Nestled in St Swithins Lane, not far from other city-worker favourites, like The Ned and Coq D’Argent, is Bar 1790, a wine and tapas bar, with a big Portuguese influence. The bar is named after George Sandeman, who in 1790 set up a wine merchant shop just down the road on Birchin Lane, importing ports and sherries from Portugal and Spain (he later moved to St Swithins lane, where he had cellars ideal for storing and ageing the wines). You can expect to find iconic Sandeman pours, including delicious cocktails like their white port & tonic and the Sandeman Sour – many of these have been created by the current George Sandeman, who lives in Oporto.
The menu has been curated by Head Chef Toby Lever, formerly head chef at Lutyens, and features delights like cod croquettes and romesco sauce, Iberico ham, Padron peppers and much more. The extensive Portuguese wine list has been compiled by Head Sommelier Max Cohn and David Gleave MW (chairman and founder of Liberty Wines).
Bar 1790 is bringing history back to life, with an exciting fine wine and dining restaurant that I am sure will be a hotspot with city-goers.
Bar 1790 reminds me a little of an old man’s club, upstairs anyway. Much of the furniture and bar is rustic dark wood, apart from the dark green and gold seats that line the edge of the room. It isn’t particularly fancy but I actually rather like the way they have kept some of the character of the 1790s, with red chandeliers and large artwork, predominantly iconic Sandeman pieces.
Downstairs is a little fancier, with a large glass wine cabinet displaying hundreds of bottles of wine and port. The lighting is a little dim down here, romantic, and ideal for groups and parties.
We visited Bar 1790 on a Wednesday evening and while it wasn’t bustling, it was busy enough to create a nice ambience. Most people had come straight from the office, enjoying post-work drinks with their colleagues, while others had a more intimate affair, catching up over a bottle of wine or glass of port on the high tables that look out onto the street.
The Food & Drink
The menu is split up into snacks, small plates, large plates and side dishes. We had a dish from each one, starting off with sourdough and whipped anchovy butter, wrapped in lardo. We slathered the salty butter on our thick warm bread like it was pate – my only wish was that there was more than one whole anchovy on the plate.
Alongside this, we had the Sandeman white port and tonic with fresh mint and orange, and a negroni, made with two-thirds of the usual ingredients (gin and Campari) and Ferreira and Offley Ports instead of vermouth – delicious.
We then moved on to a few ‘Frutos do Mar’ (seafood) dishes, including large, juicy and perfectly cooked garlic prawns, salt cod croquettes with a deep romesco sauce, and my personal favourite, slow-cooked octopus tentacle with aioli. It was lightly charred on the BBQ and comes in a healthy portion too. From the larger plates, we had the whole baby barbecued chicken with a fiery peri peri mayonnaise and caramelised lemon, the sliced roasted sirloin steak – rare, just how we like it – with crispy Iberico ham and whole green peppercorn sauce, each one popping in your mouth with every bite, tickling your tastebuds with a warming heat. On the side, we had the watercress salad with fennel and orange, which while lovely, was very small – a little disappointing for £7!
We complimented the food with a wonderful bottle of white wine: Quinta do Noval, ‘Cedro do Noval’, from the Douro region. A blend of Viosinho, Aristo, Rabigato and Gouveio grapes, it was refreshing yet bold, with aromas of apricot, orange blossom, and slightly mineral with a gentle buttery finish.
We finished in classic Portuguese style with a Pastel de Nata: flakey pastry and warm custard filling with the perfect wobble, served with cold vanilla ice cream – truly scrumptious. Oh, and a glass of 10-year-old Tawny Port, because, how could we not?
In a Nutshell
In the back of my mind during the whole experience, I had my favourite Portuguese bar in London, Bar Douro (London Bridge & the City), and I am happy to say Bar 1790 is going to make it very hard for me to choose when I’m craving a little Portuguese food and wine. The price is slightly on the high side, our bill was over £200 for two. However, the quality of the food was wonderful and we did choose a rather expensive wine at £52 – but I’d order it again in a heartbeat. If you’re in the City, I’d certainly give Bar 1790 a try, whether you pop in for drinks or food, or both! I’ll certainly be back.
19-23 St Swithins Lane, London, EC4N 8AD; 020 7621 1148; firstname.lastname@example.org