Thirty years ago I lived less than ten minutes’ walk north of Dalston Junction. This part of London was very different back then. There was no spanking new Overground Station where there are now two. There were certainly no “luxury flats” on Kingsland Road, advertising their roof-terrace views of the city skyline, now fully visible to the south. There was, and long may it survive, one of London’s least well known but most vibrant street markets on Ridley Road. And now we have food, wine and vegan dining. After my third time back in the area in recent weeks, I thought I should let a few others in on the secret.
I’m sure some of you read the first part of my article on the recent Tasting at The Vaults (home of Winemakers Club on Farringdon Road). It focused solely on Otros Vinos, the small importer of wild Spanish wines. Quite a few of their wines are retailed out of the equally tiny Spanish deli, Furanxo, which I mentioned in that article, run by Manuel Santos (Santos & Santos Imports) and Xavier Alvarez (chef and co-owner of Tagállan in Stoke Newington). I decided to head over to Furanxo, to meet up with Otros Vinos’ Fernando Berry and to bring back a stash of wines.
Furanxo is like a traditional Sevillano Albaceria, selling a selection of Manuel’s artisan food products and a selection of well chosen (don’t they say carefully curated these days) Spanish wines. The shop is tiny, but there’s an impressive array of cured meats off the bone, mainly acorn fed Iberico hams. The cheeses are unpasturised gems from small Spanish farms. Manuel is adamant about supporting traditional farmers. The rest of the shop is filled with high quality tinned fish, bottled vegetables and fruits, and even hand gathered and dried Galician seaweed (four different varieties). We left with several items.
As well as the food store, Furanxo is also a bar in the evenings, where you can go for a tapas and a glass or two of wine. There’s a basement room which is used for culinary workshops and other events. Then there’s the wines themselves. Not all of the wines on the shelves come from Otros Vinos, but take a look here for a roundup of what I tasted at The Vaults.
Fernando popped the cork on something cold to lubricate our conversation. I’d tasted and liked three wines from Marenas at The Vaults. It’s José-Miguel Márquez’s six hectare estate on the sandy-clay soils of Montilla. Montepilas is an old indigenous grape variety, pretty much almost extinct. It ripens very late, in October, where it still only makes a wine of around 12% abv, so it’s ideal for table wine. Freshness is retained because the vines are grown at higher elevations which cool dramatically at night.
Marenas Montepilas from Montilla
Viticulture is about minimal intervention, and soil health is everything to José-Miguel. His neighbours think he’s insane not to plough, nor treat his vines. He just uses a tiny bit of copper, and a tiny bit of sulphur in the vineyard (none during winemaking). The Montepilas has a lovely sun-kissed yellow-gold colour, but there’s no skin contact, and it is aged in stainless steel. It’s nicely aromatic and soft on the nose, but the palate is bone dry and has a slight steeliness coupled with a chalky (ahem, mineral) texture. It’s surprisingly long, with a haunting, ethereal, finish.
My Otros Vinos stash (suitcase not shown)
Furanxo is a small shop, and good as it is, some people who don’t live near Dalston would not be persuaded to venture into the wild east without a few more enticements, perhaps. But just a few minutes’ walk away, right opposite Dalston Junction Station, is Newcomer Wines. I’ve written about Newcomer recently right here. Newcomer originally set up in Shoreditch Boxpark, selling Austrian wines out of one of the shipping container units there. They moved over to more permanent, and larger, premises in Dalston last year. They have expanded their offering beyond Austria now, whilst keeping their original focus at the core of the range. But you can find a lot of hidden gems, like the Czech wines of Milan Nestarec, or the newly added wines of Swiss maestros, Mythopia, alongside some of Austria’s newest producers and most exciting wines.
Newcomer becomes a bar in the evening as well, with a selection of Austrian inspired small dishes. Now the summer is arriving in style, they have opened up the outdoor area at the back. They have one of the most exciting ranges of wine in London now, and they are more than worth checking out if you like what is happening in Austria’s winelands.
Round the corner from Newcomer, on Kingsland High Street (on the outside of Dalston Cross Shopping Centre) is one of London’s absolute best vegan restaurants. If you want something more substantial, head here, but do book in the evenings, and turn up early for lunch if you want to dine on spec without a reservation. Like all the best vegan restaurants, Fed by Water serves great food, whatever your tastes and tolerances. It calls itself “Italian Vegan”, and that’s its focus. There are plenty of pasta dishes, pizzas and great desserts, but they serve a mean calzone, for which a good appetite is recommended.
Fed By Water, with calzone, bottom right
Your journey back to the City, the West End, or further afield, should not happen until you’ve taken a stroll down Ridley Road Market. It hasn’t really changed since I used to wander down in the early 1980s. You still get the loud and friendly banter from the stall holders as they try to lure you into making a purchase.
The shops along the roadside are not for the faint-hearted (nor perhaps for true vegans). They sell meat of every description, from pig’s trotters to unidentified offal. But the stalls are largely a blend of fruit and veg, bolts of bright Caribbean-inspired fabrics, clothing (one stall sold just bras, all loose on the table) and groceries. Look for the fruit and veg stalls with their produce in clear plastic bowls. Each one is £1, and may contain anything from five long red peppers, to enough ginger to last three or four weeks. My guess is that they are around 75% cheaper than the supermarket. You could probably get a week’s supply of veg for a fiver, same for fruit.
Ridley Road Market
On a very sunny Thursday lunchtime the whole scene is at once both relaxing, and redolent of vibrant London at its best.
Furanxo is at 85 Dalston Lane, London E8 (turn right, round the corner from the far end of Ridley Rd Market). See Santos & Santos.
Newcomer Wines is at 5 Dalston Lane (opposite Dalston Junction Overground)
Fed By Water is at 64 Kingsland High Street (on the outside of Dalston Cross Shopping Centre)
Ridley Road Market is on Ridley Road and is open Monday to Saturday
This part of Dalston can be accessed via the London Overground, to either Dalston Junction or Dalston Kingsland Stations. Several buses come up here via The City, from where it will take about 20 to 30 minutes.
Not wine related, but on the way back we jumped off the bus at The Barbican to see the exhibition The Japanese House: Architecture and Life After 1945 at The Barbican Art Gallery. Highly recommended, runs to 25 June. Check it out here.