London’s best hidden wine bar

Rush-hour on the Strand can make London feel like a town of nothing but tourists and theatre-goers. The black cabs and red buses whirl by as confused, map touting foreigners scamper across the streets. The well-heeled, well-suited business men pile into the posh hotels and swanky gastro pubs. If you watch carefully, however, you’ll see a few, in-the-know locals slipping into the shadows of the side streets to share an afternoon drink and a chat with friends or co-workers. If you follow them, you may find yourself on Bedford Street, just beyond the Adelphi theatre. Walk briskly and you’ll be led to one of the best kept secrets in central London:  Bedford & Strand wine bar.

Down the stairs, through a set of aging wooden doors, the buzz of a crowd and the soft clink of wine glasses float in the air. The lighting is mellow and a smiling, chattering crowd fill the low wooden banquets and tall bar stools. You’d be forgiven for thinking you had slipped back in time to a 1920’s Left bank Brasserie. The black and white tile interior is filled with chalk board menus, marble-topped tables and ranks of wine bottles.

People come for the wine. There is little wonder why. In a town where wine selection can begin to look like they all fell from the back of the same truck, Bedford and Strand stands out as a bespoke collection of classic French and Italian favorites alongside surprising discoveries from Portugal, New Zealand and Spain. The wine list is smartly segregated to meet the needs of the thrifty connoisseur or the celebrant dandy. One can linger over a single glass, or while the evening away over a few shared bottles. The carefully researched selections change quarterly, with new surprises always waiting a little further down the list. The servers are eager to help; there is no wine snobbery in this cosy cellar. Tell your host what you like – or what you think you like – and you’ll be steered true and helped to match your wine to a few bites of rustic, French and English food classics.

The food is just as well thought-out and does the wine proud. Order up a dish of freshly made, crisp and salty pork scratchings or tuck into the Braun Fritters; crispy bites of slow-cooked pork cheek breaded crisp and served with greens and creamy Gribiche sauce. For wine paring magic, point to a few of the creamy cheeses and bright, cured salumi glimmering in the long display case. The food changes with the seasons and menu launches are always announced to insiders.

And the cocktails aren’t bad either. Standing proud between the wine racks is a wall of spirits to make any aperitif connoisseur swoon. From Scottish highland malts to obscure Italian bitters, the sure-handed bar staff knows how to make the most of their tools to pour out and shake up ultimate versions of the classics. Ask for one of the house variations on the classic martini and your night is off to a bracing start. Specialty cocktails feature home-grown London spirits and liqueurs that you may never encounter again.

When you head back up the stairs to street level, you’ll feel connected to London. You’ll have seen and experienced a beating heart of the city that the fast moving tourists will never know. Turn back onto the strand and you’ll be swallowed into the warm buzz of the crowd as they rush from one hot-spot to the next. But you can relax because you know exactly how to slip away from it all. Take a breath and enjoy the luxury that comes from quietly knowing a secret haven in the most cosmopolitan food and drink city in the world.

Sage Russell is Editor of Food Pilgrimage.

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