Top Cuvée restaurant review: A promising little cuvée indeed

Top Cuvée restaurant review: A promising little cuvée indeed

Top Cuvée restaurant review: A promising little cuvée indeed 1

The cheapest bottle of white wine at Top Cuvée is £32. On Blackstock Road! That’s the Blackstock Road which links Highbury to Finsbury Park, rather than some other Blackstock Road you might be imagining in Belgravia or on the Upper East Side of New York.

Until quite recently this was basically a no-go area for wine drinkers, like the elephant graveyard was for Simba. Now, £32 for a bottle of wine! What do they take us for? Dot-com fraudsters? Naive tycoons? Witless oligarchs?

Perhaps more sophisticated wine drinkers, statistically almost all of them, will appreciate the mild skin contact and “flinty aromas” of the Chenin Blanc, which a phone search told me is available online for £10.99. The Austrian wine we drank by the glass for £6.50 was perfectly pleasant, but it was hard not to feel I was being dangled by the ankles and shaken out over N5.

Anyway, Top Cuvée is only open in the evenings, and not on Mondays or Tuesdays. By accident I went on the first night after the soft launch. A more glamorous critic, statistically literary all of them, was at the next table on a fraternal outing. In those pressured circumstances I would have been understanding had the staff ignored me. It was gratifying to be treated well by smiley and well-informed waiters.

The bistro menu is short and reasonably uncomplicated, with dishes priced between £6 and £14, which is much more in line with expectation. In general the simple things were the best. There are olives, cheeses and hams to nibble at with the drinks. Soda bread came with a little dish of outrageously salty Normandy butter. Can butter be too salty? I’m not sure.

Then croquettes and rillette and a house terrine. A gently wobbling titanium-white burrata came perched on two structural curves of roasted pumpkin and sprinkled with crunchy dukkah. For their loose-cut steak tartare they add smoked eel to the beef, giving it a kind of sweetness which they cut through with horseradish and dill. Palourde clams with njduja tasted mostly of nduja, which is fine but why bother with the clams?

Jackson Boxer is doing something similar with surf clams, smoked ham and chilli at Orasay, his beautiful new restaurant in Notting Hill, and I don’t quite understand it there, either. Call me an old-fashioned gentleman, but few things seem more deserving of undiluted admiration than a fresh clam.

(Top Cuvee)

Cod came with an oyster emulsion and nori. I wasn’t totally convinced. But the vegetarian main, a beetroot sliced under come di rapa, capers and raddichio leaves was more interesting than it sounded. The only dessert is creme caramel. Between here and Hicce, in Kings Cross, creme caramel looks as if it might be one of the trendy desserts for 2019.

Minor quibbling over the wine aside, I am glad that this is no longer a culinary badlands. There’s Farang up the road and the Mountgrove Bothy round the corner. Top Cuvée is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood. I say “the”, but I mean “my”.

I’m not sure it is quite somewhere you would travel a long distance to visit, but I suspect that’s not the idea and it certainly doesn’t seem to be holding them back. Dinner for two flies over £100 with no trouble at all but the place was already heaving with attractive locals.

The room itself needs a bit of bedding in; some fabric or plants to absorb some of the chatter, and some more decoration on the walls, which were stark. But a new wine-led small-plates bistro ten minutes from my house is a genre of restaurant I greet with open arms. A promising little cuvée indeed, if not quite the top.

Top Cuvée, 177B Blackstock Rd, Highbury East, London N5 2LL;; 020 3294 1665


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