Zak Smith visit’s Neal’s Yard’s most reclusive gem and finds sunshine, wine, cheese and cheesecake.
As springtime gently rolls into summer, London goes al fresco, with outdoor tables in the capital’s coolest establishments harder to secure than a Birkin bag. As reports come of an impending heatwave, there has never been a better time to find your next favourite outdoor spot for summer indulgence.
Tucked away in the maddening frenzy of Covent Garden is a slither of Parisian style, a hidden courtyard often ignored by the maddening crowd. Neal’s Yard, known more for the skincare and aesthetics brand it bore than anything else, is one of London’s last true hidden gems. Almost out of site but for one street sign, you wouldn’t even know it existed. Enter Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, or ‘CVS Seven Dials’ for short, a chichi outpost of its sister wine bar in Paris, with enough cheese, wine and tapas style sharing plates to make you stay for a pre- theatre bite, evening drinks, a full dinner, and last rounds.
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels isn’t exactly new, having won awards when it opened a year or so ago, however as a celebrated establishment under the ownership of the Experimental Group, it has started to cement itself as the destination within the courtyard. Fresh for the season, the wine bar has revealed its seasonal a la carte menu, which can be enjoyed all day, and I did just that.
On a balmy evening, a Provencale rosé did just the trick, however a more discerning connoisseur would have noticed the high calibre of the wine list, most available by the glass, chosen by award winning sommelier and general manager Julia Oudill.
If you are hungry though you’ll need a second table. The place is pocket sized and isn’t built for serious hunger slaying, cute little tables perfect in Paris probably too small for the average gluttonous Brit. However, spatial issues aside, the food was far more than just nibbles over a glass of vino.
An eclectic menu, it’s part French, part Italian, part international: few establishments could somehow pull off serving goat’s cheese and asparagus arancini alongside seared tuna tataki, both of which tasted entirely authentic, as you would expect from an Italian and Japanese restaurant respectively, and served as enjoyable accompaniments to wine.
The marinated sea bass with mango, chilli and lime was light, zesty and felt more Nobu than wine bar, a delightful dish perfect for sharing. The pea tortellini with ricotta and crispy shallot was a little timid in comparison to the other dishes, notably a simple, velvety, boule of burrata that monopolised our attentions.
As one would expect from anything French, cheese was in abundance, the extensive list sourced from Androuet in Spitalfields, served with sourdough from St John’s bakery.
However, of all the wine, cheese, and more wine, the cheesecake lingered longest. This was no ordinary cheesecake, deconstructed to the point where it looked more like an ice cream with toppings, served with a moreish crumbly pistachio biscuit and drizzled delicately with passion fruit.
As the sun set over mid-week daters, I savoured the experience of being able to imbibe in a sunny, peaceful slice of the capital, content I had finally found a wine bar for foodies.