Cork & Bottle

Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 7807 / 6592
Address: 44-46 Cranbourne Street, London WC2
Cuisine Type: Australian
nearest tube station Leicester Square (PICCADILLY, NORTHERN)

In a desert of tourist tat right by Leicester Square the Cork & Bottle is an oasis. Two tiny entrances with narrow metal spiral staircases lead down to a rich cavern of nooks and crannies and some of the most interesting – and best – wine in London. When you add good, fresh food and friendly and efficient service you have a gem.

There’s table service at lunch but in the evening food is served from the central bar. The menu ranges from simple salads such as tomato, mozzarella and basil at £4.50 (and for tomatoes with flavour and mozzarella di buffala that’s a real bargain) to grills including an open grilled sirloin sandwich (“8 splendid ounces of Australian steak on toasted baguette with chips and salad”) for £10.50.

Dishes are cooked to order so the caramelised red onion and mozzarella tart I ordered (£7.50) took 15 minutes and was well worth the wait. I was expecting a decorous wedge of tart but instead was presented with a beautiful diamond-shaped boat of flaky pastry, filled to the brim with just-cooked onions and cheese and served with salad you actually wanted to eat. A range of specials is chalked on boards including a vegetarian dish of the day, and there is also the house speciality – a raised ham and cheese pie, which looked terrific (£7.50 with a green salad). I may have to go back for “Don’s Kick-Arse BBQ Caesar Salad” (£8.50).

As you may have gathered there’s a strong antipodean flavour to many of the dishes and this extends to the puddings which include a Pavlova ‘”Kiwi style” and Hokey-Pokey icecream, listed as “another Kiwi delight”. Alas, we had no time to try it on this occasion.

The wine list, as you would expect, is extensive. Don Hewitson, the founder over thirty years ago and still very much involved, imports much of it (quote: “A meal without wine … is breakfast”). There are tempting offerings from Australia and New Zealand with descriptions that leave you salivating but also a huge variety of French wines and Champagnes and a good sprinkling from other countries. Prices range from the very reasonable to the highly extravagant, but all are fair for London. We fell into a highly drinkable Soave Classico for £14.95, then found we weren’t absolutely sure about it so had to have another bottle just to check (the final decision was that it was really rather good…)

If you want a quick meal, a lingering convivial evening or a glass or two after the theatre, the Cork & Bottle is one of the best places you could fall in to. Just beware of the stairs on your way back out.

– Helen Wright, 4/2003