A unique slice of French charm in Central London, Covent Garden’s Lady of the Grapes is looking to make a change within the wine bar industry. Throwing their full support behind gender balance in winemaking, the bar’s bottle list is an intriguing and ever-changing directory from predominantly female-fronted producers. Alongside selling the wares, Lady of the Grapes’ owner, Carole, also offers a series of events and tasting that look to champion the movement.
The Maiden Lane space is by no means large, in fact the front window is almost completely obscured by a Thames Water truck when we arrive, but inside it is well and truly abuzz. It may be just six months old, but word has clearly travelled fast. Staff weave between the packed wooden tables, sparkling glasses teetering a-top serving trays; knives tackle knives for the last sliver of Saint-Nectaire while couples squint at the chalked up wine list opposite the bar. We start with a Côtes du Jura pinot noir (£11), which smacks of dense fruit but sits lightly on the palate and acts as a perfect kick-off point for the main event for the evening; fondue.
Already on the bubble as it arrives, the melting pot of Emmental, Comte and Abondance (£23 per person) is rich, creamy and devilishly indulgent. Using cubes of crusty bread, we pull strings of gooey cheese from the hot pot - only burning our tongues on one or two occasions. We opt for a plate of charcuterie to accompany it (an extra £6 each), adding cured meat and salty salami to the mix. On recommendation, we pair the dish with a Jacquère Curtet (£10) from the Savoie region, a fresh white wine with a sharpness that makes it a fair match for the tangy cheese.
Kicking the indulgence up another notch - along with our chances of contracting gout - we spring for dessert. Lady of the Grapes keeps it simple with just two options: crème brûlée (£8) and chocolate mousse with pralines (£7). We order both. The mousse is dense and moorish, rich, deeply flavoured chocolate offset by a sweet crumble of praline. Did I finish it? No, I did not. Do I regret this? I’ve thought of nothing else since.
The DesignMyNight Digest
With character, integrity and atmosphere, Lady of the Grapes is a real prize. For the wine buffs, it’s a playground of unique bottles, and for everyone else it’s a salt-of-the-earth spot for a sip, a nibble and a little European escapism.
Lady of the Grapes is open Monday-Tuesday from 5pm-12am, Wednesday to Saturday from 12pm-12.30am and Sunday from 12pm-10.30pm. You can find at 16 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7NJ.