles on the list. It’s the kind of place you can wash down a cracking white Burgundy with French bread, tartiflette and crème brûlée.
Terroirs, 5 William IV Street, WC2N 4DW
For a break from the shops: Antidote
Tucked just south of Oxford Street lies this little wine bar and restaurant, where organic wines and interesting small plates make the perfect pit-stop. Come early in the evening to bag one of the downstairs bar tables, or book in advance to splash out on a full meal in the main restaurant upstairs. Not sure what to try? You can't go wrong with a selection from their cheese and charcuterie menu.
Antidote, 12A Newburgh Street, London, W1F 7RR
Explore more of London with the Rough Guide to London. Book hostels for your trip, and don't forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. This feature was updated in January 2016.