1. In addition to great food and service, your restaurants (Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, La Trompette in Chiswick and The Glasshouse in Kew) have been lauded for their wine offerings. What, in your opinion, is the key to this?
The businesses are owned by wine fanatics – that helps! Both Nigel (Platts-Martin) and I are wine lovers and having really good wine lists is important to us. We then do our utmost to employ the best people to look after and develop them. Employ the best people, set the buying parameters and selling margins and give them the freedom to do their job. Historically we have also always taken the view that it pays to invest in good lists. We have decent stockholdings which enables us to list excellent wines, when they are ready to drink and at a fair price.
2. Obviously the pandemic has been devastating for the restaurant industry, what have you been doing to prepare for re-opening after 3 months of 'lockdown'?
A great deal of thinking! There is a limit to what can be done in practice whilst closed, as things have largely been out of our hands. We are opening on August 28th and are planning now. There will be practical reasons for offering considerably abridged lists when reopen and we have a fair bit of stock to utilise. I haven't yet quite decided on the precise format, but perhaps two lists (one short and the full list) may be the way to go.
3. Have you discovered any new or interesting wines during the last three months?
My brother bought me a rather splendid bottle of '16 Clape Cornas Renaissance from you chaps for my birthday which I very much enjoyed. Superb in fact. Pity it's so f'ing expensive! I bought a couple of cases of Tempier Rosé this year as usual and as the weather has been generally good, I have got through most of it! And I am drinking more northern Italian whites than usual for some reason. I like Soave a lot – and am a big Pieropan fan - but wouldn't underscore it as a new discovery as such. Interestingly I find myself drinking less white Burgundy these days and have actually sold a bit this year. Too much tiresome bottle variation! And so much top class Chardonnay from other parts of the world too.
4. From a wine point of view, do you think restaurant customers spending habits will have changed? Will this be reflected on your wine lists?
I have no idea and we'll have to wait and see. I'd be very surprised if customers spend more on wine than they did pre Covid.
5. You've cooked in some great kitchens and opened three hugely acclaimed London restaurants, did your interest in wine evolve naturally with your involvement with food or was it something you developed separately?
When I was at the stoves (quite a few years ago now!), there was no time for wine. I always liked it and had a healthy interest, but I hardly had time to keep an eye on the list. We had great sommeliers and we all bumped happily along. Personally I feel that there is a huge amount of nonsense and waffle to do with food and wine “matching”. Being a good sommelier is about listening to and communicating with customers. And then bringing them what they want. Somms who like to 'educate' their guests and take them on a 'journey' are not really my cup of tea. Neither are chefs who do the same for that matter. My own interest in wine started in my early 20s when I was the bar manager for a busy hotel in Stoke on Trent. I was put in charge of the cellar!
6. What restaurant are you most looking forward to visiting again?
There are many. Medlar, Lorne and Noble Rot are London favourites. Tyddyn Llan in north Wales and The Red Lion in Wilts are regular and much cherished haunts out of London.
7. What are is your favourite grape and wine region?
Really couldn't say. I'd like to come up with a surprising and erudite response here, but I like pretty well everything if well made. I like Alsace a lot because I know the region quite well and warm to the geography, architecture; and of course the food and wine. I have also been enjoying Leon Beyer's '15 pinot during lockdown! I have been drinking much less red than white, but Alsace pinot is underrated, delicious and perfect for this time of the year.
8. With prices from the top estates in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne and Northern Italy going 'through the roof' over the last few years, are there any regions you think offer particularly good value for money?
North east Italy is a great white wine region and still good value I reckon. Sicily and Portugal too.
9. Can you tell us an interesting wine and food pairing from your travels?
Not really – see above! I once went to a very smart hotel indeed (not in Wales) where they proudly served a sparkling Welsh wine as the house pour. It was terrible!
10.What advice would you give to a college leaver hoping to pursue a career in hospitality?
Be prepared to work very hard and learn as fast as you possibly can. Study good managers and learn what makes them good. This industry – as I suspect most others are – is all about getting on with people and building teams.