There is no better place to kick start the evening than a trip to Islington to visit The Sampler. This is unlike the ordinary wine shop, unique in that 80 of their wines for sale are available to sample at any one time. Won’t those eighty bottles of wine go bad you say? Here’s the nifty bit. The Sampler use sampling machines which serve both ‘vending machines’ for wine and as a means to keep the bottles fresh (by filling with nitrogen instead of oxygen thereby preventing oxidation) for up to three weeks. This allows visitors to sip-before-you-buy and can make for an interesting impromptu wine tasting exercise. To start sampling, you’ll need to get your prepaid card at the till, once topped-up, the shop assistant will also provide you with a wine glass and then you are free to choose what wines you’d like to try. Each sample is roughly about a shot’s worth, and depending on the quality of wine, one sample can be as little as fifty pence and go up to as high as thirty pounds. There is a large communal table inside where complimentary cheese and crackers as well as huge tomes of wine literature are available for your perusal. It’s great for groups of friends, and if you’ve always been wondering about wine, this is a good way to get acquainted.
So now that we’ve worked up some liquid courage, it is worth wandering down Upper street toward Angel, where the high street is home to an eclectic range of pubs, restaurants and independent shops. It is also worth a detour into Camden Passage where there are a range of antique dealers who specialise in a wealth of collections, including Vincent Freeman who sells 19th century music boxes. Do wander into Paul A Young which is also based in Camden Passage. Paul is a chocolatier of the highest order, a Yorkshiremen who stinted as the Head of Pastry at Qua Vadis, his chocolates are critically acclaimed, his house collection includes intriguing creations such as marmite truffle and port & stilton.
Continuing past Angel tube station will take you all the way on to St John Street which is home to a number of lovely restaurants. Eastside Inn Bistro owned by Bjorn van der Horst serves up beautiful balanced French bistro style food such as L’onglet with frites and a French onion soup recipe dedicated to his wife Justine. Worth a detour on Commercial Street is the steakhouse Hawksmoor. This restaurant has proper fans. The kitchen features a Josper grill which runs on flaming charcoal that allows it to impart the signature smokey grilled flavour into sealed into their juicy steaks. They source their meat from the well-respected butchers Ginger Pig. Finally, there is the choice of Fergus Henderson’s shrine St John which popularised ‘Nose to Tail’ cooking. It has a michelin star now, and their bone marrow with parsley salad is ever as popular. Spoilt for choice in terms of dinner really.
To end your evening, head toward the piazza at Covent Garden at around ten at night, when all the theatre shows end, and look out for the Italian crooner in a hat with his acoustic guitar serenading the exiting crowd. Luca hails from Pisa in Italy, he regularly remixes English pop songs with his charming acoustic style as well as singing partly in Italian. Basically, it is a romantically impromptu late night session in the city, something to keep your eye out for, plus Luca has groupies too.
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