Wine bars are back with a vengeance. The much derided symbol of 90s Conran-infused yuppiedom have risen again. Clapton has seen the Danish-inspired Verden and wine shop-bar Pie Franco open in the last 6 months, hot on the heels of Sager and Wilde on Hackney Road. Across town, wine focused bars are opening, some with a focus on cheese and charcuterie, others with more comprehensive menus.
Mission E2 is the latest, opening a fortnight ago in Bethnal Green by Charlotte and Michael Sager-Wilde. Its focus is on the wine and cuisine of California, its name a nod to the exciting Mission district in San Francisco, which is the new beating heart of creative Californian cooking. It was where I was staying exactly a year ago as I ate my way through the Golden State.
Situated in a railway arch on the blossoming Paradise Row, it's a great mix of London and California. A gigantic palm tree fills the arch, with a deep grey polished concrete floor and huge bi fold doors that open up the whole space to the terrace out front. On this balmy September evening you could have easily believed you were in trendy Los Angeles suburb Echo Park.
There is a reasonably sized wine list of sensibly priced, exclusively Californian wines by the glass and bottle, and a more extensive and expensive menu for the real connoisseur. The main list did us fine, enjoying a glass of Mission Fizz, which looked totally flat but must have been full of invisible bubbles. A Sonoma County Trousseau Gris was light and minerally, and the Nero d'Avola from Mendocino County was so deep and sultry that it tasted of death, in a good way. Prices started at £4.50 a glass for (presumably great) house wines, up to about £10.50 for more interesting choices. With a standard £20 mark up on all bottles, there's a big incentive to push the boat out a bit.
The food menu is impressive, with smaller bites, starters, mains, sharing dishes and desserts. We could have tried everything, but settled on nduja arancini and globe artichoke to start. The arancini were relatively subtle but there was enough nduja to give a bit of fiery warmth.
The glove artichoke was just perfectly cooked and served with an anchovy buttery emulsion to tip the leaves in. It's such a nice dish for leisurely nibbling through with a good glass of white, and the heart at the end is the ultimate reward for the perseverance.
Choosing mains was particularly hard, with ox cheek lentils and salsa verde, rabbit with giroles and polenta, and a cuttlefish and mussel stew on the menu. In the end we settled on their platter of lamb chops, priced at £38 but could have easily fed three people with the six generous chops. They were incredible. Beating even Tayyabs on taste, if not price. Garlicky, herby, perfectly charred, brilliantly fatty and charred lemons just added to the stickiness.
We shared a dulce de leche cheesecake for dessert, which was nicely pungent and came with chunks of cinder
At £50 a head, it's not cheap, but it felt totally justified for the quality of food and wine. You'd pay about the same in San Francisco, and boy, what a saving on the airfare. There's a brunch menu and plenty more to try on the evening menu. And if it's true to Californian form, the menus will evolve with the season, so plenty of reason to go back and make my way through the wine list. Low key but warm service ensures that you'll have a relaxed, enjoyable time. And I'm just delighted to have a slice of California so close to home.