Now at the InterContinental, Park Lane, chef Theo Randall loves Italian wine - and it's reflected in his 160-bin selection. This will grow, but a user-friendly list is the priority. Fiona Sims reports
I keep wanting to call him Theo Fennell (a celebrity jeweller on London's Fulham Road), as Theo Randall is relatively new on the big chef radar. For 15 years he was head chef at the River Café, working under its more starry patrons, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray.
Now he has landed at the newly-refurbished InterContinental hotel on Park Lane. But I'm not here to talk nosh with Randall I'm here to talk about wine - his other big love. Randall is one of that (thankfully now growing) rare breed of chefs who know a bit about wine. In fact, he put the wine list together, with a little help from his mate David Gleave, a Master of Wine.
Obviously Italy is his first love when it comes to wine - and food, for that matter. And he'll wax lyrical about the Piedmont until you stop him he's also outspoken about the more international styles coming out of Chianti: "I don't like where they're going - so many are over-extracted, I prefer the more purist style," he declares.
It helps, some, that Randall grew up in a wine-drinking household - he remembers tasting Grands Echézeaux, one of the best wines from Burgundy's most famous estate.
The rest fell into place when he started at the River Café, joining Rogers and Gray on endless trips to Italy, with Gray's wine-savvy son, Ossie, whom he credits as a major influence on his wine education. Randall thinks it's vital for chefs to visit wine regions to understand the subject better. "You need to see the real food, and how they match it with wine. I love nosing around wineries - I find the whole process fascinating."
And yes, he has a fair few Italian wines on his 160-bin list. The size of it will increase - he just needs to settle in first. The restaurant is entirely Randall's responsibility, and he's in the process of increasing his cellar space - six new temperature- and humidity-controlled Eurocave units will arrive shortly. Then he'll start buying more wine - though he'll stop at 250 bins. "I want the list to be user-friendly, not a big, boring, flashy list," he says.
He has 10 wines by the glass. Randall worries about offering any more than that as he wants the wines to arrive in perfect condition. Wine-by-the-glass sales are particularly buoyant at lunchtime, while glugging by the bottle - or even two bottles (per couple) is the norm for dinner.
The cheapest wine is a Soave, Alpha Zeta, at £16 (£5 a glass), and the most expensive is a 1982 Cheval Blanc at £1,000. Randall operates a cash margin for wines above £100, with the average mark-up on wines below £100 at 65%, which is rather refreshing for a Park Lane restaurant. "I don't want to charge scary prices for wine - it just puts people off," he declares.
Even though Gleave has had a hand in the list, Liberty Wines (Gleave's company) doesn't hog more than 60% of the list. Randall buys wines from nine other suppliers.
So go on then, what do you glug at home? "The Isole e Olena Chianti Classico - I buy it by the case, I love its light, pure style." The 1994 is on the list at £38. And when you're feeling flush? "Then Aldo Conterno's 2001 Bussia Soprana Barolo," he replies.
Randall is not just stuck on Italy either - he's a huge fan of Burgundy, citing Dujac and Leflaive as favourites, and loves the wines of Margaret River in Western Australia, particularly those from Cullen.
What's on the list
- Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene Spumante, Ca' Morlin, Italy, £25
- 2005 Roero Arneis San Michele Deltetto, Italy, £30
- 2004 Franz Haas Manna Cru, Italy, £42
- 2004 Vouvray Sec, Domaine Champalou, France, £26
- 2005 Riesling Trocken, Donnhof, Germany £32
- 2005 Watervale Riesling, Mount Horrocks, Australia £35
- 2006 Viogner Paarl, Fairview, South Africa, £32.50
- 2004 Giaconda Beechworth Chardonnay, Australia, £150
- 2004 Heinrich, Blaufränkisch, Burgenland, Austria, £32
- 2004 Cuvaison Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, USA, £49
- 2003 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, Santa Cruz, USA, £63
- 2001 Cepparello, Fattorie Isole e Olena, Italy, £90
- 2000 Domaine de Trevallon, France, £95
Theo Randall at the InterContinental hotel, Park Lane, London W1J 7QYTel: 0870 4009093