So what do we need to know about Truscott Cellar?
Possibly the key thing is that it's not a cellar, if you're thinking of some kind of basement place. The cellar refers to the massive selection of wine on offer rather than the physical attributes of the place. It's from the same folk behind the very well respected Truscott Arms over in Maida Vale.
Where is it?
Up Haverstock Hill - about a five minute walk from Belsize Park tube station, and about the same from Hampstead Heath overground station, so it's easier to get to than you'd think.
Where should we meet friends for a drink first?
To be honest, we're not clued up on this area and we'd say, come straight here. Although the wine's their main thing, there's a cracking shortlist of cocktails. Our Old School Blazer was just the ticket on a chilly night to ward off an impending cold.
And where should we sit?
When the place gets totally rammed at the weekend, be grateful for a seat anywhere - there's another mezzanine floor upstairs for when that happens. We saw a lot of folk perched quite happily up at the bar, chatting away with the staff. There's also a long sharing table at the front of the room, but we were pretty happy with our booth table towards the back.
So, to the food. What's on the menu?
Well, it's up to you and how hungry you are. This is just the kind of place you could spend a happy hour or two, working your way through the many, many wines by the glass and picking away at what looked to be generous (and interesting) cheese and charcuterie boards for £7 per person. But we'd heard a lot of good things about the rest of the menu, so we set to exploring that.
Aside from the boards, the menu begins with a series of snacks in the £4 to £8 range. We rather fancied the idea of the bar gammon but instead went for the beef shin chips with Truscott brown sauce (£7) which at first glance would look set to enrage the anti Jenga chip brigade before you realised they were packed with slow cooked beef shin and coated in polenta and just about the nicest bar snack ever.
The crispy pig board was also an obvious choice (£8) and consisted of three pots of still-warm crispy pigs ear, extremely good pigs head nuggets and belly pork scratchings.
We'd also encourage you to try the heritage potatoes (£7) - which turned out to be three potato croquettes stuffed with a range of fillings - our favourite was the blackened lancashire bacon, ragstone cheese and truffle oil.
From here we worked our way through a few more dishes (a standout was the beef cheek with smoked mash and crispy shallots) and some perfectly pitched desserts before admitting defeat. Chef Aiden McGee has really come up with a great menu to accompany the wine - if we'd had more room, we'd have kept going.
And the wine?
As you'd expect it's a good list and an interesting one. But what's more important is that the staff are really happy to help you find something new that you'd like from the list. And, just as usefully, they do it in an entirely unpretentious way. Tell them what you normally go for and challenge them to introduce you to something new.
Thee's also planty available by the carafe and with all that in mind, we opted for an excellent Domaine Gayda Grenache Blanc/Rossanne/Marsanne for £23.
It's clear the lucky folks of Belsize Park already know how fortunate they are to have this in their midst - the room was really buzzing when we went on a Autumnal Tuesday evening. But for those of you who live further afield, we'd say don't dismiss it on that account - it's really worth making the journey for. Can they now open one up in Finsbury Park please?
The Truscott Cellar is at 240 Haverstock Hill, London NW3 4QE. To book call 020 3581 3223
Prices were correct at the time of writing. Hot Dinners ate as guests of Truscott Cellar.