Inside the London Wine Bar That Feels Like a Mate’s Kitchen
“People will constantly just walk into the ‘kitchen’ and chat to the chef,” says Phil Bracey of P. Franco, a casual wine bar and shop in Clapton. ”It feels like our house.”
Occupying a former cash-and-carry in Clapton, East London, P. Franco isn't your typical wine bar. There's no set wine menu and no sommelier. Instead, you drink what's on the shelves and the man in charge is Phil Bracey.
"'Sommelier' is not something I call myself. I mop the floor, I clean the bathrooms, I order the wines … " he reasons. It's this casual approach that gives P. Franco its charm.
The wines are all minimal intervention varieties and sourced from small producers because, as Bracey puts it, "I very selfishly have every wine on here that I would drink."
Clearly, giving Bracey carte blanche over the wines at P. Franco has paid off. The bar is a favourite of those in the industry, as well as fans of natural wine.
Inspired by Parisian caves à manger, bars where you can buy wine to take away or drink in at a flat rate, P. Franco initially offered only cheese and charcuterie for those wishing to stay awhile. Now, however, the food menu has expanded, with a chef cooking from simple dual hobs. It makes the space feel like a friend's kitchen.
"At first we thought we could do it every Saturday and then we thought, 'Well, if we did this four days a week, what would it look like?' Then we did it," explains Bracey. "We didn't know what to expect or what people would expect."
But it worked. P. Franco has a full house most nights.
"Sometimes there isn't always a seat, sometimes you have to perch on the shelves, the food doesn't always come out at once—but at the same time, it feels like your house and feels very approachable," he says. "In fact, people will constantly just walk into the 'kitchen' and chat to the chef. It feels like our house."
P. Franco's experimental ideas don't stop there. Bracey came up with the idea of inviting a new chef to cook every six months because it was "just something I thought sounded like a really cool idea."
He continues: "It's almost like having a new restaurant every six months which I think is great for the community."
The rotating cook concept soon attracted chef Tim Spedding, formerly of the Michelin-starred Clove Club in Shoreditch.
"For me, P. Franco was an opportunity to do something very different from the fancier restaurants that I had been working in," he says. "I had been wanting to do my own restaurant and this was a good chance to put myself out there and be recognised for my own style of food. I thought it was really good opportunity to do something fun that you never really can't do, especially in London, where there is no setup costs and you just turn up and cook whatever you want."
Like Bracey on wine, Spedding is given free rein over P. Franco's daily changing menu. This means no rules. He buys the produce that he wants and cooks want he wants. Recent dishes have been Japanese-inspired, thanks in part to Spedding's love of Cornish seafood company Kernowsashimi.
"It's the best quality fish but you have to buy it in a ten kilo box, so that kind off writes the menu for the week," Spedding explains.
For the rest of the month, he has promised purely vegetarian offerings. Last Thursday's menu included shiitake mushroom broth with turnips and clementines, braised rainbow chard, and fresh goat curd with carrots, tarragon, and seaweed.
As for wine pairings …
"We don't really focus on pairing," Bracey says. "I think there are moments when that happens and that's great. But I think the beauty is that people can just go, 'Oh my god, you've got that wine,' and grab it off the shelf and drink that bottle and it will go somewhat across the menu."
He adds: "Tim's food has delicate touches, which works perfectly with the types of wine I'm interested in, so it's quite a symbiotic relationship."
And who will be taking over the dual hobs from Spedding come February?
"Stay tuned," says Bracey.
All photos by Richard Lee Massey.