By Kerry Law
There’s something distinctly continental happening on a short stretch of road in Highams Park. No longer than 100 metres, where the Winchester Road turns into The Broadway, there are now a few lovely new establishments offering specialist wines and fine foods. For want of a snappy moniker like ‘Little Italy’ or ‘Chinatown’, I thought I would christen this area the ‘Mini Med’, but Mediterranean doesn’t really cover it. What they do have in common, however, is wine. Hence, ‘The Wine Wander’ of Highams Park is born. Here’s what the stroll will uncover:
Melting Point Bistro
This bistro is so new the owner, Gokce, is trialling things on the menu while she works out what works for her customers. What is guaranteed are fantastic cheese and charcuterie boards (£10.50pp), which we ordered with homemade hummus and a selection of speciality breads. This is a great grazing option, allowing you to sample fine cheese and cured meats, often from hard-to-find, small-scale artisan producers from Spain, Italy and beyond. There are also small plates such as roasted aubergine, vegan frittatas and a range of toasted sandwiches if you need something a bit more filling. All can be washed down with a good Merlot or craft beer.
Gokce has lots of plans for the coming weeks and months, including wine-tasting events and new menu items such as fondue (which sounds perfect for winter evenings in this cosy little establishment). Melting Point Bistro is open for breakfast and lunch (for pastries, homemade soups, eggs Benedict, Climpson & Sons coffee) Monday to Friday, 7am to 2pm. Evening hours are Thursday and Friday from 5 to 10pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 10pm. Check the Instagram feed for the latest opening times, details of upcoming events and a mouth-watering gallery of new menu additions at www.instagram.com/meltingpointbistro.
Pantry & Co
I’ve written about this little gem before, and it keeps getting better. The award-winning deli/shop Pantry & Co has a treasure trove of Mediterranean delicacies alongside East London-made breads, cakes, cold brew coffee and other artisan treats. You can stop for a coffee or light lunch (try a kimchi toastie) at one of their tables.
However, if you’re on The Wine Wander, browse their selection of specialist wines (they’re known in particular for their Riesling), order a glass with lunch, and then book a place at their monthly wine club (£28 per person), an evening of tastings guided by their resident wine expert. They also do regular tapas nights, where a fixed-price ticket includes wine plus a selection of delicious small plates. See the website for details of the latest evening events and booking at www.pantryand.co.uk.
This independent wine shop has only been open just over a year, but Vinoramica already has a loyal following in ‘the Park’, becoming the go-to place to buy your weekend tipple. Owner Matt clearly knows his stuff and is always on hand to help you navigate the shelves. Classic wines are on sale, as well as lesser-known labels from small producers, and even surprisingly good wines from countries such as Japan (who knew?). The overall experience of buying a bottle here is much friendlier and more enjoyable for novices (such as me) than the sometimes intimidating atmosphere of some wine shops.
If sampling the wines gives you a taste for more, pull up a bar stool and order wine or craft beer (also on sale) by the glass. Its evening opening hours make Vinoramica a nice destination for an impromptu drink after work or at the weekend. Look out for news on their website of which bottles they’re opening up in the shop that day, and for their special wine-tasting evenings, sometimes attended by the winemakers themselves. Visit www.vinoramica.com.