48 Gresham Street, W1U 5QU, EC2V 7AY
tel: 020 7036 6100
Cost per person without wine: £25
POOR Bar Battu. A brilliant little restaurant opens with delightful staff, genuine enthusiasm for the good things in life, surprising wine – at times truly special – and delicious food, and all people can talk about is its “false” claim to be the first “natural” wine bar in London. Pshaw, I say. Get over it. Life’s too short to hang on details.
And if Bar Battu does resemble Terroirs, the restaurant near Charing Cross with which it shares striking similarities, then good. Both are great, and now the City has its very own slice of the biodynamic, Gallic pie too.
The décor is a little less quirky than Terroirs – it’s a bit functional, a bit lacking in je ne sais quoi; a bit, well, tinny. But no matter, the food is generously served and tasty and the wine is quite extraordinary, especially when served by the squeaky, adorable (and very young) sommelier from the Dordogne. The list is inviting, with a variety of symbols, including a clear cloud for “lightly cloudy”, a grey cloud for “cloudy”, a snuffling pig for “semi-wild” and then “bio” for biodynamic, “o” for organic and so on. There is a lot of talk about naturalness here – moon cycles, bee-song and other nature-loving twists thought to improve wine.
Maybe it works, because everything we tried – from our first cloudy fizz to our fortified dessert wine, via a super-huge bodied Spaniard for mains – was spot on. We kicked off proceedings with a naturally sparkling Vouvray “Dilettante” from the Loire – it tasted like a cross between cider and cava and was the best pre-dinner drink I have ever had, and very reasonably priced at £5.50 for a glass.
For food we began by spreading the table with a fibrous, fresh-tasting mound of rabbit rillettes (shredded rabbit meat mixed with mayonnaise) served with smoky grilled farmhouse bread. Lovely. When paired with a large board covered in saucisson and gherkins; a creamy, squeaky clean crab and celeriac remoulade, and a baby gem, pancetta and anchovy salad, we suddenly wondered how we’d fit in a main course. Small plates cost between £4.50 (Jerusalem artichoke soup with roasted almonds) and £6.50 (steak tartare with sourdough) and I can tell you that, washed down with a carafe (yes, they do carafes), two or three of these would set you up more than nicely.
Mains were terrific, too, wowing us with a melt-on-the-tongue meat-feast. My friend made a beeline for the braised ox cheek with parsnip mash and root vegetables and could not be contacted by words, shouts or her BlackBerry while it was in front of her, so absorbed in its dark, syrupy depths was she. I wasn’t exactly social over the main, either – being preoccupied with a series of discs of bavette steak, brown and crusty on the outside, paler and paler maroon inside with a glowing ember in the middle that sealed the deal for me. The accompanying marrow was a lovely bonus – the beef didn’t need it.
Other mains were just as appealing – there’s roast cod with salsify and and Dorset clam broth or pan fried sea bream with fennel; osso bucco of Suffolk pork with girolles and thyme jus and, for those who want to stay animal-free: red onion tatin, a la Rocamadour (a region in France).
We were full and so declined a cheese board that included five varieties “of the day” – written on a chalkboard and presented at our table. But everyone knows about the dessert stomach and, opening ours for business, we ordered a prune tart with armagnac and a bowl of home-made mint chocolate ice cream. The ice cream was as fresh-tasting and uplifting as can be – white with black flecks and bits of real mint, rather than bright green. The tart shut us up like clams as we buried ourselves in its moist, nutty filling, buttery pastry and mahogany slivers of plump prune.
Bar Battu delivered a perfect post-work meal: simple, well-executed fare with flair, exciting, affordable wine and a winning piece of pie. First natural wine bar or not, it’s a first for the City and one that we’re lucky to have.