The Drapers Arms
44 Barnsbury Street, Islington, N1 1ER
WLC Rank : 72
Glass from : £ 5.50 (175 ml)
BEST FORHandsome edifice
Carefully collected, kindly priced wines
The chocolate & stout fudge cake
Marathon man, Nick Gibson revived one of Islington’s most respected boozers while having the foresight to begin purchasing wines en-primeur.
“I bloody love that people share knowledge, drink together and are kind and friendly, opening places like Noble Rot, The 10 Cases and Quality Wines to indulge and share their passion and enthusiasm,” says finance man turned gastro-publican, Nick Gibson. With Ben Maschler, the son of the restaurant critic, Fay Maschler, Gibson saved Islington’s handsome Drapers Arms from receivership a decade ago.
Adhering to the motto, “always raucous, always fun”, The Drapers Arms fast accumulated fame under Gibson’s tenure for his “Drink the List” showcases, “where we opened every bottle on the list and let everyone help themselves.” However, as the list grew, “with irreplaceable bottles too numerous,” such events could today prove ruinous. “Overall, the list gets longer,” says Gibson. “When I reorganised from a long list on price to groupings, it became apparent where there were holes, so fixing the lack of exceptional Loires has for example been work in progress – I may have some Domaine Clos Rougeard on its way.” A keen supporter of the South African wine industry, Gibson enriched the offer from the Cape, “including six Chenin Blancs, such as NAUDE, Patatsfontein and David & Nadia.”
With thanks to “excellent” suppliers, “especially Greg Sherwood MW at Handford Wines,” regular guests have learnt to look out for the Friday weekly mixed takeaway case to take away, which may include “curiosities – a comparison of reductive and oxidative whites – to the more prosaic, such as Tuscan Sangiovese.”
To drink in, “fair, cash mark-ups” are applied to carefully kept bottles such as Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru Les Folatieres, Gevrey-Chambertin Estournelles-Saint-Jacques, La Crouzille St Emilion and Podere Salicutti Montalcino. “Demand for higher-end wines has been greater than I anticipated years ago, so the challenge is keeping things hidden until the whole point of buying and keeping is actually delivered by an aged appropriate release.” Hence, 2012 Ornellaia “which may come out if 2011 goes.” Meanwhile, Gibson has “overcompensated by buying a lot more 2016, 2017 and 2018 Bordeaux, and filled my boots with 2018 Burgundy. So this should be a decent place to drink in 10-years-time when I shall be a Port-faced gammon drinking almost exclusively Claret.”
Alongside the alluring wine list, dishes by head chef, Luke Frankie may include a starter of mussels, nduja and fregola, then confit rabbit with cauliflower purée, oyster mushrooms, artichoke and runner beans. “He does an amazing fish stew and a sensational bone marrow mashed potato,” adds Gibson.
When not at the much-loved pub, and prior to breaking his foot, Gibson developed “a concerning marathon habit”, visiting châteaux, Leoville-Poyferré, Gruaud-Larose and Phélan-Ségur “who get extra points for serving Frank Phélan in glasses” during Bordeaux’s extraordinary Marathon du Médoc. Fortunately for Gibson, hangovers are rare, “although I am happy to pretend I have one as an excuse for a sausage and egg McMuffin.”
During the lockdown, Gibson, who spent the time on his own, began learning guitar. “And I confess I did a little wine shopping, some of which has already come onto the list.”
By Douglas Blyde.