28:50 Mayfair: Wonderful wine and pretty good food – what’s not to like? (December 2013)

One of the most positive developments that has occurred in the London eating/ drinking scene in recent years has been the growing democratisation of wine. Although there are still plenty of places with snooty sommeliers and fat leather bound books of over-priced French vintages, a plethora of newer establishments have also emerged offering interesting and often under-appreciated wines from around the world and by the glass. 28:50 is one of this breed and its third outlet, in Mayfair, represents a notable improvement on the previous two. In contrast to the slightly claustrophobic and rather dark outpost on Fetter Lane, or the too-small venue in Marylebone, 28:50 on Maddox Street is light and spacious. Tables are judiciously spaced and the setting manages to capture both modern cool (exposed brick and metal) with a nod to the more traditional (wooden French wine boxes, for example). I visited with a work colleague for an informal lunch, but the setting is undoubtedly designed both to suit business and pleasure. Pre-Christmas, the venue was inevitably busy with several large parties, and despite being less than three months old, staff seemed to cope more than adequately with the challenge and we felt neither unattended nor rushed. It was indeed a pleasure to have a time to review the ample wine list on arrival. Servings are available in four formats, 75ml, 125ml, a 250ml carafe or a bottle, with the sizes inevitably prompting the opportunity to taste widely – and cheaply, with some of the smallest samples being available for less than £3 a glass. We both started with a wonderfully refreshing glass of Manzanilla sherry, redolent of almonds, dried herbs and a hint of iodine, a perfect match for our charcuterie board to share. In contrast to many, there was just the right amount of meat (six pieces each), interestingly selected and served with perfectly crisp bread. Mains have a conscious nod to French cuisine and diners can choose from a competitively priced set menu (2 courses for £15.95), a fairly traditional selection of grilled meats or about half-a-dozen mains. Both my comrade and I were impressed with our dishes, a deliciously juicy lamb shank for me and a pan-fried sea bream for my colleague, inventively served with crab gnocchi and fennel compote. Two such different dishes provided another opportunity to peruse the wine list and we were delighted to pair our mains respectively with a South African blend of Chardonnay, Chenin and Viognier and Rhone Vacqueryas. The bill, even with water, coffee and service ended up being very reasonable (c£80), providing us with all the more reason to return.