There’s a secret beneath Leicester Square. Under the busiest, most tourist-infected plaza in London is a small wine bar called The Cork & Bottle, that does good food at affordable prices, with a rotating menu, a large cheese selection, and an unbeatable range of wines. It’s a cramped cellar, with tables squeezed in, straining against the laws of physics, and despite having gone there five times now, I still can’t tell where they fit the kitchen in. It’s almost warren-like, in a way, if you replaced the rabbits with tipsy theatre-goers and plied them with champagne.
I could go on at length about the veritable book of a wine list, with reds, whites, sweets, desserts, sparklies, roses and fortified wines from all over the world, or indeed I could spend some time gushing over the ever-changing cheese selection. Instead, I would like to talk about the Cork & Bottle’s speciality – the cheese and ham pie. The pie, as shown above, is a Ronseal affair; it’s exactly what it says it is. A puff pastry crust covering ham and cheese. The devil is in the detail though, as the first time I had it I decided to count the slices of ham (there was a bottle of prosecco involved; it seemed like a good idea at the time): there were 20 slices of ham. 2-0. Twenty. It would take 4 packets of decent ham from Waitrose to come close to that amount of ham, and it probably wouldn’t taste as nice. The ham is packed together and covered in an extra mature cheddar cheese, before being backed. It’s greasy, it’s meaty, it’s the exact opposite of healthy, and I absolutely love it. From personal experience, partner it with the sweet potato fries and a bottle of the best plonk you can afford.
The Cork & Bottle is underneath Leicester Square, and is a cozy, affordable and charming place to go for a pre-theatre meal. 10/10 worth the heart attack.