It was a bitterly (and I mean bitterly) cold night when we ventured into Richmond to check out a new wine and cocktail bar that had been recommended to us. Tucked away in Duke Street, Chalk has been open since February last year and, judging by how busy it was the other evening, has been a rather well-kept Richmond secret! It looked cosy and welcoming, with candles flickering on the tables, chalkboards on the walls, and a relaxed, ‘local’ vibe. Inside there was a lovely atmosphere with a mix of couples, plus one or two larger groups clearly enjoying themselves.
Having been shown to our table by Lauren, we perused the cocktail menu (after all it is a cocktail and wine bar!). I can never resist a Negroni, but Lauren’s colleague Eric persuaded me to try an Acorn & Rosehip, (Chalk’s take on a Negroni, but using the Acorn & Rosehip distillate that is made on the premises). It really hit the spot: autumnal, bitter and warming, despite being served over the largest single ice cube I’ve seen! My husband was steered to the PB&J using Peanut Butter distillate, Strawberry Bourbon whiskey, Barbados rum, Creme de Framboise and bitters. I had a tiny sip and it was sensational: not a subtle hint of peanut butter. “A man’s cocktail,” declared my husband!
Chalk’s food menu is very much charcuterie/delicatessen focused. We enjoyed a few mixed olives, some wonderfully large Moroccan caperberries and some delicious Puglian onions with our cocktails while chatting with Eric, who explained the philosophy of Chalk: Chalk aims to champion interesting, unique and delicious drinks in a simple, unpretentious way. It might be a glass of Chin Chin Vinho Verde from Quinta do Emizio in Northern Portugal, or the uplifting Natsu cocktail featuring Chalk’s home-distilled yuzu juice. Apparently, Chalk’s co-founders – Becky Downing and Adam Lock – plan to open in multiple London boroughs and their ambition is for Chalk to become the UK’s number one premium cocktail and wine bar brand. Becky is an award-winning start-up founder and ‘serial entrepreneur’ and Adam Lock spent six years as Bar Manager of The Groucho Club in Soho. Adam was also part of the team that famously created the breathable Gin & Tonic cloud during his time with multi-sensory experience gurus Bompas & Parr, and says: “Each cocktail has been individually created in Chalk’s own laboratory. Cocktails include home-distilled spirits such as Peanut Butter Rum, Acorn & Rosehip Gin and Geranium Flower Vodka. There is a focus on using seasonal ingredients in the most sustainable way.”
Becky believes that curating an interesting wine list is paramount. “Chalk is all about discovery and enjoying new and interesting wines that taste delicious. We collaborate with artisan growers who work their vineyards using organic and biodynamic practices. All of them have an interesting story to tell. These farmers are truly passionate about what they do and work intensively in the vineyard to produce wines that reflect the conditions of the land and the fruit of every different vintage,” says Becky.
There are 22 wines by the glass (with prices starting from a very reasonable £5 for 125ml), with a focus on natural wines and smaller producers, I was delighted to note that a champagne I had recently been introduced to, Frerejean Frères, was well represented and I couldn’t resist the offer of a glass of the Rose Premier Cru. This delightful champagne was sensibly priced at £15 (125ml) and I thoroughly enjoyed its fine stream of bubbles, red fruit aromas and notes of freshly baked brioche. This relatively new champagne house was founded in 2005 by three members of the Taittinger family who, having sold the original family champagne business, now focus on producing champagne from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes (some from root stock nearly a century old) using their family heritage, and a fresh approach, to uphold traditional methods. It’s a name to look out for!
We opted to share a standard Ploughman’s board (available in standard or large – two meats, two cheeses, bread pickles and chutney, or three meats and cheeses respectively at £18 or £28). We chose Cashel Blue and chevre, plus Soppressata and Bressola. As well as sourdough bread we were given crackers and it was quite a spread. The sad thing was that the cheese was very cold indeed (possibly a result of the weather or perhaps not being taken out of the fridge earlier) – it slightly spoiled our enjoyment as the quality of the cheese (and indeed the charcuterie) was top notch. I think it might be good in winter if a hot option was available – perhaps a baked camembert?
The wine list at Chalk is extremely well curated (including three Orange wines) and tasting notes and further information on the wines is provided. There is an ‘Aperitif Menu’ that’s served Monday – Thursday 5 p.m. till close and Friday and Saturday 4-7. This offers a bottle of either Chin Chin Vinho Verde or Gran Cerdo Tinto Tempranillo at just £20 a bottle – amazing value for Richmond! Selected cocktails are also on the Aperitif menu – at £9. The wine list and the more extensive cocktail menu (at £14 each) also offers takeaway and delivery – perfect if you’re having a quiet night in or hosting a dinner and fancy a professionally made creation (£25 for 300ml – three serves)
Chalk is the sort of place you might well pop into for a quick drink, but then find yourselves staying for quite a few more. It’s very close to Richmond Theatre and The Orange Tree, so ideal for pre theatre food and drink too. It’s open seven days a week, and they’ve chalked up a very successful addition to the Richmond social scene!!