If ever a restaurant’s name was fashioned for me then surely it’s ‘The Wine Theatre’. Imagine the show: the open stage, the pouring of alluring spirits, the blush complexities and whiff of fermented grape in the air, sommeliers waiting in the wings, eager to refill your glass, the players parading themselves dressed as Magarach Ruby and Vespolina.
But alas, the restaurant sits on the corner of a rather dull Southwark road, occupying the corner of a Travelodge, and very much the wrong end of London Bridge and Borough Market. Inside the décor is black and rich maroon with wooden furniture and Regency wallpaper. It’s actually very nice. The kitchen and bar are snuggled into the bowels but you can still see into the prep area without hearing too much noise. The walls are nicely decorated using clean and coordinating colours, there are funnel-shaped cream hanging lamps and on one wall large black and white split panels depicting Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. All very la de da and La Dolce Vita-ish.
The place was half-full on a Thursday evening in cold January and the staff were friendly. I chatted to the manager – ex-Harrods catering – about the menu (which they change regularly, I’m told) and about their plans to expand, with another restaurant in the Notting Hill area. Of course, this sounds captivating, setting up number two in lovely West London, but the proof is in the pudding as they say and we’ll just have to wait and see.
I was with Pa and his partner and already tipsy from a bottle of Chablis at Vinopolis and one (or more?) free Scottish whisky samples from the market (plus a rather interesting, warm and hearty haggis soup). Add to these three bottles of Chianti… but hey, it’s The Wine Theatre and who’s counting?
For starters, I had fried squid & prawn platter with polenta (£7.90) which consisted of rubbery squid – resembling those garden hose brackets you see in Homebase – two prawn heads attached to a little fishy flesh and a spillage of polenta that grew across the plate. It was more of a splatter than platter. My main course of lamb cutlets with Anna potatoes and cherry tomatoes was ordinary. The best thing about the dish was the lamb cutlets, cooked medium with their juices mixing just about enough with the potatoes and tomatoes. Pa had the same. Another main, the caprese nostrana – a buffulo (sic) mozzarella, beef tomato, avocado and mixed leave salad (£5.90) – looked like a piece of home economics practice… achieving E minus.
A delightful amaretto crème brûlée followed (£5.50). Pushing the spoon through the brittle caramel and sugar and cracking into the smooth custard was hard work, so I had another glass of plonk followed by an evening aperitivo, a grappa (not a Chilean grape picker!). Oh come on! You think sitting around eating and drinking late into the night is easy? And it’s dessert – and Italian – so of course there’s going to be a grappa!
The food overall is fine. It’s nothing extraordinary and doesn’t rank as a time-honoured Italian dining experience. Maybe the name will spread with the opening in Notting Hill and hauls of people won’t mind venturing out to the boundaries of London Bridge to visit the Southwark spot, but quite honestly, I feel that the location and experience lack the necessary ingredients to keep it from closing.