Vinoteca Bloomberg: Review

One of the strangest things about London is that its oldest and in some ways most picturesque part, the City, is also one of the least explored. Down the medieval maze of streets, there are tailors, butchers, chop houses, historic pubs and churches by Hooke and Wren. On foggy nights, it’s not hard to imagine the London of Dickens, or even Pepys. But at weekends, all that life disappears. Apart from a few tourists looking at churches, the City is dead on a Saturday and Sunday. Who goes to the City except to work?

The Bloomberg Arcade aims to remedy this. Beneath the new London headquarters of media mogul and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, there are cafés, restaurants and shops. Its location opposite Cannon Street Station makes it perfect for South East London and Kent dwellers to come into town for some urban fun. If a few places took a chance on weekend opening, there’s no reason why the City should not become an eating and drinking destination like Borough, Spitalfields or Soho. If Canary Wharf can do it, then surely the City of London can.

At the moment, the Arcade, a not unattractive concrete building, houses some upmarket small chain restaurants including Caravan, Bleecker Burger and a Vinoteca, which we visited soon after it opened. It’s so new that it has a gluey smell, like a new car. The inside will feel familiar to anyone who has been to the King’s Cross branch; it’s the same cavernous industrial style space. On a Wednesday night at 6pm, the bar was heaving with people celebrating making a lot of money, or perhaps losing a lot of money. There is a proper restaurant menu offering chops, bavette steak (Vinoteca’s signature dish) and the like, but we just opted for drinks and snacks.

As you’d expect, Vinoteca has a fantastic wine list. They have have a special Wine Ledger aimed at big City wallets, with rare bottles such as Château Latour 1990 at £850 (you’d probably pay £700 retail for this, so that’s not a bad price), Vega Sicilia Unico 2005 at £317, and a mature Hunter Semillon from Tyrell’s a snip at £62. From the ordinary list, we liked the look of Urbina Seleccion 1999 Rioja at £38 a bottle – again not a bad price: it’s around £16 retail. Instead though we decided to attack the by-the-glass list. We were told that they will soon be offering tasting glasses of some of the rare wines using a Coravin. At the other end of the scale, they offer wines from bag-in-box for £4 a small glass.

Bag-in-box wines are all the rage at the moment, as are wines on tap. Vinoteca offer a delightfully vibrant Cinsault, a red grape, chilled from a keg for £5.20 a glass. Also extremely good was a Grauburgunder – that’s a Pinot Grigio to you – from Meyer-Nakel & Klump (£8.20). It’s totally different from the usually insipid Italian version, being full and complex. It’s one of those wines which is more about texture, how it feels in the mouth, rather being particularly fruity.

To help the wines go down, we had some very good fluffy foccacia with a peppery olive oil. Sadly, the rest of the food was a bit of mixed bag. A crab cooked au gratin was good, but the pork rillettes tasted like cat food-grade tuna. Feeling virtuous, we ordered a salad of beetroot and quinoa with an orange and chervil vinaigrette, which wasn’t bad but lacked punch – imagine what Ottolenghi would have done with something like that. The rare venison, Cashel Blue and walnut salad was similarly lacking in flavour, and at £9 seemed much too expensive for a tiny amount of food strewn artfully across the enormous plate. Our neighbour’s sobrasada, in contrast, looked delicious.

So we consoled ourselves with more wine. Our waitress recommended a crunchy Dolcetto from top Barolo producer G.D. Vajra (£7.40). Also superb was a spicy Banyuls (£8), a sweet port-like red from the South of France. The only wine miss was a Vin Doux from Greece (£4.50), which tasted and smelt like old lady’s soap.

We wish we liked the food more, because Vinoteca is a nice place to be. The service was impeccable, the staff very knowledgeable, and despite the cavernous space and the boomy music (one wonders why they bother with music as all you can hear is the bass), conversation isn’t too difficult. If you’re a City worker celebrating a corporate takeover or drowning your sorrows after losing billions, then it’s a worthy rival to places such as Planet of the Grapes. But the standard of wine bars all over London is now so high that we can’t see Vinoteca as a destination: why head into the City when you could go to, say, Winemakers in Deptford? To misquote a great City dweller, Samuel Johnson: Vinoteca is worth visiting, but not worth going to visit.

Vinoteca, 21 Bloomberg Arcade, EC4N 8AR

JOL was invited to review Vinoteca on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.

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