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Laughing Heart

Poets and Romantics on Hackney Road

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“Have ye tippled drink more fine than mine host’s Canary wine?”

– John Keats, Lines on the Mermaid’s Tavern (1819)

There’s a new host in town, in the form of Charlie Mellor with the opening of his wine bar and kitchen on Hackney Road. He could have been plucked from the order sheet for an archetypal ‘host’ of the medieval or Elizabethan era (big, bearded, jovial), needing just a leather apron and pewter tankards frothing in both hands to complete the look. Mellor has most recently been seen working the floor at Brawn and Primeur, as well as a previous stint as manager of Elliot’s in Borough Market. A booming classically trained operatic voice is a flourish that some may also have been privy to, on occasions at the end of service.

The Laughing Heart (named after a Charles Bukowski poem) has been a project long in the planning for Charlie, after a couple of pot holes and snags in the build-up were successfully negotiated, with chef Tom Anglesea at the helm in the kitchen. A first visit in their opening week revealed plenty to drag me back there swiftly….

Read on...

This Week

A long overdue visit back to my local legend in Woodford, the never-changing (don’t change) Pizzeria Bel-Sit. On Woodford High Road since 1981 and run by the same family. Veal escalope in breadcrumbs with ‘spaghetti in meat sauce’, and a half-bottle of Sardinian Cannonau. Always rammed, cash only, queues out the door, and no-reservations before it became trendy. In many, many ways, it’s a perfect restaurant.

439-441 High Road, Woodford Green, Essex, IG8 0XE

A great first visit to Crouch Hill newcomer, Nickel. Worth the schlep up the hill from Finsbury Park, and greeted with a fine welcome of Chapel Down’s Curious Brew, the only draft beer (perfect), served in civilised 2/3 schooners: chilled to the very last sip. Tiny open kitchen. A plate of roast cod with romesco and sweet onions, ruddy good. Going back for the weekend lobster rolls.


Back down Crouch Hill to Max’s Sandwich Shop for a chinwag with the inimitable Max, and a perfectly messy, oozy, barnstorming sandwich: roast guinea fowl, pickled grape and tarragon salsa, baby gem, chicory, garlic croutons, anchovy mayo. Pepped up with an eye widening Jamaican Habañero pepper sauce.

Gnocco Fritto’ draped with Prosciutto (order, and order again), excellent spaghetti all’ Amatriciana, and ferocious Negronis for a mere £7.50: Highwayman Gin the distinctive player, hugely aromatic, made in a 16 litre pot copper still in Kentish Town. Stand and Deliver? Delivered a dangerous four times.
I've helped Blacklock (Big
Chops, Skinny Chops, Soho
basement) put together a little
list of wines for their new
blackboard. Friendly cash margins means great drinking without
spaffing over the odds. Chops on
a grill alongside some cracking
wines —

Cabernet Sauvignon 2011,
Restless River
Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa

Cult Syrah 2013, BK Wines
Adelaide Hills, Australia

Cabernet Sauvignon 2011,
Ridge Vineyards Sonoma, USA

Pinot Noir 'Laissez Faire' 2014, Cherubino Pemberton, Australia

Nero d'Avola 2013, Fox Gordon
Adelaide Hills, Australia

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Riesling 2012, Sybille Kuntz
Mosel, Germany

'Kortpad Kaptoe' 2014,
Blank Bottle Wellington, South Africa

Chardonnay 'Graviers' 2012, Stephane Tissot Arbois, France

Riesling 2013, Clos Clare
Watervale, Australia

'Toru' (Gewürztraminer/ Riesling/Pinot Gris) 2013,
Te Whare Ra
Marlborough, New Zealand


A heroic lunch at The Guinea Grill in Mayfair. Game pie, sirloin on the bone, steak and kidney pie with added oysters, lamb chops, beef dripping chips, gratin dauphinoise, peas with bacon, creamed spinach, prawn cocktails – the kind of rambunctious dining room on a Friday afternoon that makes you feel like you’ve slipped through a wormhole into Dickensian London. The arrival of ever present uber-landlord Oisin Rogers has given this Mayfair stalwart an added spark of energy and a dash of Irish bonhomie. In the London restaurant pantheon of a 'four hour lunch’ job – all calls diverted to answerphone.  

"Just for one please.” – How many times have I uttered this? A lot. I love it. I’m well up for this solo dining lark me...

Zeren Wilson has a passion for dining out alone.

Noble Rot
Issue N12
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A walk on
the North-East side

Zeren Wilson enthuses about the evolution in dining and drinking options in his ‘hood – “We’ve never had so many food writers traipsing out of Central line stations...”

CODE Quarterly
Issue 8
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The wines of Chianti are among the best known in the world, but not always seen as “premium.” As the region celebrates its 300th anniversary we meet some of the winemakers changing perceptions.

Luxury Defined
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"Bloody tasting notes. The infuriating, bombastic, ridiculous tasting note, sitting there all smug and chuffed with itself – “look at me, aren’t I clever”, it seems to chime. Cocky little bugger."

Noble Rot
Issue N11
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As Sideways opens on the stage in London, Zeren Wilson reminisces of his time spent in the vineyards of California.

CODE Quarterly
Issue 7
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“Wild chimps caught boozing on 7% ABV ‘wine’”, shrieked the headline in The Guardian last year. As headlines go, that’s a corker.

Noble Rot
Issue N10
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“It’s likely that the thunderbolt wine revelation usually comes courtesy of a restaurant, via a well chosen list, a savvy sommelier, a beautiful plate of food, and the perfect alchemy of a night out.”

Once you’ve had a taste of the good stuff, "it's hard to go back”. Here he explores the vinous Holy Grail. Corkscrews at the ready.

CODE Quarterly
Issue 6
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Everyone knows the wines of Napa and Sonoma, but some of California’s lesser-known wine regions are producing vintages that are equally appealing...

Christie's Magazine
February 2016
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Wine is good for you

"A meal without wine is unthinkable for some. Being in a restaurant sober and not witnessing the cut and thrust of the dining room; missing that moment when the volume seems to ‘pop’, usually around 9pm, would make me consider why I was there at all...

Hoi Polloi
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Zeren Wilson ponders the often-snubbed ‘house wine’ and assures us that frugal drinking in London is better than it has been before.

“Monsieur, with this House Ferrero Rocher Wine, you are really spoiling us...”. Or something like that...

CODE Quarterly
Issue 5
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The Menu Fetishist Returns

“Here’s our menu, let me know if you have any questions...” The phrase that launched a thousand meals. You read, you choose, you ask, they bring: no titillation here, nothing to see, please move along. You’re a menu fetishist? You sick bastard...

Noble Rot
Issue N8
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Wine List Man vs Inverted Snob

Do you really know about wine? Or is all your swaggering braggadocio about to be mercilessly skewered by the secret wine buff in your midst?

Noble Rot
Issue 6
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Written Welcome
to K–Town

There’s something in the air and it’s Korean flavoured. Zeren Wilson finds out why Korean cuisine is the food of the moment

May 2015
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Written Blue

Spring; The menu bristles with the confidence that means no frilly language, just laconic listings of ingredients with the odd nod to a cooking technique here or there:

Completely London
Spring 2015
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Written Thai Lords

Thai cuisine is on
the verge of a re-appraisal in the UK, with new restaurants cooking regional dishes that really highlight the depth and diversity of the food. Zeren Wilson reports

Caterer & Hotelkeeper,
February 2014
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Written Lambrusco

Having fallen from grace, Lambrusco is now making a comeback in its traditional form as a deep, dry,
sparkling wine from Emilia Romagna. Zeren Wilson hails the return of this once–derided drop.

Christie’s Magazine,
October 2014
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Written California

The wines of Napa Valley and Sonoma County are back in the frame, their characteristic exuberance tempered with the restraint that first wowed the world in 1976. Zeren Wilson, reports

Christie’s Magazine,
November 2014
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Written What to drink with a kebab

– And it's not lager.

Inspired by the recent British Kebab awards Zeren Wilson wonders what the perfect wine pairing is for a kebab and comes up with some surprising conclusions.

Matching Food & Wine
August 2014
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Six generations of the Allegrini family have been growing grapes in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico region. The traditional dessert wine of Valpolicella, grapes are dried for around five months, shrivelling the grapes and concentrating the sugar content, before being aged in French oak barrels for fourteen months. What emerges is luscious, velvety, laden with spice and dried fruits, a healthy 14.5% ABV, and a cracking way to end a meal. Enjoyed chilled after lunch at Margot, Paulo de Tarso’s and Nicolas Jaouën’s slick new Italian opening in Covent Garden.
Wine of the week

Recioto 2011, Giovanni Allegrini, Valpolicella, Italy



The Brookmill

The handsomely re-furbished Brookmill pub is already doing a great job of ticking off the 'ideal neighbourhood pub’ boxes:

1: Sausage Rolls (excellent, still warm if you’re lucky)

2: Scotch Eggs (great sausage meat, oozy yolk, warm if you time it right)

3: Bombay Mix (bar snack epiphany)

Head Chef Olly Marlowe has had stints at Wandsworth’s Chez Bruce (a true gem), and The Glasshouse in Kew. A couple of early visits have revealed some confident, assured cooking. An excellent pork chop with creamed potato and burnt apple purée; confit lamb breast, salsa verde, white turnips and meat juices.

4: Gratin Dauphinoise Pie, onion purée and charred lettuce (yes, coming back for more)

Deptford/St Johns (SE8), has never had it so good.

When news gets out that two of the mainstays of the estimable Terroirs group are striking out on their own, ears prick up and a flurry of bookings are made by many of those tracking the current fervid London restaurant landscape: ballsy, gutsy cooking with no faff or fanfare is the rich seam that has run through the Terroirs DNA since they opened in 2009. Oli Barker and Head Chef Pascal Wiedemann bring a welcome robust smack in the chops to genteel and monied Holland Park, a neighbourhood which, apart from the pristine Lidgate’s butcher, has historically had little reason to drag anyone to W11 for anything food related. One lunch is enough to convince:

Pork & Pistachio terrine – (£8) – Memories of the excellent terrines at Terroirs. Jammed with lardo, chicken livers, and other goodness. Textbook terrine. “A master of the country terrine”, according to Chef David Gingell of Primeur.

Devilled Egg, anchovies, mâche salad (£7.50)  – Keep these coming all day on a conveyor belt. Punchy Cantabrian anchovies starring.

Squid, brandade & piment d’Espelette (£10.50) – Curls of silkily tender squid, creamiest salt cod brandade beneath. Yes.

  Quail, white polenta, gremolata (£9.50) – Plump and bronzed, we chase white polenta round the plate, mopping and sucking it from chunks of crisped quail. 

  Pork chop, Jersey Royals, wild garlic, sauce charcutière (£17.50) – Unimpeachable chop, with a deeply flavoured, gorgeously rendered ribbon of fat. Quite indecent, quite wonderful.

Tiny and cosy, it has a ‘skiving off work lunch' written all over it. I’ll be on a table beside the kitchen.