We hear a lot about the importance of long term relationships when it comes to restaurants, hotels, bars and their drinks suppliers. Which is why it is particularly refreshing to see one such partnership blossoming as well as the one between Corney & Barrow and premium Lake District hotel, The Forest Side, thanks, in part, to the close personal relations its general manager Alasdair Elwick has forged with C&B over his career. Here Richard Siddle talks to Elwick to find out what aspects of that relationship are so important.
Being able to almost second guess the advice and support you are going to get from your wine and drinks supplier is key to a successful relationship says The Forest Side’s Alasdair Elwick.
It’s always an ongoing concern for a major wine supplier when their key contact at a main account moves on to a new role. Suddenly months, if not years, of relationship can go with a quick call or email to say there is going to be a new head sommelier or food and beverage manager taking over.
But, then there is always the other side of the coin when that key individual moves to a new restaurant, bar or hotel group and then gets in touch to say they would like you to become their wine supplier at the new venue.
Which was very much the case for Corney & Barrow when Alasdair Elwick moved to his new role at the Forest Side hotel in Grasmere in the heart of the Lake District around four years ago. For Elwick and C&B have built up a partnership going back 15 years which has seen them work together at a number of different venues. Which is quite some going when you consider Elwick has only been working in hospitality for 17 years.
“I love working with the team at C&B. Their product offer is just fantastic,” says Elwick who played his part in C&B picking up the wine contract to work not only at the Forest Side, but with the other hotels that make up the Wildsmith Hotel group – Hipping Hall in Gragareth, Lancashire and The Ryebeck also in the Lake District.
For the long term
It’s also testimony to the working relationship that Elwick has developed over the years with the local C&B team and regional developers.
“It is great to have that. I have known the C&B local representative, Piers Mortimer, for such a long time. He will keep me posted with what is coming up and what is new. So we will do regular customer tastings with him and his team,” he says.
It’s having that hands-on support that Elwick says is really important for him in his demanding role.
“C&B just understands our list and the direction we are looking to go in. So if we are looking to expand they will bring in a choice of new wines for us to taste, look at and decide upon.”
Particularly when he calls on C&B to help out with training and development across the three hotels and work with the managers to get the right level of support that they require individually.
Having that local training is key, he says, as it then allows the hotel’s sommelier team to keep that training and support going directly with staff on a daily and weekly basis. Then by working with the other two hotels it means there is some consistency in the work and training of the wine teams across all three. “We are within an hour of each other,” says Elwick.
When it comes to setting the wines for the wine list then Elwick and his head sommelier will work with C&B and taste through new and classic wines with the rest of the sommelier team to see what is right for the particular restaurant.
Overall the wine list, he says, looks to follow the wider wine trends and has a good balance between the Old World classics and interesting wines from the New World, particularly New Zealand, Australia or Argentina, even Pinot Noir from Oregon.
Natural is best
As the ethos of The Forest Side is to work with locally sourced and seasonal produce, with many of the ingredients foraged from the local Cumbria area for its Michelin star restaurant, Elwick likes to take the same principles through to the wines. It therefore stocks a large number of organic and biodynamic wines from small, independent producers.
They also offer a good interesting alternative to the tried and tested when offering wines by the glass and for its special food and wine pairing menus. “It is the opportunity to give them something they would not normally try,” says Elwick. “They are also very good to us with our Coravin. They add to the whole texture of the restaurant.”
But he also stresses: “It’s firstly about the quality of the wine. If it’s a good wine, it’s a good wine. It does not have to fit a certain price criteria….
With such a wide choice of wines, it means the lists also carry a number of wines by the glass, including eight whites, eight reds and two rosés. Ranging in price from £8.50 through to £40.00. The average bottle price is around £60.00.
“We get a lot of lunchtime customers who might only want one glass, but want to try something special.”
The customer base at Forest Side is as regular and varied as the tourists that flock to the Lake District every year. Whilst its day visitors tend to be local, resident guests can come from right across the world, from the US to Asia, China and Australia.
“It means we have quite an international customer base who usually want to try something different, like Australians drinking English sparkling wine.”
There is also a constant demand at the Forest Side to come up with new dining opportunities and ideas for its resident customers and visitors. It is, for example, about to open a new private dining experience that will give diners the chance to choose from menus matched with Champagne Salon and Champagne Delamotte, distributed in the UK through C&B.
“We are very excited to be working with such prestigious Champagne houses and looking forward to offering our guests a unique experience here at Forest Side,” says Elwick. “We are always looking to offer something new and exclusive for our customers that they can’t get elsewhere.”
This is the first time, for example, that Champagne Salon is doing something like this in the UK.
“We want to carry on evolving what we are offering. We were recognised as 18th in the entire country in the recent National Restaurant Awards which is a great achievement, and a pretty good vote of confidence in the substantial work that is being done behind the scenes with C&B”.
- Corney & Barrow is one of the supplier partners for The Buyer.