Cork & Bottle in Hampstead: Tasty tapas and exquisite wines
If anything characterises London’s landscape the most, it is its bars and pubs. They come in all shapes and forms, from the whimsical cocktail-offering venues wrapped in a Lewis Carroll-themed interior, to the more familiar, booze-scented corner pub. We love them all equally and we are always looking forward to coming across the next gem where we can shelter away from the cold over a nice glass of pinot noir – or just a pint.
Cork & Bottle in Hampstead, the third outlet of the group, exceeded all our expectations for its atmosphere and menu. The space ticks all the boxes for being warm, homely and great for sharing an unpretentious dinner (or lunch) with friends and family. Founded in 1971 by Don Hewitson in Leicester Square, this wine bar has become well-known for its range of drinks. The wine list extends across three pages, including anything from the French classics, such as pinot blanc or sauvignon blanc, to New World wines from Australia, California and Argentina. There’s definitely something for everyone. In case you’re in need of guidance before diving into their over-300-bottle supply, their in-house sommelier can advise you on what is most suitable.
We should warn you that the prices by the glass might trick you at first. Although slightly more expensive than average, the portions are very generous and will last you at least until the next round of tapas arrives.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the menu: the cheese – undoubtedly one of the best pairings with wine. Cork & Bottle has a wonderfully diverse array of cheeses to pick from, which can be found at the end of their à la carte menu. We combined three of them (manchego, Comté and goat’s) as part of our platter, which comes with a side of crackers, garlic bread, butter and onion chutney. If you’re feeling less adventurous, you can also choose just one or two varieties instead; five is the maximum.
The rest of the menu is divided into small plates, larger plates, snacks, sides and a separate dessert list.
Halfway through our glasses of Beronia Rioja Gran Reserva and TIKI Pinot Gris from New Zealand, we ordered, aiming to try (almost) everything. The first round was Ham Hock & Cheddar Croquettes with Mustard Mayo, dominated by enriched bechamel, yet still creamy and with enough bits of ham. We also tried the Pumpkin Crostini, covered in an underwhelming layer of hummus and topped with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and a drizzling of rocket pesto. The Slow-cooked Ox Cheek Arancini then made its entrance. Similar to the croquettes in texture, but smokier in flavour, these bites were amongst the winners of the night – crispy on the outside but soft and balanced on the inside, they are perfect to munch on while sipping a beer.
We then got our hands on the Grilled Octopus, with Pineapple and Chilli Jam, and the gloriously fried Chilli Squid. The contrast between the softly grilled fish and the chunks of spicy jam was interesting and very creative for a seemingly more traditional seafood dish. On the other hand, the squid cooked tempura style was a more classic option, but it didn’t disappoint. The quality of the produce was up to standard and the sweet chilli gave just the right kick to the fry; a combination made in heaven.
We finally moved on to the larger plates, although the small plates weren’t really that small in the end; we had barely any space left in our bellies. We managed to fit in the Cod Fillet with Chorizo Crust alongside some Polenta Chips. We’ve never tried cod and chorizo together before, but it looked delicious enough on paper, so we took the plunge. The result didn’t let us down. The fillet is presented on its own, tender and lightly salted so as not to overpower the lead role: the chorizo crust. Reminiscent of the traditional Spanish sausage, characterised by its hot paprika blend, the crust binds the whole combination together – a good one to try for those looking for more adventurous options on the menu.
The desserts have a strong focus on English puddings, covering everything from Hokey Pokey Ice Cream to Sticky Toffee Pudding and our chosen one, the Apple Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream. There’s not much else we can say about it apart from that it was just what you’d expect – a comforting, homemade dessert that melts before you can say “can I have a coffee?”.
On the topic of drinks, to accompany the Tatin we were served the Australian dessert wine Botrytis Semillon Riverina 2015, which was probably the smoothest wine we’ve ever had. The honey and peach undertones and the sugary-acidic balance make it a perfect complement to any sweet plate.
Conveniently placed right by Hampstead Heath overground station, Cork & Bottle is an interesting spot for wine lovers and tapas enthusiasts. With monthly wine tastings and comedy shows, it is the ideal local venue.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Cristiana Ferrauti
To book a table at Cork & Bottle, Cork & Bottle Hampstead 156 Fleet Rd Hampstead London NW3 2QX, call 020 7267 6484 or visit their website here.