140 Fetter Lane, EC4A 1BT
020 7242 8877
Cost per person without wine: £30
THE first thing to chew on at 28-50 is its name. It gets stuck in the teeth, frankly, involving two non-symmetrical numbers that bear no obvious relation to each other. For the innumerate among us, it’s a bit intimidating, frankly, trying to remember what the place is called.
Which is why I kept describing it to those who asked as “a new wine bar from the geniuses behind Texture, that groovy posh Michelin-star holding Icelandic establishment in Portman Square.” Which it is. But if you’re piqued by the name, it actually refers to the latitudes between which mostwine is cultivated. Northern Africa (28 degrees) to England (50 degrees).
To me, your average wine-bar goer, there doesn’t seem to be that much difference between 28-50 and French favourite Terroirs (behind Embankment), or even South African themed Vivat Bacchus (Farringdon and London Bridge). But Xavier Rousset, co-owner and former sommelier at Texture, assures me it’s different; less vehemently French than Terroirs and certainly without Vivat’s South African twist.
Similar or not, 28-50 is a very good thing indeed, seeing as London is still hamstrung by chains like the unspectacular Davy’s Wine Bars, and gloomy little dens such as the Cork and Bottle in Leicester Square and Gordon’s on Villiers Street. And the Aldwych area is oddly underrepresented in the gastrosphere, despite being a hub of offices. 28-50 is helping to change that.
So London needs as many Terroirs-style places as it can get, where punchy, affordable French-slanted bistro nosh accompanied (or vice versa) by delicious, well-priced wines sold in three sizes, listed on a paper placemat. There are 15 red and 15 white (mostly French), sold by the glass, carafe (hooray!) and bottle. Each month a wine-maker is featured; and there is also a “Collector List”. This is a lovely thing, whereby friends of the owners with fine wine in their cellars sell some of them on consignment exclusively for drinking at the restaurant – so you won’t be able to try them anywhere else.
The sub-head of 28-50 is “wine workshop and kitchen” – the first part should be clear now. As for the kitchen part, the menu is enticing, warming and reasonably priced, if a little bit boring, with lots of French country classics and plenty of butter. It’s pretty small, too, which?I like. To start with I went with the most basic test of French cooking – cod brandade. It was two lovely butterly dollops of mashed fish with potato on some ovals of toast, served with red peppers. Just right. The duck rillettes that my friend went for were gobbled up too quickly for me to try, but what I saw was a ramekin of pink meat that looked like tuna mayonnaise and, he said, shared its texture and even a bit of the taste, while remaining deliciously ducky too.
We moved on to two mains so pleasing you almost didn’t notice them go down your gullet at a hundred miles an hour, but after they were gone you mourned them. Mine was pork belly with a caramelised topping, which came with cabbage (a bit too finely diced; whorls of it would have been more ruggedly pleasing) and pork scratchings.?It was doused in a superb and not too heavy gravy.?Meanwhile, lamb shoulder with new season garlic and butter mash was a generous, lovingly composed dish and if you like lamb (I?don’t), probably heaven on a plate. Other simple but effective choices are red mullet with boullabaisse, and rib eye and braised shallots. There’s also an incongruous and slightly hippyish-tasting aubergine dish that is a stab at pure vegetarianism. I’d advise against coming here if you can’t eat meat or fish.
Puddings were immaculate, with an angelic lemon tart with yoghurt ice cream (almond cake also appealed) and a really excellent cheese board. Lovely jubbly.