Published in The Herts Advertiser 1 February 2018
I don’t think I’ve been to a “wine bar” since the 80s; were they all replaced by gastro pubs and proper pubs? I was curious when The Bishop’s Cave opened in a former hair salon on Holywell Hill – with a picture of a glass of wine in the window, was the wine bar back?
The Bishop’s Cave opened before Christmas and is the brainchild of Dan Leak and dad Steve. They already own a branch in Bishop’s Stortford, where the name comes from. It’s a great location just across from popular Per Tutti and other restaurants in the Cathedral Quarter.
It’s a couple of steps up to the front room (so limited access) but once inside it is a lovely space, with exposed brickwork and beams and tiled flooring. It’s a shop as well, and you can buy a good choice of wine and bottled craft beers to take away. There is a large cheese counter (around 40 varieties) as you walk in, and you can buy cheese to take home, or choose a cheeseboard to eat with your drinks in-house. I’ve been a couple of times now, and the cheeseboards at 12.50 each are very good value, with your choice of three cheeses, plenty of crackers, grapes and chutney, which is ideal for two. They also do a charcuterie board or a mix of the two. If you just want a bar snack you can choose a pork pie with piccalilli, pate, or a scotch egg as well as olives and crisps.
Wine is sold by the glass in various sizes and the bottle, and I think the prices are one reason why The Bishop’s Cave has already proven very popular. You can get a very enjoyable glass of house Malbec, Shiraz and Pinot Noir for 3.95, which is good value locally. They also sell white wines, Prosecco and Champagne. The “beer corner” towards the back of the cave has 100 bottled beers to drink in or takeaway.
Dan explained how the idea came about: “We had the idea when playing golf. We were both feeling like we wanted to do something different. We wrote a business plan and secured some funding from the government-backed, start-up loans company, and opened up in Bishop’s Stortford. Two years later we found the building in St Albans and decided to expand and open our second premises. I have friends and family in St Albans, so the town has been on my radar ever since we decided to start up. It is something we felt was missing from the town. It’s going amazingly well so far; we’re absolutely thrilled with the reception we’ve received, and the number of locals supporting us. It’s really lovely that everyone has enjoyed what we do.”
You need to book a table at least 24 hours in advance; pop in or book on their website. It is not a huge venue, and weekends are already busy.
The Bishop’s Cave is open until 23.00 Tuesday to Saturday and until 19.00 on Sunday. It opens from 12 most days, earlier on Saturday, and just in the evenings on Tuesdays. It’s ideal for cheese shopping when The Cheese Wheeler is not around. I think the service or layout could be a bit slicker; I could see people wander in and busy staff didn’t spot them, leaving them looking at a cheese counter. It might just need a sign to say “wait here to be seated”, but it’s a small thing, and once customers are settled, it is a cosy place. So, wine bars: if you add good cheese, decent craft beers, sensible pricing and a cosy atmosphere, then, yes, it works. A nice new addition for St Albans.