Sager and Wilde is a cult wine bar making wines not usually served by the glass accessible. Run by a husband-and-wife team, Sager and Wilde appeals just as much to hipsters after Txakoli and a grilled cheese sandwich as straying City workers looking to enjoy white Rioja without EC1 mark-ups.
Hackney Road is an eclectic mix of the decaying-old, the hipster-present, and the optimistic-new. Sager and Wilde lies somewhere between the hipster-present and the optimistic-new. The white-fronted, chic wine bar is just down the road from the Hackney City Farm and Mecca Bingo - a far enough trek from Shoreditch High Street to feel that you're truly off the beaten track.
Inside, Sager and Wilde is 'salvage chic' - a cosmopolitan vibe built from reclaimed pieces from round the world. There are old German station lights, steel passage lights from a Japanese supertanker, a bar-top crafted from cast iron pavement lights, and boxes of antique bottle openers mounted on the bare brick walls.
Although the interior certainly has a utilitarian feel, the seating is laid out in a way that encourages intimate meetings. Along the side wall couples can perch around small, candle-lit tables, and toward the back of the venue are a couple of high tables to accommodate groups dropping by. Most unusually for such a small joint, there are twenty or so seats around the bar - to encourage visitors to sit and chat to the barmen about what they're drinking, or what they're planning to drink next.
In a wine bar with such unusual (some might even say intimidating) bottles, it would be easy for the atmosphere to lapse into the realms of pretentiousness. Thankfully, Sager and Wilde proves too much of a genuine enterprise for that. It's clear that the bar is borne from love more than anything else, and the atmosphere reflects this.
A few years ago, husband-and-wife founders (Michael and Charlotte Sager-Wilde) were doing the professional rounds of London bars - both working at Milk and Honey, with Hawksmoor, Quo Vadis and The East Room also featuring on their CVs. They set off on a trip, which turned into a two year sojourn, where they worked the wine harvests from California to Chile - with a stop off in Vegas to get hitched. On return, Sager-Wilde tested their concept with successful pop-up, Bird & Ballard. After which, they took out the lease on the historic British Lion Pub on Hackney Road, and transformed it into an East End wine bar.
The reason that Sager and Wilde will thrive is that it isn't a chain. It's not being bankrolled. The wines don't appear on the menu because of flashy names, or lucrative mark-ups: they feature because they're lovingly picked by the pair themselves, who will often be behind the bar to introduce you to a new bottle, and even tell the tale behind how they first came across it.
Wine is the main event here. But Sager-Wilde have put together a short and clever food menu, which complements the wine list, and helps stave-off rumbling bellies. The best-received dish by some way (and with good reason) is the grilled cheese sandwich (£7.50). There's also a considered selection of four cheeses (all of which are perfectly ripe) and a selection of four cured meats, which arrive on a wooden platter (£10). Nibbles range from some quite special pickles (£4) to dishes of olives (£3).
Sager-Wilde's main aim is to make available wine which is usually only sold by the bottle. Take one of their bottles of Bordeaux - a 1997 La Chappelle De La Mission Haut-Brion Pessac-Leognan; most people would be forking out £140 for a bottle in London restaurants but here the couple sell it by the glass, at a very reasonable £9.50.
Although the menu features some high-end offerings, glasses start round the £4.50 mark - and you can be sure that they're going to be a little more special than most house reds or white. The wine list isn't lengthy - perhaps twenty different wines in total but they offer an extraordinary journey through some of the most exciting bottles available. From white Burgundies to Sicilian reds, bubbly from Kent and Basque's famous Txakoli poured from up on high, expect it all. There's also a good selection of vermouths and sweet wines, as well as a couple of 'pinks' and a few beers for anyone who ended up here by mistake.
The Last Word
In an area resisting gentrification, opening a wine bar was a brave move. Sager and Wilde's warm reception just goes to show the care which has gone into this much-anticipated launch. The eclectic mix of customers also demonstrates that the couple are achieving what they set out to - getting Londoners to stray from the pub house wines, and drop by to try something new. And a hell of a lot more exciting.