Top marks to Nunhead for being ahead of the curve. Vermouth is just starting to make a predicted ripple through central London’s bar scene, yet here I am in a quiet corner of the south east sipping on the fortified wine in a bar that takes its name from the Spanish version of the good stuff. Up front, it’s a sweet and rather familiar setting, with upturned barrels at the foot of the door for pavement-side drinking, and jamón hanging above a rustic-looking bar. It’s Nunhead meets Navarra. The rear room is a jarring clash of gaudy decor, with red-and-gold wallpaper giving the feel of a suburban pub.
Luckily, some of the less trendy trappings work in El Vermut’s favour, like gentle and slightly unpolished service; it’s endearing and adds the required Med warmth. My bartender offered tasters of a trio of vermouth – I opted for a glass of El Bandarra, citrussy and robust,served in a tumbler with plenty of ice and a wedge of orange. It slipped down, especially with a generous plate of Spanish cheeses and meats. The bar seems to advertise wine of the regular kind more heavily, but all hail from Spanish regions – rueda, rioja and beyond. It also serves sherry, sangria and cerveza, with Alhambra by the bottle for anybody just back from an Andalusian jaunt. And for anybody yet to get away, a seat on the side of the road at El Vermut may just take you there.