Vinoteca Farringdon: More about the wine than the food (March 2015)

The name Vinoteca perhaps says it all: this place is about wine. It is hard to fault the success of the group, with it mini-empire now spanning five branches as well as an online wine shop. However, a recent lunchtime visit to its Farringdon outpost suggested that the food remains very much an after-thought. We arrived at 12.30 to a deserted restaurant – never a great sign – although the place did gradually fill up. Curiously, despite being the only guests, our somewhat supercilious server only allowed us to choose our seating from a small segment of tables rather than across the whole restaurant – another black mark. The menu itself is centred around modern European dishes and is priced fairly, at around £7-8 for starters and £15 for mains. I couldn’t help feeling though that Vinoteca was trying to achieve the impossible, offering interesting and original dishes at compelling prices. Despite being a relatively seasoned restaurant-goer, a brief run-through of the menu revealed several ingredients I had never heard of (puntarelle, purslane) and also some overly-engineered combinations. From concept to reality, this thesis was borne out. I began with the Devon crab, quinoa, courgette, mint and chilli. It sounded conceptually enticing, but comprised predominantly quinoa with a tangible absence of chilli. By the end of the dish, I simply found it tiresome and a little too worthy. Similarly, with regard to the main, my salmon fillet was almost obliterated by its braised gem lettuce accompaniment. There was no evidence of the promised ‘datterini’ tomatoes and I was still none the wiser as to what – if anything – the purslane added to the dish. My dining comrade expressed similar bewilderment over his options. At least the wines pleased. Vinoteca has a genuinely interesting and original list and we particularly enjoyed the Italian Kerner, wonderfully crisp with some lovely mandarin and lime undertones. My advice: if in the area, come here for wine, but there are many better dining options in nearby Smithfield. If you want wine and food together in a (relative) value-based convivial setting, then consider 28:50 instead.