Just around the corner from Carnaby Street and right in the heart of Soho’s boutique and bar land sits Antidote Wine Bar, a little idyll for the discerning wine drinker.
Before you even set foot in this cosy little wine bar and restaurant you get the general impression of The Continent. On warm summer days bay windows are flung open and rustic little tables and chairs sit out on cobbled Newburgh Street. The pale blue wall paint is used on both external and internal walls, helping the wine bar stand out from flashy boutiques but allowing it to maintain an air of grace and sophistication. As you enter this small venue you’re greeted by a long bar with wine stacked in racks, stored in chillers on top of the bar and even recycled in the green bottle lighting fixtures hanging from above. Shabby chic mirrors and vintage lamps warm up the venue and add even more rustic charm to the place. Upstairs is more space for drinking, dining and private functions. The same careless abandon is added to the furniture selection, with mix and match chairs and tables scattered about. A black and white photo montage on the wall pays homage to some of the late, great stars of France and little French titbits and memorabilia are displayed on the mantelpieces.
Fans of French bistros and bars will be utterly charmed when they step through the door of Antidote, which feels every bit the continental venue. The cramped but light-filled space is packed with seating in every alcove and attracts not just couples, but also groups of older friends and French-speaking patrons, many of whom happily while away an evening solo at the bar before their friends arrive. If new visitors weren’t aware of the French tradition by just glancing at this bar, then the clientele and waiting staff would certainly give the game away, oozing with Parisian charm and welcoming all diners as only the French can.
The menu at Anitdote is ideal for just a light bar snack, but larger meals can also be enjoyed here. Ideal for dates and great with a glass of wine are the sharing platters, such as the charcuterie platter from Jura with bread (£13) and the cheese platter from Beillevaire (£13.50). Small dishes take more global influences but are clean on the palate and easily balanced with the wine selections, like the baby squid, picked vegetables and Tzatziki (£7.50), a really refreshing palate cleanser with plenty of dill thrown into the mix. Globe artichoke with vinaigrette (£6) makes for a decadent snack and a brilliant vegetarian option, the vinaigrette rich and bursting with garlic flavour. Mussels, bacon and cider (£7) is a heftier menu choice that is quintessentially French. The full-on flavour of the mussels is greeted with a rich cider sauce and fried bacon lardons, making this a dish not for the faint-hearted but delicious all the same.
Those with a bigger appetite can choose from the grill menu, with four different cuts of beef on offer served with either peppercorn, béarnaise or bordelaise sauce and chips. All cuts of beef are 21-day aged and the fillet (£24) is so beautifully tender it melts on the mouth and is the perfect accompaniment for a glass of red. A few dessert options may tempt diners, with the tonka crème brulee (£6) standing out as a real French fancy. Its large size and creamy taste makes it a bit of a naughty treat for one or an ideal dessert for two. And the Peach Melba panacotta (£6) is definitely one for those with a sweet tooth, but peaches served on the side were disappointingly under ripe on this occasion.
As you’d expect, Antidote’s take on wine makes a refreshing break from the norm. The focus here may be on France, but with a wine list that includes 150 bins, this Soho wine bar also looks to the rest of Europe and occasionally the New World for inspiration. The one defining factor is that all wines are organically and biodynamically produced and Antidote only selects wines from independent vineyards where no chemicals are used. And the bar staff take such an interest in the drink that they can select you the perfect tipple and even offer you an in-depth back story on the region and producer.
White wines to watch out for include the mise du printemps from Alsace (£7 a glass), which is fruity and fresh, and a delicious and buttery 2009 Burgandy Chablis (£7.50 a glass). Great with food from the grill is the full-bodied and intense Chateau Le Puy merlot-cabernet sauvignon cross (£40 a bottle). And the sweet wines at Antidote are exceptional, the 2008 Domaine de Souch from Jurancon (£75 a bottle) being an extravagant but delicious choice for oenophiles.
The Last Word
Making a welcome break from the often over-thought image of many a Soho bar, Antidote subtly reminds its visitors of how the French do things best – especially when it comes to the humble grape.