It was only in the autumn of 2015 that Clement Robert took over the considerable wine operation at 28°-50° from its co-founder and fellow Master Sommelier, Xavier Rousset. But already in that short period of time he has built on its reputation as some of the most influential wine venues on the London restaurant scene.
Clement Robert of 28°-50° talks about what he wants from his suppliers, the challenges and opportunities of running a small group of central London wine bars and why ultimately it all comes down to looking after and growing the bottom line.
The role of sommeliers
“I think the buying power of sommeliers is on the wane. There are now more consultants, more group sommeliers and wine directors. More restaurants are looking at wine as a cost and how they can cut back on it. There is less investment in wine.”
Coping with London competition
“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’s tough. I am not going to deny it.”
28°-50° point of difference
“I think we are more approachable and easy going about wine. We want our customers to feel comfortable and relaxed here and not to be scared of the wines we offer.”
“We think our prices are as fair as possible. We offer good, affordable prices along with sharp, professional service.”
Wines by the glass
“It is now very important for us. We do 75ml, 125ml and 250ml glasses. We sell a lot of 75ml glasses where people will come in and enjoy a flight of wine. It is becoming very trendy.”
Taking on new suppliers
“I work with the majority of the main distributors so I am not interested in another mainstream portfolio. But I am always open to listen to suppliers that have a very specific approach or range. Someone like Indigo Wines, which has wines that are made with minimum intervention, but still have a classic style, and from small growers.”
“I don’t necessarily mind if a wine is being sold elsewhere as we are normally going to be cheaper.”
What makes a good supplier?
“They have to tick all the boxes. They have to have a good range, complete flexibility on delivery, good deals, offers, and they can help train and incentivise the staff.”
“Here I am looking after people a lot more. Setting the company standard around buying, training and service.”
Your approach to wine training
“Keep it simple. I expect my staff to be able to describe any wine in five words. It has to be very clear and focused.”
You famously don’t sell Prosecco. Any chance of a re-think?
“It is a difficult one. I still do not think the quality is there, but perhaps we need to look at what people want to drink. Instead I prefer Champagne and good quality English sparkling wine. “
What tastings do you go to?
“I don’t go to any of the big portfolio tastings. My suppliers can come to me and they know what I want. They are too busy and you spend more time talking than tasting.”
On travelling to wine regions
“I try and travel as much as I can, but I have to be more targeted and probably only now go to places I have not been before. For example, I have been wanting to go to Portugal for the last 10 years, but have never been able to go. Last year I finally made it happen.”
Where is on your wine bucket list?
“Madeira. I just have to go there. Jerez. Priorat. I have also not had the chance to go to many of the major Spanish wine regions.”
What would be your ideal wine trip?
“Not too long. Just two to three days. Ideally they would be organised by a generic or regional body as they are more objective and are not trying to sell you specific wines. That said I know I have to play the game and when I come back I will work with my suppliers to try to and list a couple of wines after each trip. “