P. Franco is home to the most famous set of induction hobs in London. It’s also a wine bar and retail shop hidden in the former Great Wall cash-and-carry (the original sign still looms above the bottle-lined shopfront) on East London’s Lower Clapton Road. It’s a stretch once known locally as the “Murder Mile,” but today it’s everyone’s favourite part of Hackney—and P. Franco is no small part of why.
Owned by destination natural wine shop Noble Fine Liquor’s Liam Kelleher and James Noble, but run by Australian Phil Bracey (easily identified by his “Brace Yourself” cap), P. Franco is the sort of relaxed, unpretentious neighbourhood bar that every neighborhood deserves. It sports a constantly changing selection of pét-nats, reds, whites, and orange wines by-the-glass (starting at £5 and averaging £6-6.50, although they once poured Gabrio Bini at £10), an entire wall of incredible natural and low-intervention bottles to take away or drink in (for an additional flat rate of £10, caves à manger style), and some of the very best food in London—a bold statement, but no hyperbole. When I visited one Sunday afternoon earlier this month (incidentally, it’s one of the few natural wine bars in London open on Sundays, from 2pm to 9pm—get there early and enjoy a long lunch) highlights included François Rousset-Martin’s Pinot Noir and Lamoresca’s Rosato. As Bracey himself tells me, “No two nights are the same.”
P. Franco doesn’t really have a dining room—the entire space is a dining room. You eat at one long central communal table with stools seating around 12, set right in the middle of the wine shop, with a few other places around the bar to drink and perch. A rotating cast of chefs have set up six-month residencies here, making the best of limited space: there’s no oven, grill, or kitchen to speak of, just those induction hobs, not much more than a college dorm room hot plate. The chef cooks at the end of the communal table. It is a startlingly intimate space in which to eat and drink, and it works.
Bracey was originally inspired by what he saw and tasted at Vivant Cave in Paris, where this model—a wine bar and retail space with a tiny cooking space putting out remarkable dishes—is if not common, at least well-established. “Cooking off next to nothing and putting out food that had no right coming out—just too good for the space…it has this refreshing casual nature,” Bracey tells me. “You can have a bite to eat, a bit to drink and take some bottles home.”
So far the hobs at P. Franco have been graced by the likes of Will Gleave, then Tim Spedding (ex Clove Club), and Giuseppe Lacorazza. Dinners are currently manned by Peppe Belvedere (formerly Ed Wilson’s head chef at Brawn) from Thursday to Sunday (there’s excellent cheese and charcuterie available Tuesday and Wednesday). Each chef is given carte blanche to create whatever they like, provided there are no “swipes, dots, or smears of food” as per Bracey. Menus usually include around eight plates, plus a couple of desserts.
One of Belvedere’s recent Sunday menus featured delicious anchovies with rosemary oil (£6), a plate of mussels cooked with ‘nduja, garlic, and parsley (£8), some of the most delicious fresh ricotta ravioli (with ragu and pecorino, £12) I have ever had, finished with a spectacular fig panna cotta with mosto cotto (£6). In true natural wine shop fashion, the olive oils here are sourced from their favourite winemakers, currently Le Coste, paired with sourdough from Elliot’s, charcuterie from Ham & Cheese Company, and cheeses from Mons and the venerable Neal’s Yard.
There are nearly too many wine highlights to mention: P. Franco have proselytized loud and proud for the aforementioned Bini, and right now Bracey & Co. are happily pouring wines by Rousset-Martin and the very first vintage of Ad Vinum from Sébastien Châtillon, former head sommelier at Le Chateaubriand in Paris. The hotly anticipated wines of Australian producer Dane Johns, Momento Mori, have just arrived in the bar, and other Australian natural stars like Lucy Margaux and Gentle Folk come and go with limited availability.
“We’re just wine geeks,” Bracy tells me. “If someone comes in and asks for a light, fresh, and juicy red wine, we do cartwheels because that’s what we like to drink. I bounce off everything.”
Venetia Thompson (@venetiathompson) is a British freelance journalist based in Mexico City, writing for The Guardian, GQ, Conde Nast Traveller, and VICE. This is Venetia Thompson’s first feature for Sprudge Wine.
Venetia Thompson is a British freelance journalist based in Mexico City, writing for The Guardian, GQ, Conde Nast Traveller, and VICE.