The 4th July has taken on a new meaning in 2020. The on-trade and the vast supply chain that supports it have spent the past few weeks all gearing up for how they can re-open their doors to a new ‘normal’ of eating and drinking out. The hit during Covid-19 has been sudden and upsetting. Sadly, for some, it has been devastating and they won’t be able to join the rest of the trade in even trying to re-open. But for those who are bouncing back, what measures and protocols are being put in place to ensure they are on the right side of the ever changing government guidelines. Here Harry Crowther talks to Martin Williams, chief executive of Rare Restaurants (Gaucho and M Restaurants) to find out what he and his team have been up to behind the scenes during lockdown, and Andrew Maidment, the man who is heading up the exciting changes that have taken place to Gaucho’s new-look wine list, which were very much at the heart of its pre-lockdown re-launch and will be key to how it returns from July 4.
“There are no right or wrong answers for us when it comes to wine.” That’s the refreshing attitude that Mike Boyne has brought to his BinTwo wine bar and merchants business in Padstow, Cornwall that has made it such a success over a small period of time both with his customers and the suppliers who are happy to travel to meet him and show him ever more adventurous wines. Here he talks about what life has been like in lockdown in one of Cornwall’s most famous tourist towns, but most of all he shares his uplifting views on what wine means to him and the kind of service he wants to give his customers.
Pubs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can cater for all our needs on a night out. From the good ol local that is the hub of the community, to destination gourmet pubs that are more like fine dining restaurants. The Red Lion & Sun in Highgate village, north London, probably sits somewhere in the middle. A pub that has a wine list that would be the envy of any master sommelier, and you’re likely to bump into Liam Gallagher ordering another pint of Guinness. Whilst 1000s of pubs have been shut over the last three moths, the Red Lion & Sun has really come into its own thanks to the drive and imagination of its larger than life owner, Heath Ball, who has made it the go to place for Highgate locals looking for fine food and wine to deliver or collect and enjoy an escape from lockdown.
If you are going to win an award for being the best at what you do it might seem a bit bizarre to receive it at a time when you can’t actually do the job you are being congratulated for doing. It that at all makes sense. But that’s the situation that Mark Quick, head of wine at Hawksmoor, found himself in last month on finding out he had been named Restaurant Buyer of the Year in the inaugural London Wine Fair Wine Buyers Awards. It was, though, a massive boost for him whilst he tries to keep himself busy whilst, like thousands of others, he is currently on furlough due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Here he explains to Richard Siddle some of the ideas that helped him come away with the top prize.
“You may be closed but you are not forgotten”. That is the key message behind a series of A-list producer webinars set up by Armit’s buyer Nicolas Clerc MS aimed exclusively at sommeliers and those in the on-trade. The six events feature rarely-accessed wine estates such as Sassicaia, Chateau Latour and today’s destination Chateau Lafleur. Peter Dean caught up with Clerc to find out more.
It might be over a year since Gerard Basset OBE MW MS, arguably the world’s best ever and certainly most well known and charismatic sommelier, died at the age of 61. But his memory is still so fresh – and refreshing – with not just the people in the trade who knew him well, but for those who he inspired, either to follow in his footsteps to become a sommelier, or just the desire to live life to the full and share what you know with passion and a smile. Thankfully he was able to share his life’s experiences in the autobiography he wrote over his last few months. Here’s just one chapter from a typically captivating book.
There’s probably no such thing as an easy sell in the premium on-trade, but when the customer clearly knows exactly what they want, even without opening the wine list, it makes the life of a sommelier just that little bit easier. But what about encouraging customers to pick a wine that they know absolutely nothing about? This was the subject of an entertaining webinar yesterday afternoon that had London’s Mandarin Oriental head of wine, Stefan Neumann MS, explaining how we would sell five Italian wines from Banfi, including one whose variety he had never heard of and another which he hadn’t tried.
In early January, when the world was a very different place, Mattia Scarpazza, head sommelier at Petersham Nurseries, spent a week in Chile with fellow sommeliers, Sara Rossi head sommelier at Trinity and Noemi Farvart, sommelier at Le Gavroche, who were also his team mates who helped them win the Wine Bar War competition, hosted by Wines of Chile, that allowed them to go on the trip in the first place. Here he looks back on a week that took in 13 wineries, the chance to taste just under 200 wines, whilst travelling over 700km of this ever changing country.
In this first in a series of reports from Prague, drinks consultant Harry Crowther finds that if you scratch beneath the surface of ‘Stag Party central’ you will find a buzzing drinks scene with awesome bars and a new wine scene heavily influenced by Austrian and Hungarian vignerons. In this post, Crowther meets up with Milos Danihelka bartender from the L’Fleur whose love of Champagne has started his very own grower revolution. Listed as one of the world’s Top 50 Discovery bars, L’Fleur has an exciting range of cocktails but it is the wine list that now boasts 120 Champagnes with over 70 lines coming from the grower circuit, that has really got tongues wagging, and helped him set up his own on-trade importing business Terroirs Champagne.
Saturday night saw the final service at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, the Wiltshire-based restaurant run by Roger and Sue Jones for 21 years, which had become a favourite haunt for the wine industry – tickets for final sittings were selling faster than hand sanitiser. One of the final lunches was a classic, hosted by Vranken Pommery, keen to pair its top cuvées from the 2002 vintage with Jones’ faultless eye for culinary detail. David Kermode was there for The Buyer who reports that even with the disaster of the Coronavirus looming ever closer, it could not detract from a meal of truly epic proportions.
“The rituals of eating and drinking together are at the heart of our civilisation, of our very humanity, yet now they are what make us all most vulnerable.” In just one sentence Kate Hawkings, a former restaurant owner herself, captures the dilemma we are now faced with. The desire on one hand to support our local on-trade, but the knowledge we might be putting each other risk if we do go out eating and drinking. Here she shares her personal feelings towards coping with Covid-19 and talks to her contacts and friends in the restaurant trade about what impact it is having on their businesses.
As we named this platform The Buyer, clearly what goes into being a good drinks buyer is a topic very close to our hearts. Which is why we not only welcomed the new Wine Buyers Awards from the London Wine Fair but were very pleased to be the media partner for its Restaurant and Wine Bar category. Now the judging has been completed it’s time to announce the shortlist in each of the categories. The winners will be announced on May 19 at a special session at the London Wine Fair itself.
There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to buying wine for a restaurant wine list, but there are arguably more ways in which you can get it wrong, than if you play it safe with well known varieties from established regions and countries. To stand out in the new London Wine Fair Wine Buyers Awards you are going to have to do a lot more than that. One of the judges for the Restaurant and Wine Bar category, Martin Lam, explains what he thinks makes a good wine buyer.
As there is no formal training or professional qualification for wine buying it can be hard to know if you are actually any good at it. Yes, you might have a wine list that seems to do the business, but how good are you compared to the wine buyer working for the restaurant group, wholesaler or wine merchant across the road. That’s what the new London Wine Fair Wine Buyer Awards are all about. The chance to go toe to toe with your peers to find out who actually is tippety top of the wine buying world. Christine Parkinson, so long the head of wine at the worldwide Hakkasan restaurant group, is pretty well placed to know what makes a good wine buyer or not. It’s why she is one of the judges in the Restaurant and Wine Bar category, sponsored by The Buyer. Here she explains what she thinks it takes to be a good – and award-winning wine buyer.
Roger and Sue Jones are always full of surprises with their latest amazing scheme to wow the trade and guests alike with another wonderful food and wine experience at their multi-award winning restaurant, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn. But they have kept their biggest surprise for the end, at least for the future of The Harrow, as they have announced they are to close their much-loved, and highly respected restaurant in order to move into the slightly less stressful world of consultancy, wine judging – and (hopefully) writing for The Buyer.
The high street is full of restaurant chains that look like they have been created by committee with their quickly forgettable, formulaic offers that makes you wonder how they ever got to be opened in the first place. Then there are restaurateurs like Martin Williams. The man who after a successful career making his name at Gaucho, set up his new vision for premium restaurants, the multi faceted M Restaurants that is part premium steak restaurant, part cocktail, wine bar, part events space and part private dining club. He has now been brought in as the new chief executive of Gaucho with the mission of re-launching a famous, and once much loved restaurant brand that had fallen so badly off the rails that it even slipped into administration late year. Here, in his first major business interview since unveiling his new look for Gaucho at the re-opened and re-designed Charlotte Street branch in London, Williams sits down with Richard Siddle to take him through his vision for Gaucho and how he wants it to re-gain its crown as not just the best premium steak restaurant chain in the country, but an inspirational place to work and further your career in hospitality.
Look for a good grower, look for a top vintage and look out especially for Bourgogne Côte d’Or and Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits as they offer impressive value for money, says Flint Wines. Many more good tipsin this second part of a series in which The Buyer is interviewing a number of leading fine wine merchants to get their feel on how this vital region is doing and what the 2020 has in store when the annual Bourgogne campaign comes to a head with Bourgogne Week.
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.
If you are keen to learn more about the latest styles of Italian and Mediterranean wine and how they can particularly work with different types of cuisine in the premium on-trade then next month’s Bellavita Expo really is a must. For the two day show has put together a highly impressive range of wine seminars, masterclasses and panel debates featuring a roll call of top experts and Masters of Wine. Here’s our highlights of what is a packed agenda of talks.
“It is a celebration, a chance for every sommelier at different stages of their career to show their appreciation and knowledge of wines from the Occitanie region”. This is how Sud de France’s executive director, Isabelle Kanaan, describes the challenge of taking part in what was the 10th edition of the Sud de France Sommelier Competition. Richard Siddle was also there not just to report, but act as one of the judges in this prestigious event. He was also in the ideal place to feel the tension, appreciate the talents of the finalists and join in the congratulations to the overall winner, Andrés Rangel, assistant head sommelier at Gymkhana.