With the all the bells and whistles of a rural village, leafy Islington borough, Canonbury, has no shortages of decent food and drink establishments. While the area is home to several well-loved boozers (The Compton Arms and The Canonbury Tavern being two of them), there has also been a number of notable openings throughout the last few years.
In 2017, Vins set up shop just by Canonbury station and filled a void for laid-back and accessible drinking and dining in the area. Owned by Hugo Thurston and Vinny Burke, the duo also behind Shoreditch’s Jago, Vins is a compact neighbourhood wine bar knocking out effortless small plates and a varied wine list to boot. With the opening of wine bars continuing to crop-up across neighbourhoods in the capital, Vins taps into the sharing plates zeitgeist and offers a seasonally changing menu alongside a stellar vino selection.
Cosy and low-lit, the restaurant’s dark walls gave a feeling of warmth and cosiness, rather than Stygian gloom, while the flickering candlelight added an intimate touch; yet the atmosphere was still buzzy without feeling forced. There’s no doubt Vins’ well-curated natural wine selection is one of the reasons why thirsty patrons swing by, but their carefully put together menu is another reason to visit this undiscovered gem.
As for food, the menu changes regularly and is peppered with a selection of nibbles, alongside wholesome mains. With wine served by the glass and bottle, the menu lends itself to a few “picky bits”, as my mum likes to call it, as well as something more substantial for those willing to while away an evening. Think British classics with a couple of European dishes thrown in for good measure.
We decided to kick things off with the fried potatoes and aioli aka fancy crisps and dip, aka the perfect dinner canapé. Paper-thin potatoes finished to a crispy golden brown hue – and generously served with a dollop of punchy aioli. The taleggio sandwich did not disappoint in the comfort food stakes. And truth be told, you can’t go wrong with a reimagined cheese toastie. Taleggio is the ideal melting cheese; a luscious, mild taste that transforms into a gooey landslide when slapped between two slices of squishy sourdough and fried.
Not phased by another deliciously beige dish, we ordered the potato and spring onion croquettes with garlic aioli. These fist-size balls encased in a crunchy outer, and a molten middle – accompanied by a warm, garlicky mayonnaise – resulted in a delightfully satisfying combination. Elsewhere, the beef ragù served with orzo pasta was middle-of-the-road. The pasta was nicely cooked, the sauce was ok, but lacked real depth and richness. Enjoyable nonetheless. We opted for a retro-classic for pudding: rum baba. Saturated in plenty of boozy syrup, the light and airy sponge – studded with flavours of citrus and with a brioche-like taste – was utterly moreish.
Wine here is big business. Shining a light on lesser-known regions and grape varieties, along with low intervention winemaking from growers promoting biodiversity, the wine list is a treasure trove of unsung heroes. Best to ask Vinny for a recommendation. On his good word, we sank a divine light-bodied Beaujolais. Smooth, fruity, and easy on the palette.
Nicely choreographed small plates and sensational wines – Vins is worth the schlep across town. The residents of Canonbury have never had it so good.
Vins can be found at 93 Grosvenor Avenue, London, N5 2NL.