Hendon has a new Portuguese restaurant – on the site of an old one. Costa’s (R.I.P.) became Wine & Bread in November 2010. It’s a homely little place serving homely, big dishes and surprisingly sophisticated wines.
Church Road is a rather soulless hotchpotch of businesses both up (modern furniture shops, smart Chinese restaurants) and downmarket (fast food takeaways, locksmiths, budget hotels). Wine & Bread - one of the more upmarket places - is a proverbial tardis; hidden inside a narrow shopfront sits a spacious little café, leading up to a 32-cover restaurant. And even further back there's a lounge bar for about thirty. The food might be of one country but the décor is disconcertingly global with patterns and pictures from India, Cuba, Egypt and elsewhere. The heavy, dark wood chairs and tables keep things atmospheric, whilst the splashes of orange, blue and turquoise amidst the predominately white décor evoke the sun of the Iberian peninsula.
Two months after opening, business is slow on a weeknight but the smattering of locals seems happy. Husband and wife owners Kadir Ipek (who’s Turkish) and Marcia Barradas (Portuguese) preside calmly and cheerily.
Slices of unremarkable, soft white bread (alentajo, a traditional Portuguese village bread), broa bread (cornbread) and garlicky black and green olives cost £1 per table which seems hardly worth the bother and a tad inhospitable to British diners - though it’s perfectly normal practice in southern Europe, of course - as is the butter and sunflower spread in individual foil-wrapped rectangles.
From eleven starters, pan-fried tiger prawns flambéed (though not at the table) in white wine, garlic and parsley (£5.50) hit the spot. The four, unadorned, medium-sized crustacea have great freshness and flavour and plenty of buttery, garlicky juices. Meanwhile, a traditional Portuguese sausage (chourico, £4) does arrive merrily flaming and is also served on it's own, pleasingly, save for some more bread. It is juicy, salty and meaty but is a little rich.
On the main course menu, fish gets a good showing. Sun-dried char-grilled cod in olive oil and garlic (£11.50) is a huge portion of crisp, flaky fish. Unfortunately it’s too salty for many British palates, even those used to salt cod. Meanwhile, char-grilled octopus (£12) - another hefty serving - is downright delicious. Both dishes feature plenty of highly garlicky oil, perfectly cooked broccoli and carrots and what the menu prosaically calls ‘crushed potato with skin’, which turns out to be a pair of sizeable Charlotte potatoes.
Puds seem like a disappointing afterthought; only three are offered (verbally), all £3, with a further option of cheese. Portuguese trifle is not unlike ours – custard, cream, cake crumbs, strawberry puree. It’s a cloying affair which more tart fruit would rectify. Chocolate mousse arrives decorated with Callebaut chocolate buttons but is terribly runny, as if it's just been made and hasn’t spent enough time in the fridge.
The wine list (global and with a fair smattering of Portuguese), features nine whites, thirteen reds, one rosé, one Champagne and a single prosecco. Nothing but the Champagne (£35) breaks the £20 barrier, and a perfectly reasonable three whites and four reds are available by the glass.
Sauvignon de Tourraine, Domaine Guy Allion from the Loire is a steal at £3.50/£13.50; crisp, rich, rounded and perfectly chilled, whilst other stand out options include the Vinho Verde Branco, Quinta da Sanjoanne at £14.50 and the Quinta da Vegia Porta Fronha, Dao (£16.95), both from Portugal and both well-priced and very nice indeed.
The Last Word
Wine & Bread might not become a destination restaurant but it’s a welcome addition to Hendon’s less-than-spectacular dining scene. Some of its dishes could use a spot of fine-tuning but its heart is in the right place, and some of the wine is eyebrow-raisingly good.