Monday, 20 February 2012

Vinoteca, Marylebone

So, after a monster weekend spent with 20 friends in a Dorset farmhouse, followed a by a treacherous slide home up the M40 in a snow storm, meeting the wedding photographer was really the last thing I felt like doing on Monday morning. As it turns out it really wasn't too bad. We drank copious amounts of strong coffee, walked the lovely back streets of Marylebone, and nearly crashed someone else's marriage ceremony. Pretty good for a morning's work.

In need of some sustenance, we decided to combine a visit to view the reception venue, the Marylebone branch of Vinoteca, with a spot of lunch. After kindly being shown down stairs for a quick recce of the private dining/cellar area, we made our way back up to the light, yet cosy, dining and bar room for some food.

Vinoteca's concept is all very simple; an all day wine bar/restaurant serving a great range of wines, available by the glass or bottle (or to take away), and a short, daily-changing menu of bar snacks and meals. Quick glass of prosecco (on tap) and a plate of British cheeses at the bar; three course meal with coffee and chocolates; mid afternoon meat plate, washed down with a cheeky red? No problem. The bread's baked fresh in house, meat is from Smithfield, fish and seafood sustainable and the fruit and veg is all seasonal. What's not to like?

Well, not much actually, in fact the only downside of our visit was my delicate condition. I wish I could say I felt full of the joy's of spring, but in reality I felt full of a nasty cold and desperately sorry for myself. Despite this, dear reader, I felt it was my duty to you to sample at least one of their carefully selected 300 bin list. Wine matches are given for each dish, but I decide to go off piste and enjoyed a nice, chunky Spanish tempranillo, that tasted a bit like chewing a pencil (in a good way). The Ewing needed a little less persuading and chose the recommended match for her fish dish, a zippy Malvasia Bianca from Monterey.

The basket of good bread and olive oil made a dent in our hunger while choosing our mains, but I couldn't see Middlewhite pork cracklings on the menu and not order them too. Pure joy; crispy, crunchy chewy and bristly strips of pig skin, perfectly paired with a chunky, sharp apple puree. Yours for only two quid.

The Ewing went with a rather refined dish of halibut served with new potatoes, oyster cream sauce and purple sprouting broccoli. The fish had a very good, crispy crust, but was cooked just a minute over for my taste. The sauce, despite being sans pieces of oyster, had a nice, briny depth to cut through the cream and it was good to get some cruciferous veg on board after the excesses of the weekend.

My bavette with triple cooked chips and watercress is the stalwart of their changing menu, and it seems that practise make perfect. Despite being a big fan of steak I rarely order it when out, finding it can often be cooked badly and served in meagre potions. No such problems here; the huge pile of protein had been cooked perfectly rare and tasted wonderfully of blood, salt and smoke. The perfect panacea for my wan state.

The chips were more like the bastard hybrid of a wedge and a roastie, but were none the worse for that. The bitter edge of the watercress and bite of the fresh horseradish provided the perfect foil.

We both far too full to contemplate puddings or cheeses. A real shame, as I was desperate to try a spoon or two of the buttermilk panna cotta with poached rhubarb. We did, however, manage to squeeze in an espresso each and share a plate of  delicious coffee and chocolate truffles.

Vinoteca is not trying to do anything revelatory, but it is doing the simple things very well. The flexibility of being able to both stop in for a quick drink, or enjoy a full meal, is very appealing and the menu is carefully considered, managing to be both comforting and exciting; recent gems have included mutton chops with anchovy, chorizo croquettas with coriander salsa, roast rabbit with cabbage, bacon and dill and fried sprats with aioli. The space is nicely judged, and has the warm and welcoming feeling of a familiar corner bistro, being both casual and refined.

The service we received on our (quiet) afternoon visit was helpful and friendly and we even managed to stock up on a few takeaway bottles of wine and port to sample before the big day. I was looking forward to it before, but now am even more excited about our celebratory wedding feast to be held here. Bring on the suckling pig and chocolate cake!

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