If you fancy a rustic French experience, Terroirs can’t be beaten.
Formerly a Davy’s wine bar, Terroirs is located on unassuming William IV Street, just steps away from Charing Cross. Although when they first opened only the ground floor was used, thanks to continued success Terroirs have turned the basement level into more space for diners and drinkers. Both levels are similar in decor, with lots of warm woods, the occasional brick wall, old fashioned posters and prints and knick-knacks decorating the shelves. Upstairs it’s split between a level even with the windows and a slightly lower area surrounding the bar; downstairs the bar area is smaller, with several high tables, and a more restaurant-like area towards the rear up a short flight of stairs. It all feels very French, but not in a cliched, chintzy way – this is the real deal.
Whilst the ground floor buzzes with a vibrant, energetic atmosphere, the basement level is calmer and seems more grown-up, with an older crowd. The menus on both levels are different, with the ground floor more for drinking and small plates, whilst downstairs has larger, more traditional main course-sized portions. Service is professional, prompt and adept at explaining the menu and the wine list, and their recommendations are spot on.
The ground floor menu offers bar snacks, a charcuterie selection, cheeses and small plates, plus plats du jour and a lunch special of a food item and a glass of paired wine for about £10. Downstairs you’ll also find a charcuterie selection, cheeses and small plates, but the list is a bit more in depth and includes a shellfish selection and mains priced from £13 to £15, plus some dishes to share and a choice of five desserts. Portions are large and well worth the price, but as there’s a variety of ways you can order (tapas-style, traditional three courses) that you can pretty much make up your own menu. Plates are all simply and honestly presented, with nothing too fancy getting in the way of enjoying the food.
From the selection of charcuterie dishes, the pork and pistachio terrine (£6) is thick and rich, with creamy pork mixed through with whole pistachios, which are surprisingly softer than you’d expect. The terrine is edged with a chewy, slightly salty piece of pork, and there’s a small pot of cornichons and pickled onions on the side to cut through the richness of the dish. North Atlantic prawns, meanwhile, are well worth the £10 as they’re huge and there are about eight of them. They’re served with their head and shell still on, the only accompaniment a wedge of lemon and a pot of a slightly garlicky mayonnaise – anything else would overwhelm their sweet, succulent flavour.
From the selection of small plates, fish soup (£9) is served in a large white tureen, presented with little pots of finely shredded gruyere, thin croutons and rouille, made slightly spicy – and orange – thanks to a good whack of chilli. The soup itself is smooth, brown and slightly thicker than a broth, with an intense, savoury taste. Cheltenham beetroot salad (£7) is sharp and light, with glossy slices of beetroot topped with greens and a dollop of soft goat’s curd.
There are a choice of about five mains and two sharing dishes for two, a roast Landaise chicken (£28) and a baked Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese with a Noir de Bigorre charcuterie, Ratte potatoes and salad (£38). The mains seem very rustic, with dishes such as Andouillette de Troyes, a French sausage made with tripe, and bavette with bone marrow. Hare ragu (£15), is delicious, served in a large bowl, almost like a stew, with diced carrots and celery, sweet chestnuts and a Chianti sauce and an iron dish filled with creamy, perfectly grainy polenta on the side. The hare itself is incredibly tender, with the flavours from the juices soaking into the carrots, celery and dense, sugary chestnuts.
For dessert, the prune and Armagnac rice pudding (£6) is thick, filling and boozy, with several stewed prunes placed on top. The bitter chocolate pot (£5) is just that, a small white bowl of bitter chocolate with a mousse-like consistency. Thanks to the sharpness of the chocolate, it’s not too rich.
Wine is a big deal at Terroirs, as important as the food if not moreso. The massive wine list is the size of novella at nearly 40 pages, and the descriptions underneath each choice read like an autobiography of the bottle – and well written autobiographies, at that. If you know what you’re looking for it should be easy to choose, but if not the staff are more than helpful. You can get a lot of good bottles for under £20, and whilst the most expensive costs £175 the majority of the massive list is priced at under £40.
Some wines have a little silhouette of a horse next to the price, symbolising that these are the more natural wines on the list that have had almost nothing done to them aside from the wine-making process – no other flavourings or fancy aging processes. Octobre, from Domaine des Foulards Rouge, is one of these natural wines and although it seems slightly bitter at first, the strong grape flavour is actually really pleasant; you feel as if you’re tasting the essence of the wine, rather than what’s been added.
A 2007 Pouilly-Fume, from the Loire region, is so bright and tangy that it almost resembles a Champagne. Also recommended is the clean, crisp white from the Savoie region which is well balanced enough to accompany a variety of dishes. There’s a full page dedicated to wines by the 175ml glass along with 500ml and 750ml pots. If a bottle’s not big enough, there’s a whole page of magnums as well, and Champagne and spirits are also on offer.
The Last Word
A great place to try warming French dishes or just sample some interesting, unusual wines, with a friendly atmosphere and prices that won’t break the bank.