Kensington Wine Rooms
27-129 Kensington Church Street, W8 7LP
Tel: 020 7727 8142
Cost per person without wine: £35
IF YOU think chocolate shops are fun, try this. The Kensington Wine Rooms is the latest venue to make a go of enomatic, or wine-dispensing, machines. The Sampler on Upper Street has long mastered this format, with more depth and seriousness perhaps, but you can’t eat there. KWR, though, has masterfully incorporated the technical splendour of the machines with the buzzy atmosphere of a chic drinking hole. The bar area is dark and wooded, full of Sloaney types either seated at high stools and tables or milling about the machines. There’s a dining room too, if you fancy something more substantial – and quiet – than tapas, as we did.
But first, we were given a card loaded with about £20. Armed thus, we began with a cabinet of whites, kicking off with a little bit of 2006 Bourgogne Blanc. It was delicious: fruity, elegant, big and boozy, though not unrefined, and in the dribble-sized quantity I tried, cost only £1 (a bottle would be £27.50; still reasonable). And £20 allows you to stray outside your comfort zone without too much trouble, so I took thimble fulls of cheap chenins, mid-range New Zealand sauvignons, Soaves, finishing with a taste of divine 2007 Meursault Clos du Cromin (£3 for a taste, 67 for a bottle). When you find something you love and can afford, you simply come back and tell the machine to dispense a glass’s worth, and it will charge you accordingly.
The list is relatively small here – around 100 wines – but well chosen. There are exciting wines from New Zealand and Australia – I was surprised to fall in love with Omrah Pinot Noir, a 2007 from Western Australia, which was elegant, structured and fuller bodied than its French equivalent. At £27.50 again, it’s one I could buy by the bottle. Of course, the beauty of this system is that you can try Grade A classics in tiny quantities. If you’ve always wanted to try a 1992 Haut Brion Bordeaux, you can have a taste for around a tenner, a glass for £53 and a bottle for £288.
FLORAL AND REFRESHING
Having worked up an appetite, we went back for some food – where more wine would be recommended for each dish. It’s just the kind of food you want to wash down the wine – Mediterranean dishes with an tropical touch such as tuna ceviche with coriander dressing, calamari with rocket and grilled tiger prawn with spicy green papaya salad. We went for crab cakes with chilli jam, which were good though overpowered by dill and slightly mushy, and chorizo, scallop and broad bean salad that was playful, fresh and moreish. I rejected the recommended rose for the crab cakes, opting instead for that first 2006 Bourgogne I had tried at the machines and it was a happy partnership. The salad had a 2007 Primitivo from Puglia, which was floral and refreshing, balancing the sticky savour of the chorizo perfectly.
Meats here are excellent. My fillet steak with Bearnaise, watercress and chips was deep (almost cuboid, in fact), tender and charcoaly, just as God intended. For £19.50, it was reasonably priced too. Paired with a strong, muscular red from Portugal no less (an obscure wine by Quinta das Cerejeiras from the Obidos region, 2003), it was brilliant. The lamb was succulent and mint-infused and the confit leg of duck with green beans and lentil salad looked delicious.
Desserts were disappointing – a sherry posset with flaked almonds simply a glass of cloying cream and a cherry bread pudding-style creation a pot of soggy slightly tasteless pastry. But really, this is a place to finish on cheese if you have the space, since that’s what the wine would want. And this is truly a paean to wine and its snug fit with robust, elegant food.
In a nutshell: A buzzy wine bar with enomatic machines that dispense dozens of wines by the drip, small or large glass. Perfect for a vinous adventure with friends, accompanied by either informal tapas or followed by a sit-down meal where the wine exploration can continue paired with good, gutsy salads and meat.