We tasked our wine expert Joe Wadsack with tasting his way through London’s best bar food – and naming his favourite matches.
As you will know by now, I take my research seriously. This undertaking – eating through the bar food offering of dozens of world-class bars – was no exception. From five-star hotels to tiki bars to party bars, the standards of food were refreshingly high – and the offering diverse. I had lobster, there was shrimp, charcuterie and cheese boards, in some bars Thai food, Korean dishes aplenty too… but which dishes were most common? I’ve listed the five most recurrent bar foods I came across on my bar snack odyssey, along with my preferred liquid companions.
Olives & nuts
Two rules that I stand by. One, NEVER drink wine with macadamias and peanuts if you want to enjoy the wine at its fullest. There is so much saturated fat that it virtually wax coats the tongue. A good old navy strength Beefeater & Schweppes might just get through. Use roasted or smoked almonds instead. Second, and for similar reasons, stick to green olives. Fully ripe black olives have three times the calories and saturated fat as green ones. A glass of Tío Pepe or any classic Martini is always going to work here. Think of derivatives too – Martinez, Fino Colada (take a bow, Dean Callan).
In this case, I’m talking raw, chilled, on the half-shell. They vary so much in taste, from the very salty (Maldon, Mersea, Whitstable) to the sweetly meaty, iodiney (Poole, Carlingford). So many wonderful options, but be careful to read the small print as it’s the dressing that can unhinge your pairing.
Dressings, perhaps including sushi ginger or coriander & green chillis, will strongly suggest which direction to take. If it’s a cocktail bar and I’m eating oysters dressed only in a squeeze of lemon, then I love a shot of tequila. The current Ocho (2023 San Jeronimo blanco) has a lovely green smoky hit to it. More often than not, my Swedish heritage leaves me reaching for a creamy, herby aquavit from the freezer. My choice with bivalves is Aalborg Jubilieum aquavit from Denmark, served as cold as it goes.
Wine-wise, Picpoul de Pinet or Muscadet from France always work. If you want to try a wine that’s something very different, hit up a Koshu from Yamanashi in Japan. There are more than 30 established producers of this uniquely Japanese and uniquely delicate grape variety. Names to look out for are Château Mercian, Grace or Suntory (yes, it started off making wine).
Chicken or shrimp satay
Ooh, peanuts again! There is a brilliant solution that provides zing, lime and life to the pairing, and that is any vibrantly young Kabinett or Spätlese Riesling from Germany. Mosel for extreme yuzu-like citrus or Rheingau for more stony density and weight. Alternatively, don’t reinvent the wheel and drink Tiger beer out of the bottle, straight from the ice bucket.
Why is it that at cocktail parties, if you’re served sushi, or any form of raw fish, like gravadlax or smoked salmon for that matter, you are almost always served champagne, or a zingy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc? I’m sure it’s well-intentioned, but it is entirely wrong in my view. Wines such as these, with extremely high acidities, ‘cook’ the fish in the mouth, in just the same way that lime juice or leche de tigre does to fish fillet in a ceviche. The very point of enjoying that pillowy soft, silky-textured tuna and salmon is reduced to a stringy, oily, fishy mess. Sympathetically soft and pillowy wines are very much the way to go. I prefer good Rosé de Provence, or perhaps a lovely white from the Rhône, which imitates that nebulous, almost cloud-soft texture of really good sashimi.
Fish & chips you mean? Well, lightly battered fish appears ubiquitous on cocktail menus, but, to be fair, is quite wine friendly, if you avoid the pint of chip shop condiment in which I usually drown my chips. Although not immediately obvious, perfectly seasoned battered fish is simply fantastic with champagne. Memorably, we served magnums of Bollinger with battered wings of skate at my father’s 50th birthday. Running a close second would be either a mouth-watering, full-of-saltynectarines Albariño from north west Spain, or a chilled glass of briny manzanilla sherry. La Gitana will do.