In an 18th century building on Lamb's Conduit Street, London stands the newly opened Noble Rot Restaurant and Wine Bar. With its symmetrical bay windows and deep purple paint, the frontage is timelessly London—definitely not the sort of place you'd imagine to harbour what the wine world's Old Guard would consider rebellious intent.
But that's Noble Rot's mission: to free wine from the snobbery and elitism that puts so many of us off. Their new bar is also the ideal place to lose an hour sipping a glass of something surprising with a plate of charcuterie (or several with a classic vintage and a three course meal.)
"In the UK, if you say you're opening a wine bar, people just assume that it's a place to go and skull a load of chardonnay rather than a more holistic experience." says one of Noble Rot's founders Mark Andrew. "We want people to be relaxed here so they pop in for a glass of wine or food or both."
Andrew sees Noble Rot as an ongoing conversation about (and over) wine, except that unlike most booze-fuelled chat, the concept manifested itself physically, first as a magazine and now the wine bar.
The best bit is that anyone can join in. Because despite what those snobbish sommeliers suggest, talking about wine should be as stress-free as discussing music, food, or sport. The fear of making an idiot of yourself when faced with a wine list is one that needs killing off immediately.
And if anyone is going to sound the death knell, it's Andrew and partner Daniel Keeling.
The pair first met in the tasting room of independent London wine merchants Roberson, where Andrew was head buyer. Fine wine fan Keeling worked up the road as MD of Island Records.
"We bonded over our shared philosophy on wine," says Andrew. "Neither of us put it on a pedestal in a way that a lot of people who collect it do."
"We've got a similar sense of humour, outlook, and taste so we agree 99 percent of the time," adds Keeling.
There's plenty to discuss in the wine world and naturally, the pair kept conversing.
"Once you scratch beneath the surface, it's like, 'Oh fuck, look at the size of this subject,' and then if you've got a taste for it—metaphorically as well as in reality—there's so much to learn," says Andrew. "And if you're somebody who's fascinated by people—and me and Dan very much are—then you get the opportunity to understand what these [wine-making] nutcases are doing in various parts of the world."
It was the will to share these stories with the public that led the friends to launch Noble Rot, a food, wine, and entertainment magazine in 2013.
"Dan was schlepping around giving the first issue out and some fuddy-duddy wine shops turned their noses up. They thought there was some kind of an agenda to it," remembers Andrew. "But our only agenda was that we wanted to change the tone of voice in the conversation. We wanted to talk to people about wine the way we talked amongst ourselves and see if they wanted to talk back."
And people did. So much so that the pair were able to fund their second edition via Kickstarter. Now on its ninth issue, Noble Rot magazine is still independent, covering wine producers and regions as well as interviews with fellow wine bar owner James Murphy and pieces from Fergus Henderson and Stephen Harris of Michelin-starred pub The Sportsman.
Harris also happens to be part of Keeling's extended family and another wine obsessive. It was inevitable then, that when Noble Rot was ready to open a premises, he would steer the food in partnership with head chef Paul Weaver.
"I think Stephen was a bit surprised when we went off and found a restaurant as well as a bar," says Keeling. "But with somebody that talented, it just felt right and—for him—it's an opportunity to think differently to how he does at The Sportsman."
Andrew adds: "The food menu was always conceived with wine in mind."
This led to dishes like Rock Oysters Ravenau, which according to Keeling, matches "all of the aromas and flavours that you get out of a bottle of Ravenau on the oyster." The roast lamb with dauphinoise, meanwhile is "perfect with a great bottle of red Burgundy" and the turbot is braised in "oxidised 1998 Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru."
But what about that wine list itself?
"It's been a labour of love now for a long time." says Andrew. "The magazine has been the test bed and Dan and I have drunk a lot together, as you can imagine. We're not interested in ticking every box but we do want to have a list which is interesting, eclectic, and means that people can get a great value glass or challenge themselves with something different."
So there are options that show off the pair's favourite French locales—Burgundy and Jura—to newer territories such as Tenerife and Santorini. The list also straddles the scope of winemaking methods, not excluding either natural or "conservative" producers, but selecting every bottle on merit alone.
Price point was also an important consideration.
"We didn't want our wine list to turn into a museum, where people look at it but won't buy it as it's outrageously expensive. So as you go up, the profit margin goes down," explains Keeling. "And the by-the-glass list starts at £4."
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Andrew continues: "What we hope is that people are starting to understand the provenance angle from a wine perspective—as they do with food—and so are prepared to pay for a genuinely good product."
The idea is that whatever your budget, taste, and level of wine geekery, Noble Rot serves you something that kicks off a conversation and—let's face it—gets you a bit drunk.
"At the base of it all, there's just this delicious glass of something that gets you pissed," says Andrew. "And who doesn't like having a few and relaxing with friends?"
Keeling agrees: "It makes you feel good about yourself and how many good ideas come out of a couple of glasses of wine?"
Noble Rot's new space, decorated with their cult magazine's cover art, is the perfect testament to this.
All photos by Jake Lewis.
This post originally appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2015.