Hackney Road is an odd stretch. Just south is Columbia Road market, and just north is Broadway market. At the far west end is a beautiful Victorian-red-brick strip joint, Ye Olde Axe. And far east are the dingy garages under the railway arches near Cambridge Heath station.
Bang in the middle of Hackney Road is a stonking great Mecca Bingo, and just opposite that, Barn the Spoon sits in his shop window whittling wooden spoons day after day. Shops push wholesale shoes, wholesale bags, wholesale catering supplies. Buildings are decorated in ROA’s graffiti, and multi-story terraced houses are draped in ivy.
One of the biggest buildings is the Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital. An enormous, derelict place full of asbestos. Cracked windows and tilting walkways. But not for much longer. Development plans are under way. The entire building is going to be knocked down - except for two outside walls - and it’s going to be turned into 188 flats.
This isn’t the first sign of change . Developers have been doing up this stretch on the outskirts of Hackney bit by bit, divvying up houses into flats - and they’ve been selling like hot cakes on Foxtons. Number 259 Hackney Road recently turned into an independent wine shop, and then there are the beautiful little coffee shops: Esoteria, Caffe In and Long White Cloud. It’s an area that’s on the move. And - although it’s easy to get nostalgic about abandoned and crumbling Children’s Hospitals - I think it’s exciting.
All this lengthy introduction is building up to Sager and Wild. The sort of neighbourhood wine bar which, well, which you hope will open up in your neighbourhood. It’s just launched, and I’m thrilled. Sager and Wilde is founded by husband and wife team, Michael and Charlotte Sager-Wilde.
With big names like Milk & Honey and Quo Vadis adding clout to their joint CV, the couple took off on a two year expedition round California and South America, working the harvests and discovering new wines. On return, they ran a pop-up at Bird & Ballard - the success of which encouraged them to take the leap into bricks and mortar.
The interior is salvage-chic, with candles lighting the tables and glass boxes displaying antique bottle openers. There are seats at the bar, a couple of bigger tables for groups, and a line of smaller more intimate tables, allowing about 50 people to squeeze into the little space, without it feeling too rammed.
Obviously the main draw here is the wine though. I’m no wine buff - but even I could tell that this was a carefully-chosen, very special selection. There are white burgundys and white riojas. A txakoli from The Basque region and maverick bottles of red from Sicily to California. Natural wines, English champagnes and a generous choice of vermouths.
It might all seem a little high-brow, but somehow Sager-Wilde have managed to create a genuinely relaxed atmosphere. This isn’t a place for wine snobs to sit and slurp, chew and critique. This a place for people to come and chill and try something new. If you eat at St John’s, then should take the opportunity to try the sweetbreads and the brain. And if you go to Sager-Wilde you should take the opportunity to try the Perricone from Sicily or the Macon-Uchizy from Burgundy.
Having said this, it’s not cheap cheap. Bottles start at £25. But then glasses are available, starting round the £4.50 mark, which really is very reasonable, and makes me question my previous sentence…
“We want to change people’s concept of ‘value’ by having ridiculously low and fair mark-ups on a previously out-of-reach product that no one ever even dared to pour by the glass before.” said Sager-Wilde.
The average price of a bottle of La Chappelle De La Mission Haut-Brion Pessac-Leognan 1997, Bordeaux France in London is £140, but the couple have put the wine on the menu at £9.50 per glass. For research purposes I had a quick look at the price of a 2011 Macon-Uchizy, and you would struggle to get your hands on a bottle for much less than £22, so Sager and Wilde’s £36 bottle is a fairly reasonable mark up - it’s upwards of £45 at Coq d’Argent.
There are platters of cured meats, platters of cheese and pickles. Each week, the head of cheese at Sager and Wilde tries thirty cheeses just to check that they’ve got the best examples of each variety, from soft to goat. And to check that they’re ripe - which our cheese certainly was.
For those looking for a little more sustenance, Sager and Wilde also do a line of grilled sandwiches. Simple, reasonably-priced and just the perfect accompaniment to a chilled and decanted glass of something crisp.
Sager and Wilde is good news. The East End trend at the moment is small joints specialising in a single product - done well, and delivered with love. Whether that’s E5 Bakehouse, London Fields Brewery, Monmouth Coffee shops or The Clove Club. Sager and Wilde is another example - and a sterling one at that. As I said, I’m no wine buff, but if the choice is between a £4 glass of ‘pink wine’ at Wetherspoons, or a £4.50 glass of something carefully-chosen, and a little-bit-special at Sager and Wilde….then there is no debating where I’d rather be.
Sager and Wilde
193, Hackney Road
Open 5-11pm Wed-Sat; 2-11pm Sun.
Meals served 5-10.30pm Wed-Sat; 2-10.30pm Sun