177B Blackstock Road , N5 2LL
WLC Rank : 95
Cuisine: Wine bar
Glass from : £ 6 (125 ml)
“There’s been more plate smashing since I’ve been here,” jokes Top Cuvée’s founder, Brodie Meah of the former Greek restaurant he transformed into a buzzing wine bar with make-up artist wife Erin and her handy father who welded the bases for marble tables, as well as creative co-founders, Max and Noel Venning of the acclaimed Three Sheets bar in Dalston.
With exposed steels, one colourful wall concealing a large cellar space, and an enticing oyster countdown penned on the otherwise plain tiles of the open kitchen, Top Cuvée briefly extends behind the armour of rolled shutters opposite the Arsenal Tavern pub and hostel. “I was a bit nervous – I don’t know anything about football,” admits Meah when asked about match day clientele, although the supporters he met turned out to be “chilled”, wanting “a speedier service.” The rest of the time sees people who enjoy “hanging around in their neighbourhood” squeeze in to dine at the counter, while on Sundays, Top Cuvée has a hospitality “industry vibe,” says Meah, adding, “this area has a mad brunch game.”
Meah, from North Wales, cut his teeth in many of Manchester’s cocktail bars, including his own rum bar, before helping launch Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in Melbourne, a city with “a big coffee culture” which, going by the Dark Arts roasters he uses at Top Cuvée, he clearly cares about.
Meah and team, including head chef, Dan Miller (formerly of Naughty Piglets and 1251) spend money on what counts for their guests, principally, “good food and no pretence”. He seems embarrassed when explaining how the menu ploughs the furrow of “the small sharing plates mantra” although dishes do have a certain “spin”, as demonstrated in the “relatable, wonderful” beef tartare with smoked eel “running through”, while pork terrine with lardo, chicken livers, pistachio and pickles is served with classic country style rustic bread.” Expect, too, the “best burrata with winter tomatoes and dukkah.” Retro but delicious, the crème caramel finale has proved so desirable that people phoned up to gauge its availability, “which I thought was a prank at first,” says Meah.
Meah chose to spell the venue’s name in cartoon-like lettering devised by a Bristol crossover food and music artist. “Our name could be construed as relating to a fancy French place, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” he says.
The wine list rarely runs to more than one page, “pushing people to try new things including some of the stuff I assumed would be challenging, but because the list is so small, they will try it.” Picks such as Okro’s Georgian kwevri-raised Mtsvane, and schist-sown biodynamic Loire Chenin Blanc from Le Berceau des Fées are a result of “meetings all the time with new suppliers, doing a tasting, setting up an account and fitting a wine on the list if it’s cool afterwards,” says Meah. Rather than magnums, look out for litre formats. All are available at 30% cheaper to take away – “we want to be an amenity.”
Also, expect a range of 500ml bottled cocktails including vodka martinis featuring Victory vodka and biodynamic floral vermouth from the Burgenland, and, unsurprisingly given the acclaim of the Venning brothers, a genuinely considered Sangria. There are a few curios on display from Meah’s private collection, too, such as the “tongue-in-cheek” Superior High Wine 69% Guyana rum.
Aside from the ABV, the playlist is Top Cuvée’s other binding agent, being “pretty loud – louder than most restaurants, lively and personal,” and perhaps featuring the recently acquired “amazing record” I was allowed to handle, Trouble Is a Lonesome Town (Lee Hazelwood).
By Douglas Blyde.