In an area literally overflowing with great places to eat, this unassuming bar-restaurant more than holds its own by dishing up top quality cuisine.
Located close to Waitrose, halfway up St. John's Street in Clerkenwell, The Well is an intimate eatery and cool subterranean hangout rolled into one. With large open-front windows looking out onto the wooden tables and blue shades outside, the dining room is bathed in natural light by day and pleasingly cosy at night. The sturdy wooden tables and chairs are placed strategically around the small but well-appointed bar and the decor, from the printed paintings and flower arrangements to the exposed brickwork and blackboards announcing specials, is eye-catching but not overbearing.
Down the spiral staircase at the back of the room is a small, sombre lounge at odds with the open space and light upstairs – back-lit red leather sofas line the walls, one of which contains a fully-equipped aquarium, and a scaled-down bar can be found in a secluded alcove, adjacent to the spotless facilities. An ideal place to adjourn to after a hard evening's eating in the restaurant above, the downstairs room is almost womb-like in its layout and relaxing vibe.
Bustling and lively without ever getting too crowded or overly boisterous, The Well is perfectly pitched, as both a restaurant and a bar. The customer base consists mainly of in-the-know locals and young professionals, unwinding after a hard day’s toil in the City or the West End. The restaurant staff are knowledgeable and courteous, the service is personalized and efficient, and the mood lighting and music are kept suitably mellow. Meanwhile, the downstairs area maintains more of a sophisticated party atmosphere, with a shadowy, speakeasy vibe and more propulsive rhythms issuing forth from the sound system.
Locally sourced and served with impressive attention to detail, the food at The Well is nothing short of spectacular. The entrées (£5.50-£8.50) are a meal in themselves, with the woodpigeon, hare and partridge terrine with onion marmalade proving particularly delicious. The mains, however, steal the show, be it the kilo of Shetland Island mussels in white wine and garlic sauce (sourced from Billingsgate Market every morning) to the Herefordshire snail, chicken and bacon pie and mash (£15-£17). The specials vary subject to availability, but one to look out for is the shoulder of wild boar to share (£52 for two) – a truly gargantuan spread of sumptuous slow-cooked meat, potatoes, kale and apple sauce that would befit a Roman banquet! The kitchen can cope with all sorts of configurations of guests, and offers weekend brunch, canapé samplers and deluxe bar snacks including rock oysters (£13.50 for six) and Welsh rarebit (£4.50). The desserts (£5.50) seem almost surplus to requirements given the preceding glut, however they are dispatched with aplomb too, notably the chocolate and cornflake mousse with crème fraîche sorbet.
All of which is complemented by a thoroughly excellent wine list, albeit not one for the faint of wallet – the average price is £20-plus, although the house chardonnay is certainly palatable at £16.50. The South African Pinotage (£22) acts as a perfect foil to the mounds of wild boar, and the dessert Muscat makes for a fitting nightcap. Elsewhere the barman can rustle up a number of signature cocktails (£7.10), notably the arresting Chilli Breeze (coconut rum mixed with lime and fresh chillis) and the house specialty Down The Well (bourbon shaken with apple juice, pear purée and honey), whilst there are a number of esoteric beers and ciders on offer, including Bitburger, Super Bock (£4 on draught) and Kostritzer (£3.70 a bottle).
The Last Word
Somewhat of a hidden treasure if you don’t live nearby, and certainly a firm lunch and dinner favourite with the swathes of local creatives and City workers, The Well offers astonishingly good food, drink and all-round merriment, for prices that won't break the bank. Thoroughly recommended.