London is gripped by an epidemic of identikit wine bars. Any day now Hackney will crack under the weight of all those small plates and exposed brick work. There is only so much whipped feta and chilled red a borough can take before it is completely consumed by a low-intervention cabernet sauvignon tsunami. And yet, the natural wine and dine bar hegemony shows little sign of abating.
Oranj, Westerns Laundry, Planque, 107 (neé P Franco) and Cadet epitomise the genre. And of course, the format is not bad: simple menus, a comfortable room full of good looking people, a wine list that tends to showcase small producers. Finch in Brixton, Forza Wine at the National Theatre and Little Cellars in Camberwell have all recently added to London’s rapidly expanding roster. And so the question for London Fields’s newly opened Bambi is whether it can differentiate itself from the masses. How to justify its existence in such a crowded market?
Eating a sandwich for dinner was weird but the chicken parm was a runaway hit.
Perhaps it doesn’t have to. On a Thursday evening Bambi was full, with hopefuls milling by the door in search of a last minute seat. London’s appetite for this kind of restaurant is large, but very few offer a new perspective on a wearying format. No matter if you cannot get a table at Westerns Laundry, Primeur is only around the corner and you will hardly notice the difference. There is only so much you can do with courgette and feta. And though there is nothing to criticise individually about each iteration of the concept – for the sake of London's culinary diversity – we might pause to wonder why the wine bar has such enduring appeal.
That being said, Bambi – opened by James Dye of Frank’s in Peckham and the Camberwell Arms, and on the same site as the late, great Bright – is a rather decent example of the genre. The food is good: mussels in spicy broth were particularly memorable; cauliflower cheese arancini was an easy win; the beans with kale and goat’s curd were simple, well executed, and evidence of great produce. Eating a sandwich for dinner was weird but the chicken parm was a runaway hit.
The wine list is short, unusually heaving on sparkling wine and oriented towards France. Even though there is still no consensus on what natural wine actually is, the house white has that classic ‘natural’ tang. Owing to its length, it’s not a wine list for people who really like wine, but then again, these wine bars are strangely not for people who really like wine either.
But Bambi works: the food is well done, the room is nice and the wine list unique. More than that it is warm and buzzy and the music is noticeably good. In fact, it describes itself as ‘music-led’ - on Friday and Saturday evenings as the small plates are cleared away the venue transforms into a bar with a DJ booth and showy record collection spanning disco to techno. The regular dining soundtrack though is a touch more relaxed.
Bambi is not an attempt to disrupt the form but rather a bid to get a slice of the zeitgeist. Bambi plays it safe, but who needs their Thursday evening to be revolutionary?
The vibe Small and casual, with great music.
The food Well executed and contemporary small plates – nothing too bold.
The drink A wine list limited by its brevity, but good value especially by the glass.
Time Out tip A glass of their chilled red is light enough to start the meal.