With competition hotting up across the London wine bar scene, The Buyer talks to Clement Robert MW, wine director at 28°-50°, one of the most trend setting outlets when it first opened, about how it keeps itself relevant and different from the new kids on the block.
Numbers count for a lot at 28°-50°. The whole so-called Wine Workshop concept is based around the two lines of latitude on a world map where it is possible to make wine.
The approach has resonated well with customers and critics alike, acting as a trail blazer for the growing number of London restaurants where the wine is just as important, if not more so, than the food.
It is a concept that Clement Robert has grasped with both hands since taking over the responsibility for wine at 28°-50° just seven months ago.
It has been quite a year for Robert. In the last 12 months, he has become a Master Sommelier, and moved from managing the wine operation at Medlar, the French-themed restaurant at the sleepier end of the King’s Road, out in to the fast lane of running a three-strong mini restaurant group with prime sites in London’s City, Mayfair and West End.
What’s more he has stepped in to the shoes of the highly respected and much loved co-founder of 28°-50°, Xavier Roussett. Who is set to open his own new venture, Blandford Comptoir, not too far away in May.
What has not changed, however, is a wine offer is centred around two very different and distinct wine lists. Wine lists that also contribute contrasting levels of gross profit (GP) to the business.
The approachable option
There is the -called “wine mat” that sits on tables for diners to peruse as soon as they sit down. A deliberately “approachable list” with a heavy emphasis on wines by the glass and a range that covers modern wine styles from all over the world.
The “mat” list, he explained, should have wines that 90% of customers should know or understand. “That is very important.”
Here the list is fixed at delivering 70% GP. The footfall drivers for the overall business.
The fine approach
Then there is the more refined fine wine list given to diners who would like to explore more classic, yet both Old and New World, wines.
Here the GP is based on achieving a much lower 35% to 40%.
Robert stressed the fine wine list is very much about offering their customers an affordable treat. Wines that are close to their retail price.
It is all about putting fine wine in to the hands of more people and not just gathering dust on the shelf. “We want people to explore the wines on the list.”
To help promote the fine wine list Robert also runs special promotions – on Friday evenings and Saturday lunchtimes – where the GP is cut further still to just 25% for wines served by the glass. Meaning it is possible to have a glass of wine from a famous appellation or Chateau for less than £10.
“It is attracting a bit of a following and getting people interested in what we are doing,” explained Clement.
They are also diistinctly different approaches to selling wine, and each achieving different results for the restaurant’s bottom line.
Working with suppliers
It has also made him a prime target for super competitive London wine suppliers.
Not only is 28°-50° one of the wine trade’s favourite places to hang out, it is where they want their wines on the list.
To date 28°-50°. has been very accommodating, working with 50 suppliers.
The majority of major players are on the list from Enotria to Bibendum to Berkmann to Boutinot.
“I am very open to suppliers”
Robert said it was still too early for him to start making wholesale changes to the list. Not that if he is even sure he needs to. He is certainly not looking to change wines for the sake of it, but is adapting the list to keep up with the latest styles and slowly add his own personality to the range.
Which is good news for smaller, independent wine suppliers out there.
Operators that can bring him something genuinely different.
“I am very open to suppliers,” promised Robert.
Do your homework
He is certainly far more welcoming and at least prepared to listen to new suppliers than some of his peers. Just make sure you do your homework first. Understand what is already on the list and don’t come with another me-too wine.
Two suppliers that have made their mark in recent months include Indigo Wine, who Robert worked with at Medlar, and Castle Growers.
Both are able to bring him wines with a genuine point of different.
Castle Growers, run by Johnny May, has the advantage of working directly with wineries so that he is able to offer ex cellar prices, minus duty. “I think they have a great future,” said Robert.
Indigo stands out as it has “classic style wines but from smaller growers, which are very interesting”.
Otherwise he is always on the look out for “wines that offer good bottle age and you are not going to find in a shop anywhere”.
Clement is refreshingly open and realistic about the intensely competitive sector of the London on-trade market it is operating in.
With so many similar wine themed restaurants now in open competition with each other he worries if there is enough regular customers to go around.
He sees, for example, an increasing number of his regular customers from Medlar now visiting 28 50. Even though each of its three outlets is a fair distance from the far end of Kings Road.
The arrival of Noble Rot and the soon to be opened new offering from his predecessor Xavier Rousset will only raise the stakes higher with the likes of 67 Pall Mall, Vinoteca. Sager & Wilde, Vagobond and significant others all operating in the same space.
“We all have to find a way to be remain relevant to our customers, but it is increasingly difficult,” he admitted.
“There is only a certain demographic of people who enjoy drinking good quality wine on a regular basis, so we have to start thinking outside the box to bring new customers in.”
It is why28°-50° has employed a social media agency to try and engage with and attract a younger audience to its outlets. “It’s tough. I am not going to deny it.”
One way to attract a younger crowd is to open a cocktail bar, which it is doing for the first time, downstairs at its Maddox Street outlet in May.
Whilst spirits will be the main driver, the list will be sure to include a number of wine and Champagne based cocktails. “We still want to keep that link to wine,” said Robert.
The good news for Robert and 28°-50° is that it has had more than a head start in establishing itself amongst a growing loyal customer base.
If it can add some new young faces then all the better.