To balance out the lack of wine here in Asia, I have saved up a few (more like twenty) reviews on some wine action from our trip to London over New Year. Today I thought I would write about a new acquaintance, Vagabond Wines. Its a lovely mix of a wine store and bar. I just love the concept. It’s a place where you can go hang out, talk wine, and browse around sipping wine from their numerous tasting machines. This is the type of place I miss having in the Nordic monopoly-countries.
Vagabond has two locations, this review is about their second location on good old Charlotte Street (my star restaurant Bubbledogs is also there). The first one is in Fulham. This location has more of bar feel to it but they also have an extensive selection of wines to buy of the shelf. However, if you wish to browse for wines to buy with you to take home, it may be best to do this before the evening crowd wonders in. The selection is fairly broad both from traditional Europe and New world, especially the US. They have good descriptions for each wine making it easy to pick out something you like. The tasting machines also makes it possible for them to have some rare wines available for retail, as one can have a small sip before making the purchase decision.
The shop has seating on two floors (entrance and the basement). The entrance level is a bit nicer but can also get chaotic on a Friday afternoon and evening. They accept reservations so that’s probably a smart move if you want to be guaranteed a seat after 6pm, especially Thursday-Saturday. You can buy wine at the bar both by the glass (bubbly) and also via the sampling machines. To use the machines you load money onto a card. The card is then inserted into a machine and with a press a button you select which wine and size of glass you want to sample (three options from a small sip to a full glass of wine). The small tasters start at around £0.6 (and go up-to around £4) and the glasses of wine start at around £4 and then go upwards. All the bottles they have for retail sales can also be enjoyed in the bar for a small £10 corkage fee. They also have nibbles and shared platters of cheese and cold cuts. We tried the charcuterie board and I must say it was delicious. A perfect snack to fend of the hunger before heading for a late dinner. It was plenty of food for two to share, and made it possible for us to skip starters for dinner.
There are a lot of nice wine shops and bars in London, but the staff is often what makes a difference for me. At Vagabond they are friendly and really knowledgeable, we could have stayed for hours just chatting about wine. My recommendation is to stop by during the slower part of the day to have more of in-depth discussions on wine as the evenings tend to be a bit too busy for that.
The reason I do not give it a 5 is the price level. It’s a bit steep on some of the wines (saw a Gramona Allegro Cava for £20 and that is below €10 in Spain (and even in Sweden or Finland where the alcohol tax is notoriously high and the price level generally higher it would be cheaper). This may not be the fault of Vagabond, but rather the importer or how Gramona want’s to position themselves on the market, who knows. The atmosphere is however great and they do have other interesting wines: a house Champagne (did not try that one) and a very nice Franciacorta by the glass. So I am 100% sure I will be back. For anyone around Charlotte Street (Tottenham Court Road) in the mood for a glass of wine Vagabond is a great option. It may also be nice place to hang out while waiting for a spot at Bubbledogs.