When I first arrived in the UK from a third world island of the South Pacific (New Zealand), I chanced upon a new and innovative way of eating food. Tapas was a concept unheard of in early-'90s Polynesia (which becomes obvious when you see the size of people down there). As a food style, it quickly became a favourite of mine.
Of course, as a fashion, tapas quickly went the same way as those other foodie trends such as Pacific Rim and restaurants that specialised in sausages, but not before a whole swag of cultures - including Japanese, Italian and some Middle Eastern countries - had taken their spin on this quintessentially Spanish concept.
Nearly 20 years on, and the only non-Iberian restaurants still beating the small plates drum are Italian, and one, Enoteca da Luca in Devonshire Square, is doing it better then most.
Enoteca means wine bar in Italian, and this place offers the blessed grape drink by the truckload. The emphasis is Italian (the Piemonte, Tuscana, and Veneto regions particularly so) with French wines also featuring strongly. For those who prefer New World, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand are also represented across the reds and whites. They offer most wines by the glass, and while none of the offerings are cheap, they are priced to suit all budgets. Well, City ones, anyway.
The place itself is a set in one of the refurbished warehouse blocks that make up Devonshire Square. The interiors are straight out of that other '90s concept known as industrial modern. Floor to ceiling windows and office-like glass doors welcome you into a relatively small space with exposed brickwork and a combination of ‘standing’ tables (with high chairs for those who want to sit) and smaller tables for pairs. The small bar, which is really a grocery counter, is backed by white tiles, fronted by a fridge complete with cheeses and cured meats, and guarded by a vintage meat slicer. So far, so continental.
The piece de resistance is the high ceiling, racked up with wine bottles – for drinking rather than display – for which the staff happily deploy and scamper up the ladder as required. This brings me to the service, which is incredibly charming and familial - everyone is welcomed as a lost sibling. This is just as well as it can be a tad slow. Table service in a bar is always great; however the team are so friendly with so many of the locals that the time between ordering and getting your drink can seem an age. This is not the best place to pop in for a swifty.
The punters are mostly City, but of the wine bar rather then pub school. Which is just as well, as Enoteca is not a place for beer lovers, with only bottled Peroni on offer. The food – the aforementioned Italian styled tapas – is delicious if not a little pricey. And funnily enough, it is this point which with my critical brethren have picked fault with Enoteca. Which I can see to a point. But despite its failings, Enoteca is a great little bar which, if you can step out of your City mindset and relax, you just might enjoy. It may not be at the cusp of fashion. In fact, in many ways it sits comfortably behind it, but for a very good glass or two of wine, where you can get good chat and unwind, Enoteca delivers.
Who knows, in ten years, this type of bar might even make it to New Zealand.