The Nook in Highbury: “This new wine bar weathered the storm and came out on top”
On a day hot enough to drive everyone outdoors, and humid enough to send them swimming back in again, there’s only one real solution: get a glass of chilled wine in your hand. This is what we are told when we arrive at the Nook in Highbury, and it’s music to our ears.
It’s safe to say this venue is not purpose-built for the heat, but the design is deceptively cool, with a deli-chic vibe – a term I’m coining for the classic North London combination of white tiles, exposed bricks and chalkboards. The real individuality of the place stems from the founders, husband-and-wife duo Lale and Angus Oztek-Pook, who feel like part of the furniture despite only opening the wine bar in October last year. While the former runs the kitchen, rolling out dish after dish inspired by her Turkish roots – with a Mediterranean flourish – the latter is our host and sommelier for the evening.
An intriguing wine list encompasses classic and natural bottles from across Italy, France, Spain, Austria, Georgia, Armenia and London (supplied by Les Caves and Otros Vinos), but Angus starts by recommending two specials, both low-intervention orange wines. The first, La Fea També, we are pleased to hear comes from a female winemaker, Nuria Renom. It’s a tropical yet dry glass which works well with a spicy plate of moreish Muhammara, a romano pepper, walnut and garlic hummus topped with delightfully crispy chickpeas.
The second new addition is a Skins & Stones Pét Nat from Markus Altenburger, a naturally carbonated skin-contact Traminer blend with notes of citrus. This lightly sparkling, golden glass cuts nicely through the creamy burrata, a textured twist on the Italian cheese which comes laden with fresh samphire, roasted almonds and chilli.
A side of sourdough and oil from nearby bakery Bread by Bike is a great tool for scooping the rest of the hummus, which is adapted from a recipe from Lale’s childhood nanny – one of the many examples of local produce married with the chef’s own cultural influences. A less familiar Mediterranean-inspired dish is the crispy courgette dolma bites, which are nicely seasoned but taste even better smothered in artichoke aioli and a revitalising dill and garlic yoghurt.
The Nook Spring Salad is described fittingly as “a celebration of new season greens”: a vibrant bowl of asparagus, radish, lettuce, celery and mint topped with a fresh pod of peas (which you can release over the leaves in an almost therapeutic fashion) come accompanied by a delicious fermented wild garlic vegan salad cream. This refreshes the palate before the punchy seabass with fennel and pickled baby shallots makes an entrance, the mustard marinade cleaning the sinuses of any signs of hay fever. With the fish we are recommended a light American white blend, Sokolo Blosser Evolution No 9, from Oregon.
There’s still just enough room for a larger course, and we opt for a seasonal slow-cooked lamb neck. The tender meat, from esteemed Michelin-chef-approved butchers HG Walter, is laid on intense olive and tomato-infused puttanesca fregola, cress and pickled onion. It’s a plate worth waiting for, and pairs nicely with two refreshing and well-balanced reds. One, the Monte dall’Ora Vino Nato Disobbediente, is bright yet smooth, while the Cristoph Hoch Hollenberger Rot, made from a mix of three vintages, brings both fruitiness and pleasing tannins.
Even in the heat, we are inclined to stay for dessert. Angus suggests a hazelnut praline parfait with miso butterscotch and crunchy cocoa nibs. The sweet and umami combination is spot on, and the nibs provide even more of those sought-after antioxidants (I’m one of those who maintain that wine and chocolate, in the right amounts, are part of a healthy balanced diet).
While the lockdown has badly hurt some new businesses, it’s great to see that The Nook has weathered the storm and come out on top thanks to a successful takeaway supper club and a period of wine-fuelled discovery. This cosy little spot is only a short walk from Highbury and Islington station, so drop by for a glass and prepare to stay for a meal.
Photos: Azhul Mohamed
To book a table at The Nook, 220 St Paul’s Road London N1 2LL, call 020 7288 2929 or visit their website here.