I was invited to the launch party of Fourth & Church last night, a new venue with a strong wine focus in Hove. To call it a wine bar is a bit of a misnomer, because the focus will be on food as much as wine. It fills a niche which Hove lacks, and although Brighton has one or two, and F&C has a rival in the Paris Wine Bar, almost over the road, there’s nothing quite the same in this bustling restaurant quarter.
Wine bars were, in the parlance of the time, all the rage in the 1980s, but they had two drawbacks which never allowed them to rival the pub as a place to spend the evening. Generally, though not always, the wine was poor. It might have been marginally better than the ubiquitous dry white wine measure from a long opened bottle that you would find down at the pub, but not a lot better. Add to that poor food and you only had a winning formula so long as fashion allowed. Once the shoulder pads and wide ties were out the wine bar’s days were numbered.
The classic wine bar has always existed in Spain. I’ve never found eating dinner at 11pm in Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian or Salamanca an easy proposition, so the tapas bar was always a life saver. The idea of having a plate or two and a glass of Fino was great fun, and meant that my Northern European constitution was able to survive, even when I’d enjoyed an afternoon siesta following a bottle at lunch time.
Tapas bars haven’t really struck a chord in the cooler English climate, although saying that, there has been something of a new coming in London, doubtless down to the ressurgence of interest in dry Sherry styles, especially among wine obsessives. But some years ago another influential scene was germinating in Paris, largely around the natural wine movement. For purely licensing reasons small independent wine shops began serving simple plats of food – cheeses, charcuterie and patés, to go with wine poured on the premises. Nowadays a trip to Paris isn’t complete without an evening or two trawling around these bars, many in the hippest parts of the city.
London was slow off the mark, but today there’s a real scene developing too. Indeed, bars like Sager + Wilde and their associated Mission bar, or the Vinoteca chain have secured fame in a very short space of time, and the guys behind the highly acclaimed wine and culture magazine, Noble Rot, are due to open their own bar in “Mid-Town’s” Lambs Conduit Street very soon.
Can Fourth & Church bring that tradition to Hove? Well, they have every chance. The people behind this new venture have a mixed food and wine background, with strong links to the kitchen at Brighton’s highly acclaimed vegetarian restaurant, Terre à Terre. The other side of the partnership is Henry Butler, who runs the two Butler’s Wine Cellar shops in Brighton. Butler’s is one of the country’s best independent wine merchants, stocking a truly eclectic range of wine from independent producers and is well known on the London wine scene.
This ensures that not only will the food on offer be of a very high standard (if last night’s canapés are anything to go by, it will be really good – visually as well as tasting good), but the wine offering will be the best and most interesting in Hove. Cheeses will be from Neal’s Yard Dairy, a very promising sign. I also saw some really interesting craft beers and spirits on the shelves.
The ground floor of the venue is bright and spacious, with standing tables giving plenty of space. The idea is that the clientele can wander in for casual nibbles and small plates to accompany a bottle of wine or two from the shelves, or other beverages. The venue also doubles as a wine shop, and it will surely become the most exciting off-licence in Hove.
Downstairs there’s a professional kitchen, and a private room, as yet not quite finished, which will be used for private hire, groups wanting a bit more space, and wine tastings. The tie-in with Butlers will bring their wine expertise to Hove. They plan a Loire wines tasting soon, with Portugal and California in the pipeline.
Fourth & Church has a soft opening tomorrow, Saturday 17 October, and selected days the following week. This attractive new venue is at 84 Church Street, Hove, BN3. They are close to Fourth Avenue, hence the name.
Three partners in cr…Hove