There’s a Wine Bar in London Ideal for Layovers and Lingers Alike
Ten years old, Terroirs still gets the details just right
On a recent stopover in London, I found myself with about an hour and a half to kill before taking the train to Stanstead. I was tired, sweaty, just off a three-hour train ride and in no state to show my face anywhere. So I made for a wine bar just-off Trafalgar Square. And, upon arrival, dilapidated wheely-bag in tow, I actually wasn’t laughed out of the room. I was given a seat at the bar, a glass of something delicious and orange, and a board of terrine, duck rillette and thick-sliced salami. I was restored.
Somehow, on the edge of a massive tourist hub, there exists a welcoming wine bar. It’s called Terroirs. An iconoclastic driver of the English natural wine scene when it opened in 2008, Terroirs has morphed into an institution. It’s cemented its status as a standby for restaurant industry folks, business power-lunchers, and tourists alike all while spawning a transcontinental fleet of wine bars and a raft of imitators in the process.
“The philosophy is simply this: eat well, drink well, in a lovely environment,” says Doug Wregg—a partner in the bar and its parent company, UK-based wine importer Les Caves de Pyrene. The wine list is all-natural, and the walls are bedecked with posters from indie wine fairs in the Loire and photos of legendary natural winemakers. But there is zero hint of exclusivity. The room is well-lit and inviting, multi-tiered with nooks and crannies to escape in and open spaces for unexpected conversation. A far cry from the super-hip dark natural wine bars that demand normcore clothes and at least four tattoos. This is a place for everyone.
The accessibility of Terroirs comes from its details. Chairs are slightly mismatched, weathered and comfortable. Bread arrives crisp and warm. The butter is generously flecked with sea salt. The wines are poured generously at ideal temperatures, and the staff are friendly and lively, unafraid to chide each other and easy to chat with. They get the little things right, no more so than in the food.
“We were fortunate to have Ed Wilson as our chef [when we opened],” says Wregg. “His enthusiasm, ability to create a strong team, and great menus, made for a restaurant that was worth the detour for the food.” Wilson now co-owns Brawn, a sister restaurant in East London, but his menu philosophy remains. They serve utterly simple food meant to back-up the wines: a great charcuterie board, anchovy toast, maybe a piece of baked cod or an onglet de boeuf (that’s hanger steak) and a ten-quid seasonal lunch special that comes with a glass of wine, today’s is a tomato & mozzarella risotto.
Simple food and natural wine might sound basic, but not many places manage to pull that off without somehow complicating things along the way. The natural wines, which remain unusual to most drinkers, are served with a gentle explanation and poured as tastes first, even by the glass. Nearly any palate could find something worthwhile without feeling judged or uncool in the process. Terroirs was the first natural wine bar in London, they know how important it is to ease a drinker in gently.
The bar has grown into something of a community space. It hosts movie screenings, weekly events, and special tastings, often with winemakers on hand. Its former employees have started legendary wine bars of their own, like the Remedy in Fitzrovia and the Naughty Piglets in Brixton, but they still show up at Terroirs for a tipple. The real community, however, comes in the way strangers at the bar, and between tables, share tastes of wine and bites of food. “One of the most exciting things about Terroirs in the early days was to see customers wandering across to tables to share some crazy bottle of wine they had just ordered,” says Wregg, “Terroirs was about breaking down barriers and letting people revel in the experience of wine without anyone judging them.”
Terroirs is celebrating its ten year anniversary this Autumn. If you find yourself in London, even for only an hour and a half, pop your head in and get restored.