Top UK wine bars with brilliant food

Cosy bistros, natural wine hang-outs and upscale restaurants with a focus on fine wine – at these UK wine bars, the food is just as good as what’s in your glass

Words by Ashleigh Arnott

Food and drink at Wilding wine bar
Sharing plates at Wilding in Oxford, a wine bar whose founder has clocked up 30 years in the wine trade. Photo: Charlie Mckay

People who love wine usually love food, but in the UK, wine bars have only recently become about both. Our increased interest in the provenance of what we eat and drink has helped, as well as a more mindful approach to socialising – today’s food and wine enthusiasts would rather look knowledgeable than lavish. Whatever the reason, the past decade or so has seen the British wine bar get trendy.

In part proved by the huge success of the frankly superlative restaurant/bar by indie wine magazine Noble Rot (which is only not on the list below because you probably already know about it), it is clear that many wine fans have an experimental side when it comes to glasses – but also plates.

Rooftop view from Forza wine bar
Above, Forza Wine in Peckham, London, where rooftop views complement Italian wine and small plates (Photo: Sam Harris); Right, inside Beckford Bottle Shop in Bath, which also doubles as a wine bar
beckford bottle shop wine bar interior

Are you more interested in quality than quantity, and will you happily wind your way through an unusual wine list with the help of fantastic food? You are not alone. There are still plenty of wine bars where you’ll be recommended a white Burgundy and given complimentary olives, but should you be after a glass of something orange and a plate of food that would make a Michelin inspector smile, these UK wine bars are well worth seeking out.

The best UK wine bars for foodies

food and drink at beckford bottle shop and wine bar

Beckford Bottle Shop, Bath

With its elegant but homely decor, Beckford is more like the parlour in a National Trust property than a bottle shop, although the name is a good reminder that you should buy something to take home, too. It’s tucked up one of Bath’s many quaint cobbled streets and is perfectly peaceful, particularly at lunchtime. The menu of small plates brims with fresh British produce, much of it ridiculously local.

What to order: The Cornish crab with smashed potatoes and yuzu is light as a sunny spring day but has plenty of richness to back it up. The team suggest pairing it with a glass of Olifantsberg’s The Lark (a 2018 Chenin Blanc from Breedekloof, South Africa): “This elegant and refined Chenin Blanc offers clean-cut freshness with a good balance of fresh stone fruits and bright citrus notes, a fleshy, textured palate and great length. Its brisk acidity stands up to the crab without overpowering it.”

5-8 Saville Row, Bath BA1 2QP. www.beckfordbottleshop.com

cave du cochon wine bar in york

Cave du Cochon, York

Although its sister restaurant is French through and through, this atmospheric beauty is more Barcelona than Paris, all wooden casks, dripping candles and jovial staff. The bar snack menu isn’t ambitious but it is packed with the very best ingredients; the local cheeses in particular are a delight, and there’s a Basque burnt cheesecake for dessert.

What to order: The boudin noir macaron is a crisp, umami-laden work of genius that balances well with a vibrant red such as Cuvée du Chat (a 2019 Gamay from Château Cambon in Beaujolais, France).

19 Walmgate, York YO1 9TX. www.caveducochon.uk

Top Cuvee wine bar dish and glass

Top Cuvée, London

Using bubble writing as your branding is always a good way to signify that you’re challenging the expectations of what a wine bar can be, and Top Cuvée’s world of “natty” wines and park-picnic deliveries sure is a fun one. The dining room is small and buzzy, but wine obsessives should try to claim a seat at the bar to be led through the options by the team.

What to order: According to Josh from the TC team, a favourite dish at the restaurant is the pig’s-head terrine with chicory and crab apple: “This pairs perfectly with a Grenache-based red wine, which can stand up to the slight spice notes of the dish. Personally I would choose Dr’ain Dr’ain, a Grenache from the Banyuls area, right at the bottom of France. It has a light-and-bright fruit flavour with good body and spice.”

177B Blackstock Road, London, N5 2LL. www.topcuvee.com

Food at Bench in Sheffiled

Bench, Sheffield

Even among Nether Edge’s excellent collection of independent shops and bars, Bench is seriously chic. It has the aesthetic of an Oregon wine-country favourite but the warm welcome of a Sheffield classic. The pop-up was born to break down the barriers between bar and kitchen, and passion for both food and drink sparkles from every menu entry.

What to order: Carlingford oysters with elderflower pickled onion – a mouthful of down-to-earth decadence – and some British fizz that’s a modern classic: Tillingham Col ‘19. Its natural haze and low ABV provide a gentle backdrop to the shellfish.

7B Nether Edge Road, Sheffield, S7 1RU. www.benchsheffield.co.uk

Muscles served at Forza Wine bar in London
Photo: Sam Harris

Forza Wine, London

This glamorous bar with panoramic views really worked its way up to the rooftop: it started life as a series of joyous, gluttonous supperclubs (called Forza Win), then became an equally joyous, gluttonous restaurant – with the same generous Italian-inspired plates, but with more of a wine focus. The wine list is Italy-focused, too, as well as being pleasingly affordable to the point where it’s clear they are peddling good times.

What to order: A litre of organic, biodynamic Austrian Zweigelt. Its funky, earthy notes would be a delight with the braised rabbit and mustard-topped flatbread.

Floor 5, 133A Rye Lane, London, SE15 4BQ. www.forzawine.com

2017 Burgundy at 10 Cases, London

10 Cases, London

There aren’t many London postcodes that could pull off Parisian pavement bar chic, but Covent Garden has the elegant shop fronts and cobbled streets, and 10 Cases provides the (seemingly) effortless bistrot menu of stinky cheeses, beef tartare, charcuterie and snails.

What to order: 10 Cases wine buyer Alex Pitt suggests pairing saucisson aux cèpes and venison terrine with a 2017  Chaume Gaufriot from Domaine Audiffred in Beaune, Burgundy. “It’s a sublime Pinot Noir from Henri Audiffred’s tiny vineyard holdings in the Beaune commune. I do have some bias towards Pinot Noir personally, so we have an extensive selection of Burgundy and New World Pinot Noir to choose from on our wine list.”

16 Endell St, London WC2H 9BD. www.10cases.co.uk

Table of food and drink at Wilding
Photo: Charlie Mckay

Wilding, Oxford

This Jericho bar is a new opening brimming with credentials. Founder Kent Barker has clocked up more than 30 years in the industry at Bibendum, Oddbins and Enotria. Chef Dominique Goltinger has worked at Bistrot Bruno Loubet and Brixton’s Tuscany-focused favourite Maremma.

What to order: Wilding’s head of wine Sarah Helliwell recommends pairing the charred leek and Jersey Royal filo tart with Laventura Malvasia, MacRobert & Canals 2019, Rioja, Spain. “This is one of my favourite recent wine discoveries: a delicate orange wine made in very small quantities with three weeks’ skin contact and aged in concrete eggs. It is fresh and soft for a skin-contact wine, with just enough grip to match the buttery pastry and charred character in the leeks, and with bright floral notes to complement the natural sweetness of Jersey Royals and the aromatic herbs.”

11-12 Little Clarendon St, Oxford OX1 2HP. www.wilding.wine

Dish by chef Robyn Wilde at Lilac

Lilac, Lyme Regis

Already a rising star in the Dorset culinary scene thanks to her restaurant Robyn Wylde, Chef Harriet Mansell is turning a 400-year-old cellar space into a shrine to low-intervention bottles and West Country produce. When Lilac opens in July, expect wines from five small-scale Dorset vineyards – including a kegged sparkling wine – and irresistible canned wines to take to the beach.

What to order: From the forthcoming menu. Harriet recommends the mackerel crudo with watercress oil and pine vinegar with a glass of Muscadet La Croix Moriceau Complémen Terre 2019 from the Loire Valley, France. Its mineral freshness and salty edge combines with yeasty, sweet farmyard notes. The rich fish contrasts with the wine’s acidic yet rounded fresh pear and yellow apple flavours.

57 – 59 Broad Street, Lyme Regis, Dorset, DT7 3QF. www.lilacwine.co.uk

plateau wine bar in brighton

Plateau, Brighton

Sustainable food and natural wines have found a spiritual home in Brighton’s North Laine at this chic but unpretentious bar run by a team as enthusiastic as they are knowledgeable. Their bottle preferences are led by ethics; low-intervention producers make less impact on the environment by their very nature (pun intended).

What to order: No day is the same on the food menu, but if you’re lucky you’ll find pan haggerty with Comté and truffle (probably the most memorable version of a potato gratin you will ever eat). A glass of V&S Muller Thurgau (German, organic, the product of malolactic fermentation and aged in fibreglass) has the bright yellow zing to cut through the mellow flavours.

1 Bartholomews, Brighton, BN1 1HG. www.plateaubrighton.co.uk