First of all, if you’ve never been down Bow Lane, you should go. A lot of the City’s historic streets have simple yet delightfully descriptive names, but years and years of fires, bombs and economic change mean the muddle of roads and lanes within the old City walls are now surrounded by towering glass buildings that bear no resemblance to their names (Pudding Lane – no sticky toffee sponges in sight, Cheapside – nope, buildings look pretty un-cheap to me, and Poultry – no chickens, just bankers). Bow Lane, on the other hand, narrowly winds between Poultry and Cannon Street, and while now home to the likes of Rigby & Peller, it is oldie-worldly enough to make you feel you could disappear 200 years into the past just by turning into a darkened alleyway.
Bow Lane is also home to a branch of the small wine bar chain, Planet of the Grapes. It has a weird logo that looks more suited to an app icon than a wine bar, and the steps down to the bar were so quiet for a moment we thought we’d be the only ones down there. But we ignored first impressions, because when we entered and were shown to our table, it was the only empty one left in a low-ceilinged basement that felt instantly welcoming.
Planet of the Grapes offers a small selection of wine by the glass, and a big selection by the bottle, which you can buy outright and pay the corkage to drink it on the premises. Having not seen my pal for ages, we didn’t bother looking at the rows of bottles, and instead opted for a safe Malbec. However, if you are inclined, staff are happy to help you navigate the wine choices on offer and make recommendations.
The food choices include plenty of small plates, sliders and sides, a couple of larger dishes, and what they describe as “our famous platters”. Our table neighbours had a platter and it looked mighty generous, but we were more tempted by the small plates. We started with an overflowing bowl of salty padron peppers that were perfectly charred. Strips of tender steak came in a sweet tomato sauce salsa. Scallops in celeriac puree with chorizo and maple syrup ticked so many taste boxes, but could have done with less puree and more scallops. The standout for us was the burrata bruschetta; a large toasted ciabatta with mashed avocado, the creamiest mozzarella and chili sauce. Oh my. It’s everything you want in an open sandwich. I could have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (It’s worth knowing that the menu changes regularly, because none of the dishes we ordered are featured online today).
As the time passed, the bar area filled up with people and the atmosphere started to really buzz. Drinkers and diners are most certainly cityfied and there were definitely sales bods among them out to impress clients, (and I’m pretty sure at least one clandestine twosome that were pretending to have a meeting), but Planet of the Grapes doesn’t actually feel like a suits-only kind of bar. There’s a feel about it that seems to say, ‘hey, we were here on Bow Lane waaaaay before you there, city folk’, and so its clientele doesn’t appear to dictate the atmosphere; rather, suit or no suit, you fit into what’s there, and immediately you’re at ease and relaxed.
Planet of the Grapes is a lovely alternative to the big boozers and slick bars in the City. Check it out for wine tasting and live music too.
PS – thought it was about time to get real and change the title of this feature… because, really, who gets out of work at 5 anyway?