Please note, Noble Rot has now had an interior redesign and is primarily a restaurant. Time Out Food editors, January 2018.
You know how when you go to a pop-up, part of the charm is that the existing décor is usually untouched, even if it used to be shop or a loo? Okay, maybe not a loo, but the point is that it then becomes all about the food and service? That’s the vibe at this Bloomsbury newcomer, only it’s not a pop-up, it’s permanent. Unrelated to the swanky Mayfair restaurant and DJ bar of the noughties, this 2015 Noble Rot comes from the pair behind the wine mag of the same name, with a menu from Stephen Harris, owner and chef of celebrated Whitstable pub The Sportsman. On historic Lamb’s Conduit Street, with iconic eatery Cigala opposite, the site was once home to Vats, one of London’s last genuinely old-school wine bars.
Years came, years went, Vats never changed. But for those of you mourning the passing of an old-timer, its soul is still very much alive. It’s all here: the cracked stone floors, the dodgy brown furniture, the bizarre half-height laminate-wood-wall-panelling. (That’s just the top half: the bottom half is still that dark woodland green… we’re a long way from Farrow & Ball, Toto.) Even the vineyard-themed frescos, which the waiter said ‘might be going’ (please no), were still in place.
In keeping with the retro, unpretentious surrounds, the food is classic, and designed to go with wine. We swooned at the simple marriage of a soft-boiled duck egg with creamy, piquant chilled crab sauce and nicely al dente sprouting broccoli. Equally memorable was a stunning piece of monkfish in a deliciously tangy white wine sauce made with oxidised 1998 Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru (an homage to a fish-and-oxidised-wine dish of the Jura). And we also enjoyed a dish of caramelised roscoff onions (those round, pinkish ones that you hang around your neck if you want to look très très Franch) with toasted hazelnuts and silky ricotta – though something salty to accentuate the sweetness of the onion wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The warm, knowledgeable staff are lovely, while in the front the room, the boisterous spirit of a wine bar is very much alive – hardly surprising, given the affordability of the list (with a sizeable by-the-glass offering kicking off at £3 for a 75ml ‘sampler’, or bottles from £20). Noble Rot may look like a pop-up for grown-ups, but we’re glad it’s here to stay.