20 years of events at No.3

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The Napoleon Cellar at No.3 St James’s Street
While we’ve long been hosting bon viveurs, this month marks 20 years since we first started officially holding events at No.3 St James’s Street. Our Wine Director – and regular host – Mark Pardoe MW considers how things have changed over the years, and why he still looks forward to every event

I don’t think there can be a more atmospheric venue in London for the appreciation of good food, good company and, most importantly, good wine than our cellars, deep under No.3 St James’s Street. I have lost count of the number of events I have had the pleasure of hosting: tutored tastings in the main, but also plenty of dinners for our customers and their friends, and often featuring a visiting producer.

But, despite the fact that my time at No.3 at these events is embedded as a part of the weave of my working life, I was still surprised to hear that it is now 20 years since Berry Bros. & Rudd relocated the dusty bottles from under No.3 and refurbished what became our Napoleon Cellar, and then the Pickering Cellar as the home of our Wine School. I recall the early days being a riot of enthusiasm and customers had such a good time that often they wouldn’t leave until after midnight and we, dutifully, kept them company.

But sense prevailed and each year we became more professional, with a more regular programme and then a full-time brigade in the kitchen and front-of-house. And still the customers came and we opened more dining rooms: first the intimate Nina Campbell-designed Townhouse, then the major construction project to create the Sussex Cellar under 63 Pall Mall, then our General Office Dining and Tasting Room and, most recently, our Kingsman Room.  Today we host an astonishing 1,300 events a year, and welcome 35,000 customers through our doors.

Perhaps the event most etched in my memory occurred in 2005 in the Pickering Cellar. During a comparative tutored tasting of Bordeaux First Growths, I was forensically analysing a Château Haut-Brion. While not being derogatory, I was perhaps not singing the praises of that particular wine as much as I had the preceding Château Lafite.

Midway through my analysis someone appeared at the back of the room and, when I paused before the next wine, he walked through to the front and past me to access the Napoleon Cellar. He seemed familiar and we nodded in acknowledgement. Only later did the pieces fall into place; that had been Prince Robert of Luxembourg, one of the owners of Château Haut-Brion, but what had he been doing at the back of my tasting? It transpired that he had lost the way to the Pickering Cellar where Prince Charles was hosting a charity dinner. Had I caused any offense? Not at all, he told me, when we next met; he had appreciated the accuracy of my tasting and my honesty!

But in that anecdote is encapsulated much of what makes our Events and Education tastings so special – our tradition, our standards, our expertise and our reputation. And, despite that close call, my buzz of anticipation which precedes every occasion remains undimmed.

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