Looking for an atmospheric wine bar serving delicious French-inspired tapas and good plonk in which to hide from the bustling crowds of an evening? Girl Thursday, our First Lady of Luxuriant Venues, visits Terroirs Wine Bar & Restaurant in London’s West End to give them a going over. But do they cut the Dijon to be included in her prestigious and exclusive little black book?
Producer: Darling, you were marvellous. Best show yet.
Leading Lady: Really? You thought so? But what about that bit where I –
Producer: Loved it. Loved it. Keep it in, I think.
A typical scene post-show in the dressing rooms of theatres across the West End. But in this little vignette, the award for best performance goes to the producer. In all likelihood, he didn’t even see the show. Or at least, not all of it. The true sign of a seasoned theatre professional is having mastered the art of spending as little time as possible actually seated in the theatre, without any of the people involved realising you weren’t there.
It’s not callous or due to a lack of interest in ‘the work’ – it’s self-preservation. You simply can’t see certain plays or musicals over and over again without cracking up. If you’ve spent all day tussling with agents and directors then a little bit of psychological distance from the theatre is necessary. And sometimes it’s far easier to tell someone they were marvellous when you didn’t have to see that they weren’t. For times such as these, there is much to be said for knowing where best to go for a quick drink or a bite to eat and still be back at the theatre in time for the interval or the curtain-call.
Terroirs is in a great spot for just that. It’s actually in a great spot for all kinds of reasons. Bang in the heart of London near Trafalgar Square, but sufficiently tucked away down a little side-street. If it had been there whilst I was plying my trade as a producer in the area’s theatres, then I have a feeling that I would have got to know the staff pretty well.
My first trip to Terroirs was after my husband and I had sneaked out of the second half of a particularly awful play (those old theatre habits must be dying hard). We were very much in need of something to take away the taste of what we’d just been watching and Terroirs proved to be just the ticket. Nicely bustly busy but not crammed so tightly with people that you can’t move or have a proper conversation. It’s all French rustic chic but done with such genuine charm that it hits just the right non-gimmicky note.
Perched at the bar we ordered a glass of red each. Just a quick drink to have a laugh about the show and then we’d head home. Or at least that was the plan. But the placemats cunningly double as menus for their French tapas plates. Before we knew it we were trying to decide how many dishes to order and yes, maybe a bottle would be better after all.
This tapas approach to sharing a variety of small plates may not be everyone’s cup of chocolat chaud but it creates an informality that suits the mood of Terroirs perfectly. I plumped for the Cheltenham Beetroot & Fresh Goat’s Curd, fully aware that my husband likes neither beetroot nor goat’s cheese but the people next to us were having it and it looked too good to miss. Imagine my surprise when he tried a little, loved it and then proceeded to eat rather more than would have seemed to be his fair share. (In my defence, he ordered the Potted Brown Shrimps and I normally hate those, although the ones at Terroirs weren’t half bad).
The highlight was definitely the Clams, Vermouth and Aioli, its fantastic juices mopped up by chunks of rustic bread. But in all of this a note of warning – the Cantabrian Anchovies, Shallots and Unsalted Butter are incredibly strong and will blow your head off. I like an anchovy as much as anyone but cor blimey they were a shock.
So there we were, tucking into our French feast and putting the world to rights over a very nice bottle from Terroirs’ impressive winelist. The early part of the evening had become a distant memory and so we’d quite forgotten that before we scampered out of the theatre we’d met some old friends at the interval who were having a grand old time loving the show. So much so that they’d evidently decided to nip into Terroirs afterwards to talk about how wonderful it was. The guilty looks on our faces (and probably also the half-empty bottle of wine) gave us away as not having only just got there ourselves; a rookie error that would have brought shame on me if I was still working in the theatre.
A quick post-script: I returned to Terroirs a few weeks later with some friends, to try out their restaurant downstairs. And sad to say, it was not nearly so much fun. The service which upstairs is informal and relaxed, becomes rude and slow down there. They were pretty busy but the staff and the kitchen seemed to be struggling to cope with the demands of the evening. Maybe we got them on a bad night. Upstairs’ charming, lively ambience hasn’t bothered to make the journey down the stairs and it feels no different to countless other bland restaurants that I wouldn’t rush to. But most disappointing of all was the too-limited menu and the standard of the food.
The only thing we ate that night which hit the levels I’d so enjoyed upstairs was the Bitter Chocolate Pot. Heavenly and almost good enough to compensate for the stodgy nightmare that was the cassoulet. The good news is that the chocolate pot is also on the upstairs menu so a return to Terroirs will definitely be on the cards, but for the upstairs experience only.
Summary: enjoy tapas at the bar upstairs, be prepared for an unpredictable meal downstairs. If in doubt, order the Chocolate Pot.
Terroirs Wine Bar & Restaurant, 5 William IV Street, London WC2. Tel. 020 7036 0660. Website: www.terroirswinebar.com.