As we all know, terroir means ‘a sense of place’, but at first glance Terroirs looks like a thoroughly conventional attempt at transplanting a traditional French bistro to the mean streets of central London. There’s little sense of place to be derived from the relatively neutral décor of old advertising posters, wooden bistro chairs and banquettes. But look a bit closer and you’ll realise that there’s something a little bit special going on here, something that lifts Terroirs beyond the bland commuter watering hole it could so easily have been.
To begin with, the reasonably priced food (most dishes come in at under a tenner) combines creativity with a respect for full-on flavours and impeccable provenance, as revealed in the pungently garlicky snails and bacon draped over a slice of sourdough toast, the tender gaminess of a hare ragout with earthy discs of Jerusalem artichoke and the tangy sweetness of crêpes served with a sauce of salted caramel.
The menu ranges from bar nibbles – deliciously crispy duck scratchings and piquant radishes with butter and sea salt – to plats du jour that might include the aforementioned hare ragout as well as duck and salsify pie or an unctuous pork belly with Tarbais beans. In between, you’ll find well-sourced selections of charcuterie and cheese and a range of ‘small plates’ – my current favourite is a punchy dish of clams, ham, garlic and chilli. In short, Terroirs has something to offer everyone, from a bit of ballast to accompany a post-work drink or a full-on meal to satisfy the heartiest of appetites.
The food is the work of chef Ed Wilson, who has worked with both the Galvin brothers and Henry Harris and has a stint as head chef at Sonny’s under his belt (great provenance, it seems, is not just reserved for Terroirs’ food). The wine list is as eclectic as the menu, thanks in part to the fact that one of Terroirs’ key backers is Les Caves de Pyrene, a respected wine merchant with a list strong in minimal-intervention wines from France and Italy (many of which are either organic or biodynamic). The selection of wines by the glass or 500ml carafe currently includes a mineral-laden Montlouis and a characterful Irouléguy Rouge as well as more conventional offerings, such as a Muscadet from Pierre Luneau and Jean Foillard’s Morgon. If you’re after a bottle, the choices range even further afield – Zidarich’s Vitovska is particularly wild and wonderful, while Domaine du Cros’ Lo Sang Del Pais, a Marcillac, is the kind of wine that makes you wonder why on earth the wines of southwest France aren’t more popular. As an added bonus, the mark-ups on the wines are well below average – ample incentive to take a punt on a wine with which you might not yet be familiar. And, if you’re in the mood for a nightcap, there’s a top-notch selection of Armagnacs lined up behind the bar. The front-of-house staff are trained to offer advice on matching wines to food and are both enthusiastic and eager to please – although many of them seem more at home recommending wines from their native France than they are with those from elsewhere. Regardless, the place is already becoming popular with people working nearby as well as those looking for somewhere decent to eat and drink in the West End (a commodity that’s in precious short supply).
It’s also becoming a bit of an open secret in the wine trade: I’ve been to Terroirs half a dozen times since it opened in late 2008 – and each time I step through the door I’ve run into one of my wine-writing colleagues, visiting winemakers, a group of sommeliers or a huddle of wine importers. It looks like Terroirs is already creating its own sense of place.
Terroirs wine bar
5 William IV Street
Tel: 020 7036 0660