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Meeting the Lady of the Grapes in Covent Garden.
Tucked away on Maiden Lane, almost opposite Rules, is a charming new(ish) wine bar with a focus on female winemakers. Lady of the Grapes is the brainchild of Parisienne, Carole Bryon, who set the place up to help redress an inherent male balance in the wine industry and focus on some of the amazing female winemakers.
Her selection of over 180 curated wines includes 23 available by the glass – there’s a Coravin system for the pricier options. And, there is a bias to organic, biodynamic and natural wines; Carole believes that the most complex flavours of wine are impossible to achieve via conventional modern wine-making methods. The idea is to find wines that let you taste the grapes and the terroir and as such the list is made up of wines which contain no additives, low sulphites and indigenous grapes.
We went along to meet Carole and to learn more about the wines and food on offer at Lady of the Grapes wine bar. It’s hard not to fall a little bit in love with the place, which is clearly a passion. Carole told us that in a previous life she’d worked as an art director in advertising – which perhaps explains the impeccable styling of the venue. Then, looking for a change, she went on to study for her WSET qualifications and got her hands dirty working in some of London’s best wine bars before setting up her own place.
It’s somewhere that feels like home. There’s a retro soundtrack – Junior Marvin’s Police and Thieves, Minnie Riperton’s ‘Loving You’ playing at a conversation-friendly level. There are pretty jewel-coloured water glasses complementing the cute brass cutlery. Aged brick walls and squidgy designer dining chairs complete the setting. We snacked on organic almonds and sipped white wine – a 2017 Chardonnay Beaujolais Village Blanc 2017 for me from Domaine de Botheland for me and a natural Gavi 2018 from San Pietro in Italy for my companion which he loved and described as having papaya notes and a slight fizz.
We’d ordered a host of dishes from the menu – a fondue, charcuterie and a platter of chargrilled octopus together with a green leaf salad. If I’m honest I hadn’t really expected great food – this is the kind of place where I’d expect the wine to be the main focus. But everything was just so and utterly delicious. The fondue was a classic mix of Comté, Emmental and Gruyère.
Unbelievably gooey, we loved dipping our morsels of bread in the fondue pot and then trying to avoid losing them in the sea of molten cheese and wine, or worse still, trailing strings of cheesiness anywhere except into our mouths. It strikes me this would be a great date venue! It certainly inspired us to check how it was made – I haven’t had such a good fondue in the UK before and Carole confirmed that it was a traditional French recipe.
My charcuterie selection was similarly fine – with French Saucisson, Speck from Italy and Bresaola which was actually made in London, garnished with a generous handful of cornichons. So far away from the pre-prepared and refrigerated offerings you often find, this was freshly sliced and served at room temperature so all the meat was beautifully soft and well flavoured.
The green leaves salad was simple but beautifully dressed with a seed and hazelnut crumble and delicate homemade vinaigrette.
My pescatarian companion scoffed the dainty portion of chargrilled octopus before I could get a look-in. Served with butternut squash, hazelnuts and parsley he told me it was tender and full of flavour. More wine appeared, this time a Castell d’Age orange wine from the Penedès for my companion made with 100% Grenache Blanc. An organic, biodynamic and vegan wine this was earthy and full-bodied with the skins left for 3 weeks to add depth of flavour and colour. For me, a Pinot Grigio Sauvignon and Chardonnay blend, Radikon Oslavje 2011, another natural wine from Venezia Giulia in Italy which was lighter, with notes of apples and stewed peaches.
Having polished off the savoury food, we were keen to try one the desserts and I was delighted to find a Café Gourmand on the menu along with its big sister, Champagne Gourmand. In France, Café Gourmand is my favourite way to end a meal, with a few tiny portions of dessert and a strong coffee. Sadly(!) the coffee machine wasn’t working so we ‘compromised’ with a Champagne Gourmand, though somehow we ended up with two glasses of fizz and two of each sweet delicacy. Champagne Pierre Gerbais Cuvée Reserve, Cotes des Bar was a great match for the desserts with notes of apples pears and brioche. On the dessert board, canelés – small French pastries from Bordeaux flavoured with rum and vanilla with a soft and tender custard centre and a dark, thick caramelized crust, tiny crepes with Grand Marnier and deliciously moreish orangettes.
This is somewhere I know I’ll come back to. There’s a wonderful attention to detail, perfectionism driven by passion rather than fussiness. While the food at Lady of the Grapes wine bar is simple, it’s flawless – carefully prepared and beautifully presented. And, the ethos – to present wines that are also driven by passion and to support the female winemaking community – is one to celebrate.
Lady of the Grapes
16 Maiden Lane,
t: 020 7836 4152
Open Monday to Tuesday from 4pm to 12am
Wednesday to Saturday from 12pm to 12.30am
Sunday from 12 pm to 11.30pm
Looking for something different? Grays and Feather around the corner offers a menu of sparkling wines and a small selection of food.