Fine wine at reasonable prices in restaurants? Well I never……


The UK restaurant scene has changed beyond all recognition in the last 5 years. The boom years of the early and mid noughties has been replaced by more stringent times. Faced with the harsh realities of a global economic down turn, weak stirling and rapidly rising food prices restaurateurs in the UK have had to adapt to survive – and adapt they have. Lunchtime set lunches and meal deals (not just in Macdonald’s) have become the norm even in the finest restaurants, and chefs have had to adapt menus to fit the reduced budgets of their existing client base.

In general, smarter ways of working and much improved marketing has worked. There have been far fewer businesses failures in this sector than predicted in the height of the gloom of 2009 and we still have a vibrant and exciting restaurant scene.

All in all this has meant good news for the restaurant goer too. One could argue that if you pick your restaurant and time of eating well there has never been a better time to eat out in the UK. We can only see this trend continuing into 2011 and beyond.

Even wine lists have not been immune to this more sophisticated approach to the business of running a restaurant. Long the bastion of extraordinary mark ups, wine lists are under going a revolution led by a number of open minded restauranteurs. The approach is as varied as the lists themselves, here are some examples to whet your appetite and your taste buds.

Nigel Platts Martin has long championed the place of fine wine in restaurants and he is one of very few restaurant owners left (another notable exception is Martin Lam at Ransome’s Dock) that buy en primeur and lay down wines to put on the lists of such notable London eateries as The Square (right), Chez Bruce and The Ledbury when the time is right to drink them.

Hawksmoor, the much acclaimed steak and cocktail joint, that started with a site in Shoreditch and which has recently spawned a sibling in Seven Dials, Covent Garden, has started a Monday wine club. Anyone can, for a minimal five pounds corkage, bring a bottle from their collection or wine rack. Camino in Canary Wharf, run by the ever resourceful Mr Bigg (honestly), has a “big hitters” list with much reduced margins on extremely fine wines from Spain, the wine world’s most exciting producing country (in my opinion!)

Another that has completely reviewed its approach to fine wine (which in their definition is everything over fifty pounds) is D&D restaurants. If you are unaware, D&D are the owners of such diverse and high quality eateries as Le Pont de la Tour, Sartoria, Launceston Place, The Orrery, Skylon and Le Coq d’Argent. At all there 22 restaurants they have implemented the Love Wine scheme – a sliding scale of margin that means fine wine has never been so affordable in their restaurants. This is not a short term gimmick either but part of a long term strategy to bring wine to the core of their restaurants.

In these increasingly straightened economic times it is refreshing to know that there is value to be found in UK restaurants and wine lists and we applaud those leading the way.

by Damian Carrington, Sales and Marketing Director, Fields, Morris & Verdin (FMV).