Bar Douro, Southwark
Given what I’d already heard about this place, I was surprised when I did finally visit to find Bar Douro so diminutive in size. Part of Southwark’s cuisine renaissance, Bar Douro is a smart little eatery tucked neatly under a railway arch near London Bridge station. Its décor suggests that it’s not trying too hard because it doesn’t have to. Bar Douro exudes an understated but undoubtedly affluent vibe.
Bar Douro is quiet and romantic, the type of place you take a loved one for an intimate date. I wouldn’t bring just anyone here. Not everyone will appreciate its deliberate cosiness and lack of ostentation. I wouldn’t bring my noisy extroverted friends here. This is a bar for special people. Thoughtful, sensitive types who know the value of an exquisitely curated wine list.
Founding great things is in the blood of Bar Douro’s founder, Max Graham. Himself a scion of the Graham’s port dynasty and whose father, Johnnie founded a new port label, Churchill’s Port, in 1981. Fittingly Bar Douro has a Portuguese only wine-list showcasing little-known wines that get overshadowed by their Spanish neighbours.
Bar Douro describes its food as “traditional Portuguese sharing plates and interesting native wines served in a bright bar space.” The light does tend to bounce off the tiles and marble countertops. The à la carte menu is made up of just under thirty small plates (including desserts) varying in price according to their size and ingredients, but most are between £4–12.
The menu is split into six main sections: peticos (snacks), horta (garden or vegetable dishes to you and me), mar (seafood), terra (meat), cheese and charcuterie and dessert. Each dish is distinct and visually stunning. The black pig chorico with pickled red cabbage has a thoughtful splash of colour.
Bar Douro’s menu is seasonal, changing slightly every month. Each dish is vivid, flavourful and visually stunning. The garlic prawns look almost serene, casually spooning each other on a blanket of sauce. The competing tastes, textures and temperatures of the warm pastel de nata with cinnamon ice cream are expertly balanced.
I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else in London offering anything as authentic as Bar Douro. The cuisine is unapologetically Portuguese. There has been no attempt to create any English/Portuguese fusion recipes or temper flavours to English palates. Every dish on the menu feels like a foreigner. The particularity and authenticity of the head chef are obvious on every plate.
It would be rude not to sample a glass of port or two in honour of the bar’s founder. The menu offers four solid choices of white, late bottle vintage, tawny and a nine-year-old vintage — all Churchill’s. These are all perfect companions for the cheese board and charcuterie of Portuguese ham.
Perhaps it’s my overly large appetite but I never usually find tapas satiating and Bar Douro was no exception to this. Diners may find some of the small plates a little delicate and ordering them on top of each other adds up. If you’re looking for value for money, this is not the restaurant for you.
After the meal, I felt that I could sit under this arch with good company or just my own thoughts and a glass of wine for hours. This part of London should be busy, there are trains running right above our heads after all. But for whatever reason, Bar Douro blocks that all out. Towards the end, I hardly noticed the other diners at all.
Bar Douro’s mission is not to stuff you full of food but to take you away from London and give you the sensation that you’re on holiday. This is grown-up, tasteful cuisine bursting with mature flavours delivered in small intervals to be savoured. When the sun shone on the terrace, I felt like I was actually back in Porto.
I think that’s exactly what Bar Douro was aiming for.
Thank you for reading — I hope you found my thoughts interesting. Agree with me? Don’t agree with me? Let me know either way: @Sayde_Scarlett