Terroirs Wine Bar & Restaurant, London, February 2009
Terroirs has a lot going for it - more pluses than minuses, thankfully. It's so easy to get ripped off or be disappointed in London, so it's great to have a place that lives up - and down - to its reputation. So far the critics are divided, and I can see why.

Good things first: super atmosphere, utterly delicious, gorgeous food, huge wine list with very attractively priced wines. It's decidedly French, but some dishes nod towards Spain. The food is its number one saving grace. The small dishes to share are intelligently priced, generous rather than picky, and frankly inspired. For example, the Basque piperade with chorizo was really rich and creamy, and the smoked eel intensely juicy and complex. Other slightly less accomplished dishes include the tartine of snails which was perhaps too garlicky but in general every dish we tried was harmonious and amusing and very easy to share between three people.

Things to complain about: the service is erratic. Not so much the individual attitude, which is not exactly graceful, but its organisation (lack thereof). The place was packed, and it feels understaffed. Poor service is fairly consistentl across the UK - there just isn't a service culture here (as opposed to the USA, Spain, France or Australia, all with distinctive and laudable approaches to service) and sadly Terroirs is no exception, even if they are all French. Perhaps that is the reason, I don't know.

The other reservation I have about Terroirs, paradoxically, is the wine list. The wines themselves are of a very high quality - the two we chose were near sensational - but the "concept" is devilishly difficult to absorb. The so-called "natural" wines idea - i.e. organic and/or biodynamic - is pretty problematic to start with (this is not the place to discuss it), but having to wade through a huge list that is organised in a way that is conflict with convention is totally tiresome. It took me 20 minutes to intepret and begin to see what sort of wines might be suitable for us. I had to read endless paragraphs in miniscule font size and flip from one page to another to grasp the context in order to find the marks of identity we all look for in wines to make an informed choice. Grape variety (practically unmentioned) and exact DOC would be a good start. Instead they appear to be reinventing French wine geography and group the wines according their idea of the "natural wine" landscape. This is really taxing on the person trying to make a choice. They should bear in mind that the New World has been very influential in making grape variety central to wine choosing, and it wouldn't hurt to list the varieties and their percentages next to each bottle. Asking for help, I just kept being told how "good" each wine I pointed at was, or they just repeated the name of the wine with better pronunciation. Hopeless. That said, the wines we did have were delicious.

Recommended? In spite of these gripes, most certainly, yes. Great place.
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