“This place looks a bit like a mini Toasted in Dulwich” – I exclaimed upon perching on my stool beneath two groaning shelves of French natural wines in the teeny, tiny, ultra-cosy 161 Food + Drink, Sydenham. Cue owner Alex flying right over to justify my observation. Indeed, there is a connection – he formally worked at Toasted with then Chef Matt Osborne, who also worked at my other favourite, Terroirs in Covent Garden. Part of London’s clearly incestuous natural wine scene, which is expanding at a rate of knots into these leafy South London suburbs, 161 Food + Drink is like your friend’s cost front room, packed to the rafters with wine and a book case upon which rests an Italian charcuterie slicer.
A scrawly chalkboard on the wall showcases the evenings palate-ticklers: N’duja on toast, Sauteed white beans with wilted greens and gremolata, Barley-otto with leeks, apple and chervil salad, topped with roasted hazelnuts. Also, of course, a charcuterie platter of the finest coppa, thickly marbled with flavourful fat, fennel-seed specked Finocchiona salami (my fave!), saucisson sec and thick slabs of mortadella.
I am in my element. The atmosphere is cosy in a know-your-neighbour-by-clunking-knee-to-elbow kind of way, the best kind of conviviality cracking open wine can offer.
Not everyone is a fan of natural wines – essentially wines where the grape is left to do its thing exactly as nature intended, with little to no intervention, and crucially, no added sulphur. The results can be hit and miss, and in my mind, tend to lead to lighter, more crunchy wines – however once in a while they are worth a detour.
We tipple on Domaine de Mont de Marie “Anatheme” Rouge 2012 – a fruity, herbaceous and zesty red, made of 50% lesser know grape Aramon, and a Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan blend. Made without using pesticides, herbicides and bottled unfiltered and unfined, it is served slightly chilled which makes a pleasantly refreshing quaff, although not quite the “rich, spicy, heady” wine that we asked for, especially at only 12,5%. We somehow manage to finish a couple of bottles of it, however…
They do Wednesday wine tastings, a pie and pint for £9.50 and breakfast without faff – beans on toast and witty repartee. Oh and occasional live music and Chef events. Just the kind of place you want to while a lazy Friday evening in, basically!
161, Food + Drink
161 Kirkdale, London, SE26 4QJ