London Dine & Wine- A Bloomberg Brief Special Supplement
Discover the capital's secrets in Bloomberg Brief's special supplement London Dine & Wine. Inside you will find London's 10 most important restaurants for visitors, sommelier tips for picking a good wine, and much more.
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London’s 10 Most Important
Restaurants for Visitors
EATING BY RICHARD VINES
■■ Grain Store: Chef
Bruno Loubet puts
vegetables at the
centre of each plate
at this buzzing res-
taurant. It’s the origi-
nality and creativity
of the dishes that is
most striking, with
of flavours. Butternut-
squash ravioli with
rocket and pumpkin seeds is my favourite,
but there is plenty for carnivores.
■■ Gymkhana: The U.K. has had Indian
restaurants since 1809. Gymkhana raises
a bar that was already set high.The cooking
and ingredients are exemplary and it was
recently named U.K. Restaurant of theYear,
topping the Top 100 after less than a year
in business. If you are on a budget or have
trouble getting a table, lunch is best.
■■ Chiltern Firehouse: Owned by the
hotelier Andre Balazs, this new restaurant
has become such a celebrity hangout, it’s
near-impossible for civilians to get tables.
One option is to try for breakfast. The
cooking by chef Nuno Mendes is good but
this place is more about the buzz than the
■■ Clove Club: This restaurant is housed
in Shoreditch Town Hall, which was built in
1865, and the budget for renovations must
have been limited. Isaac McHale works
wonders with tasting menus built around
little-known British ingredients.
■■ Dabbous: Rarely has a top-quality res-
taurant opened with such a bang and then
disappeared so quickly from view. Dabbous
made No. 11 in the National Restaurant
Awards in 2013 only to drop out of the Top 100
this year. Chef Ollie Dabbous is an original
talent and his prices are modest.This may be
the best restaurant you have never heard of.
The River Cafe counts April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig and TV’s Jamie Oliver among its alumni.
Source: Ian Heide/River Cafe
Guinea fowl breast marinated in kashmiri chili,
ginger garlic paste and mustard oil.
Source: Gerber PR
What makes a restaurant important? Some serve outstanding
food. Some are game-changers that start trends and spawn
imitators. Others are just fashionable.
Here are 10 of the current stars that you might care to try if
visiting London. Diners on a budget would be wise to focus
on lunch, as restaurants are quieter then and offer bargains.
■■ Hakkasan: This modern Chinese restau-
rant was an immediate hit when it was opened
by the restaurateur AlanYau in a basement on
a rundown street in 2001. He has since sold
it to Abu Dhabi investors who are turning it
into an international lifestyle brand. That’s a
depressing thought, yet Hakkasan remains a
glamourous venue with great food.
■■ Ledbury:This gas-
(with two Michelin
stars) is a favourite
with Londoners. Aus-
tralian Brett Graham
is a chef who is nor-
mally to be found in
his kitchen. That may
yet there are few
with his popularity
and talent who have
shown so little interest in appearing on TV.
His cooking is exquisite.
■■ River Cafe:This Italian restaurant on the
banks of the Thames was ahead of its time
in serving ingredient-led seasonal dishes.
Alumni of its kitchens include April Bloom-
field of the Spotted Pig and TV chef Jamie
Oliver. The quality of the cooking and the
produce is as high as ever. Be warned: It
■■ Wolseley: The restaurateurs Chris
Corbin and Jeremy King opened the
Wolseley in 2003. This cavernous
European brasserie on Piccadilly has
spawned many imitators but no equals. It
is grand without being expensive; polished
without being bland. Many celebrities are
regulars and they are served with the same
courtesy as everyone else.
■■ Zuma: This Japanese-inspired contem-
porary restaurant has been around for more
than a decade. There are so many imita-
tors it is easy to forget the creativity of chef
Rainer Becker in this marriage of modern
design and cooking. While Zuma is fash-
ionable and expensive, the best bit is the
quality of the food.
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine4
Soho Trades Sin of Flesh for
Wicked Steak Restaurants
think frogs’ legs, cheese beignets and some
very good charcuterie, served with bread in
a brown paper bag.
■■ Bob Bob Ricard: There’s no other res-
taurant in London like this.The decor is over-
the-top luxurious, with almost all the seating
in booths, each equipped with a buzzer to
summon Champagne. The food lives up to
the setting but the prices are not over the
top and the wine list may offer the best value
■■ Bocca di Lupo: Chef Jacob Kennedy
serves dishes and wines from across Italy
in this buzzy trattoria. It’s more like a tapas
joint than a traditional Italian restaurant, so
try to grab a seat at the bar rather than be
shoehorned into a table at the back.
■■ Ceviche:This bar-restaurant helped kick-
start the fashion for Peruvian food in London
and can get very crowded. It’s best to arrive
early and grab seats at the counter, beside
the window. Watching Soho street life is
more entertaining than cramming into the
dining room at the back.
■■ Ember Yard: This tapas bar from the
owners of Salt Yard and Opera Tavern
is one of the best additions to Soho this
year. The small plates are a match for any
I tasted during a recent visit to Barcelona,
and the Grilled Iberico Presa with Whipped
Jamon Butter is as good as anything I’ve
eaten in Soho.
■■ Flat Iron: The queues form outside this
no-reservations steak restaurant before it
opens. It’s worth the wait, especially as you
can head off to a pub until you are called.
Flat Iron serves properly pink meat that is
full of flavour for just a few pounds.
■■ Gauthier: This is unusual in Soho: a
formal Michelin-style French restaurant.
The rooms are hushed as the male wait-
ers simultaneously remove silver cloches.
Yet chef Alexis Gauthier’s cooking is not old
fashioned and he is a London pioneer of
healthy cooking — his offerings here include
a vegetable tasting menu.
■■ Gay Hussar: This charming restaurant
has been serving Hungarian food and wines
in London for more than 50 years. Its tradi-
tional style of service and cooking is par-
ticularly welcome in a part of London where
fashion often prevails.The Gay Hussar is a
slice of the past that should be savoured.
■■ Hix: Chef Mark Hix was an early pioneer
of British regional cooking. His enthusiasms
are reflected in the menu, featuring dishes
from across the U.K. One of the main attrac-
tions is the basement bar, which is open to
non-diners and serves fine cocktails, includ-
ing historical national concoctions.
■■ 10 Greek Street: This no-reservations
restaurant serves a changing menu of inex-
pensive British dishes. The ingredients are
well-sourced, the preparation is unfussy and
the results are impressive. The wine list is
equally thoughtful and almost all options are
available by the half bottle.
■■ Arbutus:This is one of the most influential
London restaurants of the past decade.Will
Smith and chef Anthony Demetre opened
Arbutus in 2007 with the goal of serving
fine food at everyday prices.A Michelin star
followed, as did imitators. Seven years on,
Arbutus still shines.
■■ Barrafina: The formula is simple: a long
counter serving authentic Spanish tapas,
reminiscent of Cal Pep and other classics in
Barcelona.There are no reservations, so to
get a good seat, arrive late for lunch or early
for dinner. The owners are Sam and Eddie
Hart who also own Quo Vadis and share a
love of Spanish wines.
■■ Bar Shu: This restaurant is packed
with Chinese visitors feasting on the spicy
Sichuan food. It’s both an authentic res-
taurant and accessible to non-Chinese
diners, thanks to the involvement of Fuchsia
Dunlop, a British chef who studied at the
Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine.
■■ Blanchette: This new venue is like a
French version of Polpo, serving inexpen-
sive snacks and small plates at a counter;
The dining room at Peruvian restaurant Ceviche
Source: Paul Winch-Furness/Nourish PR
Soho has been a red-light dis-
trict for hundreds of years.
You don’t need to consult the
history books to learn about
its seedier side: Neon signs
for strip shows, sex toys and
“models” are openly on display.
Things are changing. The sex
shops and brothels are being
forced out in favour of restau-
rants, cafes and bars. Here are
some of the best places to eat
EATING BY RICHARD VINES
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine 5
From East to West
a menu created by the chefs
behind that city’s Machneyuda
restaurant. Palomar is the cre-
ation of siblings Layo and Zoe
Paskin, who were behind The
End/AKA night spot. The early
indications are promising, with
praise for the eclectic menu.
■■ Pitt Cue Co:You can’t book
ahead, and may face a long
wait. When you do get in, you’ll
eat in a tiny basement untrou-
bled by designers, and the web-
site offers little clue to the menu
or prices.The upside is that Pitt
Cue serves some of the best
U.S.-style barbecued meat in
London (and the prices are low).
■■ Pizza Pilgrims: Soho is filled
with more chain restaurants and
junk-food options than with
great places to eat. Still, Pizza
Pilgrims is exemplary in its com-
mitment to serving quality food
at low prices. Portobello mush-
room and truffle oil pizza (with
free sparkling water) costs £10.
■■ Polpo: This small Venetian-
style restaurant/bar brought
something new to London when
it opened in 2009. Restaurateur
Russell Norman imported a
New York vibe, with low prices
and a lot of noise in a cramped
space. There are no reserva-
tions for dinner.Along with Arbu-
tus, this was a game-changer.
■■ Polpetto: Polpo’s baby sister
is the domain of chef Florence
Knight. She presides in the
basement kitchen preparing
ingredient-led dishes such
as hare pappardelle; burrata,
agretti, chilli; and milk pudding,
rhubarb and rose. The ground-
floor dining room/bar is buzzy.
■■ Quo Vadis: This is another
London institution. It was
founded by an Italian, Pepino
Leoni, in 1926. Before that, Karl
Marx wrote Das Kapital while
living on the third floor of the
building. The owners now are
brothers Sam and Eddie Hart.
Quo Vadis attracts the Soho and
food crowds, drawn by the popu-
lar Scottish chef Jeremy Lee.
■■ Social Eating House: This
fashionable restaurant belongs
to Jason Atherton, one of the
U.K.’s most exciting chefs.With
its exposed brick walls and
copper ceilings, Social Eating
House looks and sounds like a
NewYork venue.This is not the
place for a quiet bite.The menu
is adventurous and the cooking,
by Paul Hood, is first class.
■■ St Moritz: I love St Moritz.
Walk through the door and you
are transported into old-fash-
ioned Switzerland. I only go
for the fondues, but veau Zuri-
choise, bratwurst and rosti are
also served, along with surpris-
ingly inexpensive local wines.
I first visited in 1981, when a
basement bar used to be filled
with Swiss au pairs.
■■ Tonkotsu: This is a ramen
joint, bang opposite the Groucho
club.It’s inexpensive and unfussy
and has developed a follow-
ing for its rich stock, created by
cooking pork bones overnight.
April Bloomfield of the Spotted
Pig in New York is among the
chefs who have eaten here.
■■ Yalla Yalla: This hole-in-the-
wall café serves Beirut street
dishes to 28 seats in a small,
cramped room — not a big
step up from a kebab house.
What distinguishes it is the
quality of the food. Yalla Yalla
opened late in 2008 and now
has a larger sibling north of
■■ Wright Brothers: This is a
first-class fish restaurant. It’s
bright and buzzling, and a great
place to settle in with a dozen
oysters and a bottle of Cham-
pagne while you decide what
to eat and drink for lunch.
■■ Yauatcha: This modern
Chinese establishment was
created by Hakkasan founder
AlanYau, theYau of the restau-
rant’s name. It retains some of
the originality he brought to it
and holds a Michelin star. It’s
not cheap. The dim sum and
cocktails are good.
■■ Jackson + Rye: There’s not
a lot of competition for decent
American food in Soho, so this
new venue sneaks onto our list.
The prices are reasonable, and
the food can be good. It can
also be inconsistent, so good
luck. The Old Vine Zinfandel, at
£29.95 should help to smooth
out any rough edges.
■■ Koya: This udon noodle bar
is very popular indeed, with long
queues.The quality and authen-
ticity of the dishes is widely
appreciated.Despite its modesty,
the venue was voted No. 52 in
the National Restaurant Awards
last year, beating establishments
such as the three-Michelin-star
Gordon Ramsay and Alain
Ducasse U.K. flagships.
■■ L’Escargot: This Soho insti-
tution opened in 1927 and was
reborn this year when it came
under new ownership. The res-
taurateur Brian Clivaz is redeco-
rating the old townhouse and he
has brought in chef Oliver Lesnik
to overhaul the food. The early
indications are that L’Escargot
will regain its old glory.
■■ Mele e Pere: This low-key
basement restaurant opened so
quietly about three years ago,
not many people knew it was
there. It has now developed a
following for its unfussy Italian
cooking and reasonable prices.
Lunch specials cost £9.50 and
the pre-theatre menu is £19.50
for three courses.
■■ Nopi: This smart establish-
ment near Oxford Circus serves
modern Middle Eastern cuisine
by Yotam Ottolenghi. The chef
has developed an international
following with the book Jerusa-
lem and this is his flagship. It’s
popular for light and colourful
dishes such as coriander seed-
crusted burrata with slices of
■■ Palomar: This brand new
establishment serves the food
of modern-day Jerusalem, with
Social Eating House looks and sounds like a New York venue
Source: Sauce Communications
EATING BY RICHARD VINES
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine6
How to Beat the A-List to the Best
are in demand: they occupy the
corners near the window.
■■ Hand Flowers: Tables
six and seven by the windows
are popular tables for two. If
you don’t want to be seen, B2
(in the bar) is better as it is in
a nook. Table 11 is another
booth. For groups, B4 is good.
George Clooney and Tom Jones
have been spotted at this two-
Michelin-star pub in Marlow
over the years.
■■ Hawksmoor Air Street: The
best seats are at the corner
banquettes (tables 53 and 56)
as they are in the thick of it and
good for people-watching.Tables
34 and 71 by the windows are
also popular. If you want a quiet
booth for privacy without having
to walk the length of the restau-
rant: 23, 24 and 25 are fine. Jon
Hamm of Mad Men was seen in
one of these.
■■ House of Ho: Table 14 is
a great table for two in the
window. You can watch all the
action on Old Compton Street.
Guests spotted in this Vietnam-
ese restaurant include Sheryl
Crow and Paloma Faith.
■■ Hutong: This Chinese res-
taurant in the Shard is divided
into two dining rooms: Beijing
and Shanghai.The main dining
room (where most people
would prefer to sit) is Beijing.
The window tables are in the
10s and 50s but they are allo-
cated on the night. To be sure
of a good window table, you
can book the star private dining
room, Beijing 1.
■■ Ape Bird: Go upstairs to
tables 50 and 51, below the
mural on the right. P.J. Harvey
and Stephen Merchant are
among the celebrities who have
been spotted sitting there. On
the ground floor, table 2, by the
far wall, is in the thick of things,
yet not in a thoroughfare. It’s a
big, solid table for six. I dined
there with Simply Red singer
Mick Hucknall who owns a wine
estate in Sicily and is into food.
■■ Berners Tavern: The two
corner tables (eight and 22) at
the end of the room near the
kitchen are popular with couples.
This restaurant in the London
Edition hotel is celebrity central,
with George Clooney, Leonardo
DiCaprio, Helen Mirren, Uma
Thurman and Oprah Winfrey
among those showing up.
■■ Brasserie Chavot: Halfway
down the room on the left, there is
a banquette for two guests, table
10 that is popular.I ate there with
actor and restaurateur Neil Stuke.
■■ Cafe Murano: My favourite
place to sit is at the bar, from
which I spotted Jeremy Paxman
dining. A friend saw Prince
Andrew and Princess Beatrice
sitting together with no fuss.
■■ Casse-Croute: Table eight
at this French restaurant in Ber-
mondsey is best: it’s in a corner
by the window. Table one in the
far right-hand corner as you go
in is also popular, even though
it’s near the toilet.
■■ Coya: Ask for table 50: You
can see the whole of the Mayfair
Peruvian restaurant, the open
kitchen and the wine corridor.
Table 15 is good for a large group
of friends and family: it’s an oval
table where you can get together.
■■ Foxlow: Table 27 is a great
table for two: it’s in the corner
and great for people-watching
in this Clerkenwell joint. Table
44 is quieter. Or, if you are in a
group, 44 and other tables can be
pulled together, which happened
for another dinner with Hucknall.
■■ Duck Waffle:All tables have
a great view from the top of the
Heron Tower. Table 63 may be
the best: it’s a banquette that
can seat six. It faces east so
guests can watch the sun rise
or set over Canary Wharf, Tower
Bridge and the Gherkin. Duck
Waffle is a celebrity hotspot and
has been visited by Will Smith,
Ashton Kutcher, Gwyneth Pal-
trow and Keira Knightley.
■■ Grain Store: Table 40 seats
three to four people and has
the best view of the kitchen if
you like to be at the heart of
the action. Celebrities include
Gordon Ramsay and the New
York restaurateur Danny Meyer.
■■ Gymkhana: Table 15 down-
stairs is in a corner spot offering
some privacy. It’s where Nigella
Lawson was seen dining with
Salman Rushdie. Or you can
push together tables 16 and 17 for
a group, which is what happened
when I invited chefs Anthony
Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre
there. There is also a discreet
private room, table 20. On the
ground floor, tables one and three
THE BEST TABLES BY RICHARD VINES
Grain Store, Bruno Loubet’s second London restaurant
Source: Amy Murrell/Network London
The joy of getting a table at a fashionable restaurant may be diminished if you find yourself
sitting near the loos or jammed in the middle of a row. Just about every popular London estab-
lishment has favoured locations where celebrities get to sit. While the rest of us are unlikely to
get them just by asking, we can try.
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine 7
■■ Little Social: When booking, ask for the
window table or any of the booths at the
front: three, four or five. The tables at the
back are to be avoided unless you enjoy inti-
macy with strangers. (Except for 50, which
is semi-private.) I ran into Jools Holland. He
asked if I owned the place. Sadly, I don’t.
■■ Oblix: While the window seats are most
in demand, VIPs may get table one in the
corner, which is a bit secluded and offers
views in two directions. The seats at the
counter near the kitchen are also good,
offering a direct view of St Paul’s.
■■ Pollen Street Social: Diners in groups ask
for table one, in the bar. It can seat eight and
it’s buzzy. (I dislike dining in groups almost
as much as I dislike dinner parties, so I can’t
vouch for this table.) Couples tend to prefer
table 19, near the window.
■■ Polpetto: Table 30, the round table for
four in the window, has a great view out onto
Berwick Street and you are also by the door,
so you can see who is coming in and out
of the restaurant. It’s already popular with
celebrities such as the actor Jason Statham.
The other great one is 12: It’s a booth that is
semi-private, yet with a great view. Look into
the room and it looks like the money table.
For two people, nine and 10 are booths.
continued from page 7
THE BEST TABLES …
Richard Vines with singer Nicole Scherzinger
Source: Emma Reynolds/Tsuru Tonkotsu Restaurants
■■ Pont Street: The booth that is table five is
best for a private meal as other diners can’t
see you.The booths at six and seven are also
good and offer a view of the whole restaurant.
Table one lets you see all the comings and
goings. Many celebrities - including model
Cara Delevingne — have been sighted, per-
haps thanks to the fact chef Sophie Michell
moves in such circles.
■■ Roka: I like to sit in the open, on Charlotte
Street, when the weather is good. Regulars
tend to pick the robata counter, with seats
62 and 63 being the favourites.
■■ Social Eating House: Banquettes 11 and
12 opposite the bar are good for people-
watching. Corner table 21 is good for groups.
■■ Sushisamba: Table 26 is a banquette
that seats four and offers unobstructed
panoramic views. This restaurant in the
Heron Tower is pap heaven. Celebrity
guests include Victoria Beckham, Henry
Cavill, Cheryl Cole, Hugh Grant, Samuel L.
Jackson and Nicole Scherzinger.
■■ Zuma: Table 35, next to the sushi
counter, offers a view of the whole restau-
rant. Some celebrities prefer table 25, which
is a bit secluded.
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Fera at Claridge’s Shines as
Successor to Ramsay, at a Price
BY RICHARD VINES
Simon Rogan is a big name in the U.K. culi-
nary scene and has yet to develop a wide
His chance has come with the opening of
Fera, which has recently replaced Gordon
Ramsay as the restaurant at Claridge’s.
The chef has quietly been working won-
ders for a decade at L’Enclume, in Cartmel,
a village in Cumbria. The obstacle is that’s
more than four hours from London, which
means many people best know that estab-
lishment from the TV show The Trip.
The waves you make with a restaurant
in the Lake District may be little more than
a ripple by the time they reach the capital.
Not that I am saying Rogan is washed up.
He’s just getting started.
At Fera, he showcases his style of cook-
ing, which focuses on extracting maximum
flavour from the best ingredients, many of
which come from his own farm. That may
be the aim of most chefs, yet few achieve
dishes that are so clean and focused.
Let me put that another way: The food
You may start with snacks such as pea
wafer, with fennel and flowers. It is a happy
marriage of taste and texture and it is also
very pretty.Then you may move on to rabbit
with lovage, another canape where you hold
a world of flavour in your hand.
The menus are six or 10 courses, with a
few extras thrown in for good measure, so
let’s step away from the table and take a look
around the room. It is glamourous without
being vulgar. It’s grand without being intimi-
dating. Best of all, it’s Art Deco without being
cliched.There’s also a cute bar.
If you want to feel intimidated, take a look
at the prices.
The set menus are £95 for six courses
or £125 for 10. Throw in wine, water, coffee
and service and you will be lucky to escape
for less than £150 per person, even with the
There is an a la carte menu for £85
for three courses. The pricing at just £10
below the shorter tasting option makes it
an unlikely choice. There’s a lunch for £45
for two courses, £55 for three. I realise this
is Claridge’s, but I would like to see some
less-expensive options and, ideally, a more
considered a la carte option.
There are several highlights to the tasting
menu, including duck hearts in a bowl of
pureed potato and Winslade cheese; and
an even more unlikely-sounding dish, grilled
salad with Isle of Mull cheese, truffle custard
and cobnuts. Bread is served as a course
in itself with a mushroom broth on the side.
The wine list is less scary and more adven-
turous than it might have been.The sommelier
is unsnooty and is happy to suggest unusual
options, such as an orange-colored natural
wine from Georgia for £49.
(While I don’t regret accepting the recom-
mendation, I wouldn’t order it again unless to
revisit a farmyard without leaving London.)
The service is generally friendly and
welcoming. In many ways, Rogan is inspi-
rational, and his enthusiasm has rubbed
off on the staff. They appear dedicated to
sharing the joy rather than reminding you
that you are in one of the world’s poshest
hotels. Diners are also welcome to visit the
If you go along for cocktails in the new bar
and then have a leisurely meal in the impres-
sive dining room, you may enjoy some of the
best food and service in London.
One of the joys of Fera is that Rogan plans
to change the menu regularly, so this is likely
to be a living restaurant rather than a hotel
museum of unchanging dishes.
The disappointment is that at such high
prices, and with tasting menus the main
option, most of us will only get there for
Fera, 49 Brook Street,
Chef Simon Rogan and the glamorous and grand dining room at Fera
Source: Network London
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine 9
How to Get a Table at Chiltern
Firehouse Without Being Famous
My general feeling is that if there’s time
for breakfast, there’s time for an extra hour
in bed. But if you are one of those power
people who like to set up early-morning
meetings, Chiltern Firehouse may be the
place for you.
Other options include steamed egg
whites chawanmushi with mushrooms and
greens — a Japanese custard costing £12;
and French toast, smoked bacon, spiced
maple syrup (£9).
The Wolseley is my favourite place in
London for breakfast. Chiltern Firehouse
currently comes second.
If you do make it in for lunch or dinner,
it’s useful to know in
advance that the cooking is not ambi-
tious.The website gives no information and
word-of-mouth about the place is hard to
come by unless you hang out with celebri-
ties. It’s comfort food and some diners may
be disappointed not to be wowed.
That’s understandable. Lisbon-born Nuno
Mendes is one of the U.K.’s most creative
talents.At his previous restaurant, Viajante,
his kitchen was a laboratory, his menu
sizzled, his dishes were like fireworks. You
might consider Firehouse a damp squib if
Cesar salad and sirloin steak are not your
But I am not disappointed. I like his cook-
ing and if he is giving you a familiar dish, he
will still spice up your life.
The snacks of corn bread and especially
the crab-stuffed doughnuts are delicious.
The steak tartare comes with a twist in the
shape of a chipotle sauce; the Cesar salad
is topped with crispy chicken skin rather than
a chunk of breast meat.
If you can put to one side the celebrity
madness surrounding Chiltern Firehouse,
you have a glamorous restaurant with good
service and decent food and a wine list that
isn’t too greedy. If you show up toward the
end of lunch time, you might even be able
to get a table without booking.
Failing that, I might see you at breakfast.
Or I hope you might catch me in Hello!
Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern Street,
BY RICHARD VINES
Chiltern Firehouse is filled with so many
celebrities, it’s almost impossible to get a
table. It’s like when I tried for a midweek
dinner reservation at the Ivy in July 2007
and was offered a booking for January
2008. I took it. If somewhere is that popu-
lar, I want in.
Times change. I called the Ivy recently
and got a table for the same night. Chiltern
Firehouse probably faces a similarly acces-
sible future. That doesn’t help right now if
you want to go and are not famous enough
to snag a reservation.
There is a way in.The restaurant recently
started serving breakfast. It’s not being
promoted anywhere and there is no great
crush. It’s not particularly expensive and on
a sunny day, the windows are all open and
the sunshine streams in.
The first thing to notice about Chiltern
Firehouse is that it is unusual and beautiful.
The dining room of the former fire station
isn’t glitzy at all.The glamour is understated,
blending industrial touches with comfortable
banquettes, a tiled floor and lots of cream-
The lighting is subtle and flattering. I
caught sight of myself in a mirror and even
I looked like I belonged there.
Second, the service is good.The owner,
U.S. hotelier Andre Balazs, has brought in
talented staff members from restaurants
across London. The fact many are also
gorgeous helps.The uniforms are beautiful
and the service style is American: friendly,
And so to the food.
The menu is accessible, with steaks and
salads and simple fish and vegetable dishes.
At breakfast, you might start with croissant,
blueberry compote at £6 then move on to
smoked salmon, poached eggs and herbed
potato cakes (£12).
If you’re feeling adventurous, the spiced
crab omelette with turmeric, potatoes and
chervil (£17) is a specialty. It looks pretty,
served in a skillet, but it’s too sweet. I go for
the Iberico pork sausage and crispy smoked
bacon with toast.
The juices are fresh.The coffee is weak.
The cappuccino is for babies or people who
don’t like coffee. If they wanted to decaf-
feinate it, they’d need sniffer dogs to find
The dining room at Chiltern Firehouse. The restaurant is in a former fire station in Marylebone.
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine10
Get In Touch With Your Inner
Animal at Beast
BY RICHARD VINES
Beast! It’s a great name for a restaurant
and not unsuitable for a dungeon-like
space where you first gorge on bloody
steaks and then rip apart crustaceans with
your bare hands.
Beast is brought to you by the owners of
Goodman — some of London’s finest steak
restaurants — and Burger Lobster, a mini-
chain with a simple formula of a £20 menu
with a single choice of dish at its heart.
That simplicity is refined at Beast, where
the price is £75 and you get both steak and
Norwegian king crab. There is no menu and
there are no starters other than snacks such
as vintage Parmigiano Reggiano served with
Nocellara del Belice olives, marinated arti-
chokes and balsamic onion.
You sit in a basement at huge communal
tables so wide that it might be easier to
communicate with your date via e-mail (if
you can get a signal) rather than attempt
conversation by that old mouth-to-ear
method. It’s difficult to play footsie unless
you are a basketball player and your date
is a model. (It might work if you are under
Beast feels like one of those Henry VIII
medieval banquet halls where people throw
rolls and flirt with the serving wenches. I
don’t recommend this at Beast.There is no
bread and staffers have a right to a work-
place environment that is free of harass-
ment, hostility and intimidation. And air-
The steak is USDA bone-in rib eye
and sirloin from Alaska, corn finished for
about 150 days, with very high marbling.
It’s cooked on a parrilla grill and brushed
with rosemary butter. It’s fat and rich. I like
fat and rich, though I do wonder if more
health-conscious diners would appreciate
My feeling is that the presence of smoked
heritage tomatoes and dressed green
salad, and the absence of fries, makes it
OK. But it’s not an epic steak. It’s not the
knockout meat you can get at Goodman, or
Hawksmoor or CUT, at a price. It is a steak
you might hang out with to get your hands
on the king crab.
The Paralithodes camtschaticus red king
crab was introduced to the Barents Sea by
the Soviet Union in the 1960s to provide a
new catch for its fisherman, according to
the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry
and Fisheries. Beast obtains its haul from
Norway King Crab, based at Bugoeynes, in
the Arctic Circle.
They are caught only by small coastal
boats and make it in less than two hours to
a small packing area, where each is indi-
vidually inspected for quality before being
given a personal identity badge with bar
code. No wonder it’s expensive and rarely
seen in London restaurants.
The crab is sweet and soft and so fresh,
you might imagine yourself out on one of
those small fishing boats if you weren’t sit-
ting underground listening to amplified music
and to your fellow diners attempting conver-
sation across the table.
The crab is served with sweet-chili sauce
and garlic butter.You have the option of sea-
sonal vegetables if you are feeling peckish,
which is unlikely. Dessert is lemon mousse
with meringue or berry cheesecake.
While the wine list isn’t cheap, it’s not
greedy either. The Morgan Twelve Clones
Pinot Noir, for example, is £50 and the
Schug Carneros Chardonnay (also from
California) is £68. If you enjoy good wines
and are making a night of it, it’s easy to end
up with a bill of £150 a person. If you are
cheap or sober, £100 should cover it. I can’t
see how this much food at £75 a person
can work for lunch and I am not sure it
succeeds early in the evening, either. Show
up at 6:30 p.m. and you may find yourself
sitting alone on a bench in this room, lit by
dozens of candles.
Goodman is already looking at the pos-
sibility of featuring options other than the
full Beast Experience. The older I get, the
less interested I am in communal revelry.
But the food and service at Beast are of
the high standard you can expect from
the Goodman group. Executive Chef John
Cadieux is a man you can trust with your
dinner, or lunch. So if you are up for this
kind of thing, I am happy to recommend it:
Feast at Beast.
Beast, 3 Chapel Place, Marylebone,
W1G 0BG. Info: +44-20-7495-1816.
Beast is housed in a basement where diners sit
at huge communal tables.
Source: Goodman Restaurants
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine 11
BY AINSLEY THOMSON
Without them, we may never have munched on super-
food salads. Since opening their first Leon restaurant in
Carnaby Street ten years ago, John Vincent and Henry
Dimbleby have helped push healthy fast-food into the
mainstream and launched a culinary phenomenon.
“There was a feeling back then that you either had
fast, delicious food or you had cranks, which was mung
beans etc,”Vincent says during an interview at Leon on
Bankside, tucked behind the Tate Modern. “There was
a separation in people’s minds between healthy food
and tasty food.”
Today, Vincent says healthy recipes that Leon cre-
ated — such as superfood salad and sweet potato
falafel — have become staples on the high street,
copied by sandwich chains and supermarkets alike.
“What’s interesting is that not only does everyone
now have a superfood salad, they have our one. Unfor-
tunately, they don’t call it the Leon Superfood salad,”
the 42-year-old says.
In the last financial year, Leon had revenue of £12.5
million, which the company forecasts will rise to £18.5
million in the current year. In addition to 16 restaurants
they have published five cook books, including Fast
Vegetarian, released earlier this year.
“Although some might deem us a successful busi-
ness, the impact we’ve had outside the business has
been greater than the value we’ve created within,”
The two men say that’s about to change.
“We now need to grow Leon to what we think it can
be. It’s meant to be a global fast-food business, we just
need to hurry up and get on with it,” Vincent says. “We
are now single-mindedly focused on Leon growing fast
and being the size it could be and should be.”
Dimbleby says the goal is to have a Leon restaurant in
every big city in the world.
“We’ve set the bar high,” he says. “We feel that a lot of
the really hard operational yards are behind us.Now, after
10 years, we have something at Leon that really delivers.”
Dimbleby, 43, says they plan to open 10 restaurants
this year and another 10 next year in London and other
U.K. cities. They are also aiming to open their first U.S.
restaurant in the next 18 months. In 2012, they hired
Brad Blum, the former Chief Executive Officer of Burger
King and Olive Garden Italian Restaurants, to oversee
the U.S. expansion.
“Brad is chomping at the bit to do it, he thinks Leon
would be a huge brand in America,” Vincent says. “But
we all know that going to another country is like starting
a business afresh, so the challenge is great, the jeopardy
is great, the risk is great.”
Dimbleby and Vincent have no plans to float the
“We created Leon to be liberating. We don’t want
to have to spend our time reporting to analysts about
what we are doing and why,” Vincent says, adding that
the business has reached a point where it can fund its
expansion with a combination of cashflow and debt.
The two men are also adamant that they won’t let
their expansion plans ruin the culture they created in
“We call it ‘fast food in heaven’ — wonderful fresh
food, served by angels in a lovely environment,” Dim-
bleby says, a statement that prompts Vincent to lean
over and kiss him on the cheek.
Henry Dimbleby (left)
and John Vincent
Source: Jon Cartwright
Plot to Take
Their Brand of
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine12
BY RICHARD VINES
Sommeliers can be the scariest people
in restaurants. They may hover. They may
know too much. You may not want to pay
So what’s the best way to order good
wine without emptying your pockets or
having your expense claims bounce back?
How should you choose if your expertise
“It’s best to be direct and say how much
you want to spend,” says Emily O’Hare,
33, head sommelier at River Cafe in Ham-
“I always feel confident about trusting som-
meliers — but I’m the same about hairdress-
ers, which isn’t true for everybody.”
O’Hare and fellow sommeliers in London
say they’re encouraging a trend that helps
diners find great value and enjoy fine wine.
It means going off-piste, avoiding big-
name regions such as Bordeaux and Bur-
gundy and heading to other slopes of France
— and other parts of the world.
That can comfort people who fear being
pushed up in price or aren’t sure which
regions other than the obvious offer top
“Sommeliers, of all the personnel in res-
taurants, are the most intense, the hover-
ers,” says Tom Harrow, who sources wines
and hosts events for clients via his company
“They are the geeks,” Harrow says.
“There’s nothing cool about wine. If you like
it, you drink it. But there are people who
categorise it, like collecting stamps.”
Asking your wine steward for a steer away
from the most expensive wines is fair play,
Harrow and sommeliers say.
“For value, I would look in Alsace and
in the Loire Valley as well, and sometimes
even in the New World,” says Kathrine
Larsen, 31, a Dane who holds the title of
U.K. Sommelier of the Year.
“I’d look maybe atAustralia,Victoria, some-
where like Yarra Valley or Mornington Pen-
insula, smaller producers which are up and
coming,” Larsen says. California wines from
the Sonoma Valley are a possibility, “though
that tends to be a bit more expensive.”
Larsen, who was head sommelier at Le
Pont de la Tour, Orrery and Zuma before
joining Top Selection as the wine distribu-
Sommelier Tips on the Scary
Business of Picking Wines
tor’s business development manager, also
likes easy-drinking Spanish whites from the
Rueda region of Castile and Leon.
For reds, it’s Galicia — an “unusual” choice
from an area known for whites — or perhaps
a trip to the Piedmont area of Italy.
For diners seeking good value, “there’s
some really fun Spanish stuff,” O’Hare
agrees. “Southern France, too: Languedoc
Roussillon can come up with some really
She recommends the “incredible white
wines” from the Alto Adige region of north-
east Italy. Some whites from Campania in
the south of the country are “really interest-
ing and offer some really good value and
complexity and structure.”
Harrow also likes Italy, particularly vin-
tages from Puglia.And he’s high on Austria,
calling it “the new Portugal” for reds. But he
says you don’t have to escape France for
“If you love white Burgundy and can’t
afford Meursault, why not look at places
like Reuilly or wines from the Macon, and
similarly with reds?” he says.
Harrow also favours “the new seam of
unoaked Australian chardonnays,” and both
he and River Cafe’s O’Hare recommend
O’Hare used to organise women-only
tastings because men were taking the lead
in engaging the sommelier.
“There’s been a bit of a climate change,”
she says. “Women seemed to be a bit timid
in restaurants and that’s not so true any-
more. There’s definitely an equality about
payment, about ordering: He’s not ordering
for her and she’s not sitting back and being
quiet. There’s definitely a new kind of vibe.”
Larsen, who worked in Michelin-starred
restaurants Ensemble and The Paul in
Copenhagen, isn’t so sure.
“It’s funny thinking about it, but it’s really
rare that I’ve seen women ordering wine in
restaurants,” says Larsen. “Women usually
just don’t go there. In 13 years of having
worked in restaurants, I think the men usu-
ally take care of that.”
Either way, the key is to be honest.
“You need to be quite candid with som-
meliers,” Harrow says. “That’s important
because the moment you start pretending
you know more than you do, it’s not just like
wolves surrounding a prey, but they won’t
treat you with respect.”
What if a sommelier does embarrass
“It’s rubbish if anyone makes you feel like
an idiot,” O’Hare says.“That’s a bad person,
not a bad sommelier.You wouldn’t be intimi-
dated by a grocer. It’s just wine.”
Emily O’Hare is a sommelier at the River Cafe
Source: Bloomberg/Richard Vines
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine14
No Need to Head to Bordeaux,
Central London Has Its Own Vintage
BY AINSLEY THOMSON
One man’s wild ambition to make wine in the
heart of London is turning into a 15,000-bot-
While the capital has a long-established
wine trade, it has been centred on import-
ing and selling bottles produced elsewhere.
Winemaker Gavin Monery and his team at
London Cru have turned that on its head by
opening the city’s first winery.
“At the start it was a crazy idea, but we
were looking at doing something different in
the London wine trade,” Monery said at the
winery, located in a former gin distillery a few
hundred metres from Earls Court Events
Centre. “The market here is very mature.
People have been buying, selling and trading
wine from places like Bordeaux, for hundreds
of years. So there’s a fixed hierarchy and we
were looking for a way we could mix it up and
do something different.”
The idea behind London Cru, which is
financially backed by Cliff Roberson, of Rob-
erson Wine, and investor Will Tomlinson, was
to involve the public in a way that hasn’t been
possible in London.Instead of a formal wine-
tasting experience, they wanted to create a
relaxed environment where people could
sample wine and most importantly, learn
how it is made.
“We wanted to bring people in and show
them it’s an agricultural product, show them
how it’s processed so they can experience
the different smells and sensations of wine
from when it’s harvested all the way through
to being bottled,” Monery said.
The refurbishment of the gin distillery,
which produced the spirit from 1878 until the
late 1950’s, began in February last year and
involved installing a water treatment plant
to remove chlorine, a UV lamp to destroy
bacteria and membrane filter to sterilise the
mains water.The winery has five 2,500 litre
open-topped stainless steel fermentation
tanks, four 1,500 litre storage tanks and 50
The grapes are from French vineyards
Chateau Corneilla in the foothills of the
Pyrenees and Mas Coutelou in Puimisson,
and from an estate in Peidmont, north-west
Italy.The grapes, which are hand-harvested
before being transported in refrigerated
trucks, arrive at London Cru within 36 hours
of being picked.
The fruit is then processed using a vibrat-
ing sorting table, conveyor and de-stemming
machine, before being slowly pressed and
pumped into the tanks.
London Cru will produce 1,300 cases,
about 15,500 bottles, this year, with plans
to increase that to 3,000 cases annually
over the next two years. Monery is making
Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon
and Barbera.The wine went on sale in Sep-
tember for £15 per bottle.
The 36-year-old Australian said London
Cru, which opened its cellar doors to the
■■ 1,052,666,667 bottles of wine were
sold at supermarkets and off-licences
in the U.K. in the 12 months to 9
November 2013, according to the
Wine Spirit Trade Association.
■■ There are 448 commercial vine-
yards in England and Wales, the
Food Standards Association says.
■■ 18 percent of Britons say red wine
is their favourite alcoholic drink and
14 percent prefer white, according to
the Wilson Drinks Report.
BRITISH WINE FACTS
public in November last year, also wants to
establish itself as a wine events company.
The winery offers Winemaker for the Day
courses, which cost £125, and winery tours,
£15, with plans to introduce further courses
Monery, who has worked in wine for the
past 14 years, learning his trade in wineries
in Margaret River, Western Australia, and
in France, said the courses were designed
to educate people about winemaking in a
hands-on, informal way.
“We’re try to make the tastings more
about different sensations and flavours –
instead of telling people what acid tastes
like, we add acid to a specific sample and
they can feel and taste that sensation. The
same with tannin – we add tannin to a spe-
cific sample, so they can feel the drying sen-
sations in their mouth. I think once people
feel those sensations they are much more
likely to remember them.”
Monery said he wants to use the fact that
the winery is located in the centre of the city
to bring wine to the people.
“They don’t have to catch a train down to
the South Downs to see us, or go to winery
in Bordeaux or Burgundy,” he said. “If there
is a winery on their doorstep then they might
come down and see us and have a chat
and a drink.”
Winemaker Gavin Monery in the vineyard
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine 15
Fund Manager Swaps
Computer Screens for
Watching Grapes Grow
BY RICHARD VINES
Mark Driver, who was a banker in London and Hong
Kong before helping found Horseman Capital Manage-
ment, is learning the virtue of patience.
It’s four years since he bought a farm on the South
Downs, in the county of Sussex, and planted grapes to
produce English sparkling wines. He may make some
next year, but there’s no hurry. He’s biding his time and
watching the grapes grow.
Another step in his ambition to build an international
brand happened in May when Business Secretary Vince
Cable formally opened Driver’s winery at the Rathfinny
Estate, which covers 600 acres of rolling hillside.
“There’s no comparison with working in the City,” said
Driver, 49, whose workplace echoes to the sound of
birdsong rather than London buses.
“It’s a completely different life. I used to sit in front of a
screen and now I work more outside, looking at the vines
and how the vineyard is going and building the winery.”
Sussex shares the same band of chalk that forms the
Paris Basin, which stretches across the Champagne
region. Rising temperatures have helped produce a cli-
mate conducive to producing some fine sparkling wines.
His winemaker at Rathfinny is Jonathan Medard,
a Frenchman from Epernay who trained at Chateau
Mouton Rothschild, Champagne Louis Roederer, Moet
Chandon and Champagne Boizel.
Driver originally planned to grow Chardonnay, Pinot
Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, along with Riesling for
still wines. He’s now added Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc
to round out the flavour of his sparkling wine.
“The idea is to produce a slightly fruitier wine but not
with the sugar content of Prosecco,” he said.
English wineries filled slightly less than 4.5 million
bottles in 2013, a record, The Drinks Business reported.
That compares with Champagne output in France of 349
million bottles, according to the official Comite Cham-
In England and Wales there are 432 vineyards and
124 wineries, with 3,553 acres under vine, the English
Wine Producers website says. About 60 percent of the
output is sparkling, 30 percent still white and 10 percent
red or rose, it says. Leading producers include Denbies
Wine Estate, home to the largest vineyard in the U.K.
Prior to Horseman, where he co-managed the Horse-
man Global Fund, Driver spent 11 years covering Asian
markets. He set up and managed the Asian equity desk
in London for former for former U.S. investment bank
Donaldson Lufkin Jenrette, and also worked in sales
in Hong Kong and London for Societe Generale (Crosby)
and Merrill Lynch. He began his career at Fidelity Invest-
ment Management in 1985.
“It’s been a steep learning curve,” he said of his time
at Rathfinny, where he hoped to be producing wine in
2013.“Everyone was telling me I was too optimistic, and
they were right of course.”A cold winter and a late spring
resulted in a small crop that wasn’t worth picking, and
the winery wasn’t even ready, he said.
This year is looking very good and he’s hoping to get
a crop from the Riesling, he said.
“We had a mild winter. It was
very wet but that isn’t an issue
because we’re on nice slopes
that are self-draining and the
vines are looking strong.
“This time next year, or slightly
earlier, we’ll be bottling some
sparkling wine. That will go into
storage for two years and, hope-
fully, be released in late 2017.”
Long term, Driver said, the
hope is that Sussex wines will
obtain Protected Designation of
Origin status, a European Union
classification that protects prod-
ucts and foodstuffs — from
Champagne toYorkshire forced
rhubarb — from imitators.
He would then aim to sell
Rathfinny sparkling wine under
the Sussex designation in North
America and Asia.
on the South Downs
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine16
Gin Craze Returns to London Living
Rooms With Home Brews
BY CLEMENTINE FLETCHER AND RICHARD VINES
Standing on a quiet residential street in Chiswick, there’s
little sign you’re at the edge of a gin revolution.
Behind a locked metal gate topped with barbed wire
is a rundown parking garage. At the back of this build-
ing, spirits maker Sipsmith has quietly installed a still
it has christened Constance. Soon she’ll be joined by
the company’s original pair, Prudence and Patience, as
Sipsmith moves its home to this bigger site to produce
brands such as V.J.O.P. — Very Junipery Over Proof
gin — using the first new copper stills to work in London
in more than 200 years.
“Gin has had a very peak-trough kind of existence: it’s
come back and forward in fashion,” Sipsmith co-founder
Sam Galsworthy said. “Vodka came in through the 80s
and 90s and gin was pretty uncool, a pretty dour spirit,
and there wasn’t a great deal of premiumisation going on.”
Craft distillers like Sipsmith, Hendrick’s, and Sacred
Spirits — produced in a north London living room — are
changing all of that, inspiring even mass-market brands
like Diageo’s Gordon’s gin to tweak their formulas. The
domestic production revival brings the drink full circle
from the 1700s, when a rash of homemade brews made
it the favourite tipple of the city’s poor and earned it the
nickname “mother’s ruin.”
Sipsmith sells a London Dry Gin made with Chi-
nese cassia bark, and Sloe Gin, a sweet red liqueur
made from gin and a fruit that’s a relative of the plum.
The craft gin maker was founded in 2009 by a group
of drinks industry veterans and is distilled by a former
male underwear model.While Sipsmith’s output is small
— Galsworthy said it produces in a year what Diageo
does in an hour — the impact that it and other upstart
gin brands is having is anything but.
“The resurgence of gin is upon us,” said Spiros Malan-
drakis, an analyst at researcher Euromonitor International.
While gin’s invention is often credited to a Dutch doctor
in the 1600s, it rose to popularity in the U.K. in the first
part of the following century as unregulated distillation
boomed across London until the 1751 Gin Act. Gin
flourished again in the 1800s as British officers in India
mixed it with quinine to ward off malaria, creating the
ubiquitous gin and tonic.
Upstart distillers have fuelled a 40 percent surge in
superpremium gin sales in the U.K. in the five years
through 2012, compared with a 1.1 percent increase for
the drink overall, researcher IWSR estimates.
“There’s not a lot of gin that gets manufactured in
London, so a couple of companies like us doing some-
thing traditional obviously touched a point in people’s
consciousness,” said Sacred creator Ian Hart, who
started his craft gin brand five years ago after leaving
the finance industry.
Gin is always created from a juniper berry base and
then distilled with a mix of ingredients such as citrus peel
and coriander; newbies have won notice by experiment-
ing with other botanical hints. Hart uses frankincense
and cardamom for Sacred, while Hendrick’s, in its trade-
mark stout bottle, relies on cucumber and Bulgarian rose.
“Brands at the top end have done a brilliant job bring-
ing vibrancy to the category,” said Ed Pilkington, Diageo’s
marketing and innovation director for western Europe.
Diageo’s Gordon’s, which retails at about half the £30
price of Sacred and Sipsmith, has about 46 percent of
the U.K. market, according to IWSR.Yet sales have been
declining or stagnant for a few years, Pilkington said.
Sales of standard-priced gins rose 2.3 percent in 2012
while Gordon’s edged up only 0.8 percent, according
So Gordon’s is taking a leaf out of Diageo’s vodka
playbook.The brand started selling a version laced with
elderflower this year, following 2013’s cucumber-tinged
variety.While smaller, pricier rivals create different tastes
by incorporating botanicals during distillation, Diageo
merely adds flavours to the spirit, a technique success-
fully used with its vodkas, from midmarket Smirnoff
Vanilla to upmarket Ciroc Peach.
“We think flavour innovation is important and, within
gin, untapped,” Pilkington said. He predicted that as
much as 15 percent of Gordon’s volume in the U.K.
could eventually come from the cucumber and elder-
flower variants, and hopes it will spur more interest in
“If flavours can work for bourbon,” said Ian Shackleton,
an analyst at Nomura Securities, “they work for anything.”
Gin is created from
a base of juniper
and then distilled
such as citrus peel
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine 17
Whisky Hunter Makes 1,300 Percent
on Single Malt as Bordeaux Sours
BY FREDERIK BALFOUR
When Aaron Chan heard that a liquor store
in Athens might have a rare Hanyu Ichiro
Malt Japanese whisky, he phoned the shop
from Hong Kong. Unable to make himself
understood in English, he e-mailed photos of
the distillery’s distinctive playing-card labels.
The owner replied with a picture of his bottle.
It was the Ace of Spades.
“That was my Eureka moment,” said
Chan, who paid about HK$6,000 (£467)
for the bottle two years ago. “The Ace of
Spades was very, very rare already.”
In August, a similar bottle went for
HK$85,750 at a Bonhams auction in Hong
Kong, 14 times what Chan paid and slightly
more than the price of an entire case of
1982 Chateau Margaux that Sotheby’s sold
in New York seven weeks earlier.
Forget Bordeaux first growths. Inves-
tors are falling over themselves to snag
iconic single-malt scotches like Macallan,
Bowmore and Dalmore and Japan’s rare
Karuizawa and Yamazaki whiskies. Bars
dedicated to the amber liquid have sprung
up around the world, and prices are rising
to dizzying levels. Sotheby’s sold a 6-litre
Lalique decanter of Macallan “M” single malt
in January for a record HK$4.9 million.
According to the Investment Grade
Scotch index, published by Whisky Highland
in Tain, Scotland, the top 100 single malts
delivered an average return of 440 percent
from the start of 2008 till the end of July this
year.That compares with a 31 percent gain
in SP 500 stocks index and a sobering 2
percent drop in the Liv-ex 100 Benchmark
Fine Wine Index.
The surge in prices is great news for
Mahesh Patel, an Atlanta real-estate devel-
oper who has amassed a collection of more
than 5,000 bottles over the past 25 years.
“Everything I have is appreciating,” says
47-year-old Patel, whose cache is insured
for close to $6 million (£3.6 million). “I am
a believer of buying two of everything. One
to open and enjoy, the other you put away
if it’s rare.” One exception to his two-bottle
rule is a Dalmore Trinitas 64Year Old, which
he bought in 2010 for £100,000. Only three
were ever made.
One reason for the surge in prices is that
distillers simply can’t react to the increase in
demand fast enough because whisky takes
so long to age. Even a standard duty-free
Glenfiddich or Glenlivet spends 12 years in
the cask, and investment grade scotches
many more. The 1962 Macallan the villain-
ous Raoul Silva offered James Bond in Sky-
fall was aged for half a century.
Whisky, derived from the old Irish phrase
for “water of life,” is made from a mash of
fermented grain, yeast and water that is
distilled and then aged in oak casks. A sin-
gle-malt is produced from malted barley at
one distillery. As each cask ages, some of
Yamazaki in Osaka, which opened 90 years ago, was the first commercial distillery in Japan
Source: Bloomberg/Akio Kon
the spirit evaporates, a loss known as the
“angels’ share.”A 50-year-old barrel can lose
as much as 60 percent.
Some of the most-coveted whiskies come
from casks left over from “silent distilleries”
that ceased operation decades ago.A batch
from Port Ellen on the Scottish island of
Islay, which closed in 1983, is still releas-
ing vintages as they come of age.The 1978
sold last year, one bottle per customer, for
If you like your scotch with ice, there’s a
box of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt
that was exhumed in 2010 in the Antarctic,
where it had been left by explorer Ernest
Shackleton in 1907. Protected by the Antarc-
tic Heritage Trust, the 11 bottles will never be
uncorked, but a wee dram was drawn from
one by syringe and a replica produced by
Whyte Mackay in Scotland.
Part of the rising demand is coming from
wine collectors who are switching to the hard
stuff after a 35 percent decline in the Liv-ex
100 from its June 2011 peak.There are only
about 100 single-malt distilleries in Scotland
according to the Scotch Whisky Association,
compared with more than 8,000 winemak-
ers in Bordeaux, which produces less than
2 percent of the world’s wine.
Whisky Highland founder Andy Simpson
estimates the auction market for whisky in
the U.K., where the bulk of trading occurs,
will reach £6.75 million this year, up from
£5 million last year. In 2013, wine auc-
tions raised about $278 million worldwide,
a decline of 15 percent. Added to the mix
are whiskies from Japan, which opened
its first commercial distillery, Yamazaki, 90
years ago. Japanese malts have been made
more popular in the West by films like Lost
in Translation, featuring actor Bill Murray
touting Suntory’s Hibiki 17-year-old blend.
“They made it easier for Japanese whisky
to cross the floor from the New World to the
Old World,” says Marcin Miller, managing
director for Europe at Number One Drinks
Co. in Norwich which distributes Karuizawa,
Hanyu and Chichibu single malts.
Inevitably, whisky’s popularity is spawn-
ing counterfeits, says Luigi Barzini, spirits
specialist at London-based merchant Berry
Bros. Rudd. “There are a lot of fakes
across Asia and some in Italy,” says Barzini.
“It’s a big problem for all of us.”
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine19
BY MATTHEW BOYLE
Noah Bulkin is not the man you’d expect to be pouring your
next pint of ale.
The Oxford-educated Bulkin, 37, spent 15 years cutting
deals as a mergers acquisitions banker for Merrill Lynch
and Lazard before leaving last year to start his own pub
company, Hawthorn Leisure. He’s acquired hundreds of
struggling pubs and plans to turn them around by tracking
everything from the price charged for beer to daily sales
fluctuations to customers’ preferences.
“Understanding pricing and the mix of drinks is incredibly
important,” Bulkin says in an office overlooking Hyde Park in
Mayfair. “A lot of pubs don’t have
that data. If you can make them
the core of your business, there’s
a fantastic opportunity.”
Over the past decade, Brit-
ain’s £70 billion pub industry has
fallen on hard times.About 10,000
outlets have closed since 2004,
according to the British Beer
Pub Association, hit by the reces-
sion, a 2007 smoking ban and
cheaper supermarket booze.
The volume of beer imbibed in
U.K. bars has declined 45 per-
cent since 2000, leaving compa-
nies such as Punch Taverns and
Enterprise Inns weighed down
The industry is fighting back,
thanks in part to investors like
Bulkin. After years of declines,
sales at pubs open at least a year
have grown for 14 consecutive
months, according to pub indus-
try data provider CGA Strategy.
Shares of pub companies JD
Wetherspoon, Spirit Pub Co.
and Fuller Smith Turner have
all bested the FTSE All-Share
Index over the past 12 months.
Britain’s 50,000 pubs are split
into three parts: managed out-
lets, controlled by companies
like Wetherspoon; tenanted or
“tied” pubs, where the property
is run by individual tenants who
pay rent and buy their beer from a
corporate landlord such as Punch
Ex-Merrill Lynch Banker
Uses Big Data to Save
Taverns; and free houses, which operate independently.
The tenanted industry has suffered most, due to what
a Parliamentary committee has called “downright bully-
ing” of tenants by the pub companies, who it said often
kept them in the dark about how rents were calculated.
Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, this is where
Bulkin is focusing.
So far this year, the entrepreneur has bought 363
pubs in two separate deals and he says there are over
a thousand more on his radar.To boost sales, he’ll add
food, repair tattered pool tables, and widen the beer
selection — offering popular ales like Doom Bar. A
former Lazard colleague has built analytical models
for each pub, estimating potential sales and earnings.
“Applying some granular analysis of what a person
might drink and what they will pay is an incredibly impor-
tant element,” Bulkin says.“This hasn’t been done in the
bottom end of the sector.” For instance, two beers that
are identical in price per pint and taste similar could
deliver as much as an 80 percent difference in profit per
keg to the pub, Bulkin says.Area managers will check in
on tenants more often, discussing which drinks to offer
and at what price. There’s a risk, though: replacing, or
changing the price of, a popular ale can send customers
fleeing across the street to a rival establishment.
Hawthorn Leisure is backed by New York-based
Avenue Capital Group, a sign that “private equity is
coming back to the sector with a vengeance,” accord-
ing to Paul Charity, managing director of Propel Info, an
industry publication. Last year, Cerberus Capital Man-
agement bought Admiral Tavern, which it plans to use
as a platform for more acquisitions. In July, Risk Capital
Partners of London invested in The Laine Pub Company,
a 45-pub chain based in Brighton.
The fresh money has inspired new business models.
Oakman Inns Restaurants, a chain of nine high-end
pubs in Hertfordshire, generates 60 percent of its sales
from food. Founder Peter Borg-Neal uses the same meat
supplier as Windsor Castle, and spends about £1 million
refurbishing the pubs he buys, adding dining rooms, cozy
outdoor areas and services like Orderella, a smartphone
Oakman’s pubs are data driven, linked by systems that
allow managers to analyse sales and customer traffic
patterns hourly, rather than waiting until the end of the
month. One supplier of such technology, Zonal Retail
Data Systems, will increase sales to about £50 million
this year, more than double sales in 2010.
To be sure, no technology can improve the camara-
derie that attracts Britons to pubs. “I feel special here,”
says Bruce Brunson, 37, at the White Horse in Welwyn,
Hertfordshire. “When I walk in, it’s like I’m Norm from
Investor Noah Bulkin last year left banking
to start pub company Hawthorn Leisure.
Source: Bloomberg/Simon Dawson
Winter 2014/2015 bloombergbriefs.com Bloomberg Brief: Dine Wine20
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