Freelance writer and journalist based in west London.
Published February 26th 2014
Don't bottle out
Terroirs is tucked away down a surprisingly quiet road just off Trafalgar Square. Given the hustle and bustle that's usually found nearby, it's something of a sanctuary away from the tourist areas of the West End. It doesn't really announce itself to passers by yet seems to be the only business on its street. Step inside and you feel like you've entered a wine bar in Paris. Terroirs takes the best of the Parisian experience and adds it's own personality to remind you you're still in London.
Terroirs gives its guests two quite different experiences. Sit on the ground floor and the French inspiration is quite clear. You come here for a quick glass of wine at lunchtime or after work before heading home; the tables are turned over more swiftly and the food is largely small-plate fare. We'd booked a table to dine downstairs, an area that was added a year after Terroirs opened in 2008 and which sells itself by offering a more relaxed atmosphere and a little more space in which to linger over a full meal.
The downstairs dining area is not large but you certainly don't feel the tables are crammed together. I was warmly welcomed by a friendly member of staff who gave me the choice of having a drink at the bar as I waited for my friends to arrive, or go straight to the table. I opted to go straight to the table because I wanted to have a good nosy through the wine list. But I really liked the sociable feel of the bar. Stools, a big long table in the centre, low lamps and funky art on the wall; it's somewhere you'd feel comfortable on your own or with others.
In keeping with the notion of 'terroir', the characteristics that define different wines, Terroirs sources its wines from small growers. Each focuses on organic and sustainable production. The natural wines on offer come from France, Portugal, Corsica, Spain, Italy and Sicily. Quite sensibly, Terroirs keeps its main wine list separate to the condensed one you can find on the menu. That means most people only have to deal with one sheet of A4 paper with food on one side and wine on the other. You can ask for the bigger wine list if you want, but the choice on the menu is so varied you're content to only have to deal with about 15 offerings of each colour. We chose a full-bodied red that was smooth and warm and at £24.95, a good price in our opinion. You can spend as little or as much as you like, there's something for everyone. As for food, you get an incredible choice without it becoming overwhelming. Starters included oysters, clams, a goats curd and root vegetable salad, quail with leeks or a baby gem and bitter leaf salad. We opted for mussels and a poached duck egg with wild mushrooms and Jerusalem artichokes.
The mussels were wonderful. The white wine and garlic sauce had an amazing depth of flavour but managed not to detract from the seafood. The duck egg dish came with an earthy mushroom sauce. A basket of bread arrived as our starters were served, the contents of which were put to excellent use in mopping up every scrap of liquid. It's a good thing we all ate everything as quite a lot of garlic was consumed thanks to the mussels.
The starters having been quite generous, we were grateful for the gap before the mains arrived. We didn't feel we waited too long, but it was a decent enough break to be ready for dinner proper. It does a nice line in shared dishes. You can have a 1kg Angus T-bone steak, a baked cheese with potatoes and cooked ham or a mixed grill. But we went down the separate route, ordering a lemon sole with brown butter, capers and parsley, lamb's liver with Lyonnaise onions, potato puree and bacon and Welsh lamb chops with merguez sausage, cous cous and harissa aioli.
The lemon sole was described as being the best the person who chose it had ever tasted. It didn't need any potatoes or vegetables, the butter was just right. The liver was said to be beautifully cooked, not at all like the liver its recipient had been given as a child! The accompaniments meant the dish was well balanced. The liver dish was very generous, as was my lamb. Two chops, properly seasoned, perhaps to some a little underdone but I wasn't asked how I wanted the meat cooked so I trusted the chef and it was full of flavour. The merguez sausage was lovely and spicy. The amount of cous cous was sensible; a large spoonful or two mixed with apricots. The aioli was tangy and served separately so I could make sure I only took as much as I wanted. The food was really very good; all three of us had clean plates at the end and were quite full.
We'd deliberated before we'd even ordered our savory dishes about dessert. We're all big fans of cheese and liked the fact you could have a couple of cheeses from the choice of six at a cost of £4 each, or a selection for £12. There was also a treacle tart, Yorkshire rhubarb and a chocolate marquise on offer but we just didn't have room. It bodes well for the next visit though, as they'll definitely be another one. Great wine, delicious food, friendly service, and a lovely environment offer a wonderful escape from the world outside.