Having worked with Jason Atherton since his days at Maze, Laure Patry is a key ingredient in the success of the Social Company. Now at the helm of London restaurant Social Wine & Tapas, she tells James Stagg why at the group's latest venture everyone's a sommelier
She is reflecting on a whirlwind four years working with Jason Atherton, who is fast finding new projects for all his trusted lieutenants.
Social Wine & Tapas, the chef-restaurateur's seventh London restaurant, plays to Patry's skills. The 70-cover bar and restaurant has a strong wine focus, with accessibly priced wines alongside a tapas and snacks menu created by head chef Frankie Van Loo, formerly of Social Eating House.
"This is my project," explains Patry. "Social Eating House is [chef-patron] Paul Hood's project, while Little Social is Cary Docherty. Each of us has been working with Jason for a long time and he's given us all a project to manage."
All three worked with Atherton at Maze, before he brought them into his fast expanding empire. Patry joined Gordon Ramsay's Maze as sommelier in 2005, where Atherton was building a name for himself as one to watch. Ten years on, and Atherton is an internationally revered chef-restaurateur, with Patry a stalwart at the Social Company.
Her commitment has been rewarded with a wine-led restaurant that lets her indulge her passion, while delivering a diversified operation for the business.
L to R: Head chef Frankie Van Loo, restaurant manager Karl Vickers, executive sommelier Laure Patry and head sommelier Artur Aronov
"A year after we opened Pollen Street, I told Jason that I wanted my own business, that I wanted to open a wine shop," Patry explains. "He said that he'd find a project we could work on together. That's how it started. It's his business, but I have a share."
Set over two floors, Social Wine & Tapas on London's James Street is a more relaxed operation than other restaurants in the group. The ground floor includes a wine shop, open from 10am, as well as 30 covers including a dining counter at the open kitchen. A basement wine bar seats a further 40 covers and includes a charcuterie, cheese counter and bar area. There's even a small wine cellar, with large-format bottles displayed through windows in the basement's wall. The interior, designed by Russell Sage Studios, includes leather-clad chairs and banquettes with copper finishes, providing a golden hue and a relaxed atmosphere.
The aim is for guests to feel as comfortable about ordering a glass of wine and some cheese as a full meal. That said, Social Wine & Tapas has now ditched its no-reservations policy to ensure no lunchtime trade is lost - with most of the covers in the basement, guests couldn't easily work out if it was worth walking in.
If the focus on wine wasn't obvious enough from the array of bottles and glasses on display in the restaurant (which has no back-of-house storage), each waiter is a trained sommelier, able to advise guests on a choice of 500 bins.
"It's different here," Patry adds. "All the staff are sommeliers. Everyone is trained. When you're giving a recommendation to a customer you need to know what food they're having. We know the food - as we've all been waiters before."
The wines start at £4 a glass and around £20 a bottle, with flights available to encourage experimentation. The focus is on Europe, with 14 whites and 14 reds available by the glass, and a wide selection of sherry and Madeira.
"We're going to do some flights as well to offer something a bit more educational and interesting," Patry says. "Alongside the smaller growers we've lots of classics too. If someone wants Bordeaux or Burgundy, we've got excellent options."
Chargrilled carrots, burnt aubergine, miso, walnut pesto
The restaurant uses the Coravin system (also available in the wine shop, alongside a range of decanters), which removes wine through a needle inserted in the cork and replaces it with argon gas, leaving the cork intact and the wine fresh. This enables Patry to offer fine wines by the glass too. Those keen to push the boat out can try a flight of a trio of Bordeaux wines from 2000 (£105 for a 75cl glass of ChÁ¢teau Montrose, St Estèphe; ChÁ¢teau Haut-Bailly, Pessac Léognan; and ChÁ¢teau Troplong Mondot, St Emilion). At the more affordable end, for £21, diners can try three Savennières wines from Loire Valley: Les Genets, Damien Laureau 2011; Roche aux Moines, Domaine aux Moines 1992; and Domaine du Closel 2013.
"The Coravin system means you can do top wines by the glass, and I'm definitely going to increase my selection," Patry says. "Though I don't want to be too showy, as we don't want people to think it's all super-expensive."
All wines are also available in the shop, so the restaurant runs two lists: one with retail and one with restaurant prices. Patry says she didn't want to offer corkage as it would begin to confuse guests.
"We've never done the retail side before, so we're hoping it will take off, but we don't really know what to expect," she says. "The cheaper wine should still be affordable to take away, and in the mid-range we do the same balance as everyone else in London."
The retail operation is fairly small and hasn't changed the Social Company's relationship with suppliers - it doesn't operate central wine purchasing for the restaurants.
"The thing with a head sommelier is that you have to let them create their own wine list," Patry says. "Each sommelier is independent and each restaurant has its own style of food. They need to develop the wine list themselves, otherwise they're not interested."
Creme Catalan with orange
From tapas to toasties
Obviously, as this is an Atherton restaurant, wine is only part of the attraction, and Social Wine & Tapas has won plaudits for its authentic offer. Atherton has worked closely with Van Loo to devise dishes that work with the wine and excel in their own right. The menu ranges from classic tapas, such as ham croquettes and padrÁ³n peppers, to a jamÁ³n and manchego toastie with quails' eggs that takes the humble toastie to new levels.
One of the most popular dishes has been chargrilled carrots with burned aubergine, miso and walnut pesto, Patry says. "It is delicious, but it's been referenced in reviews so many times that people come with it in mind as a dish to tick off."
A contemporary ham and pineapple dish - Norfolk suckling pig, roasted pineapple and sherry caramel - has proved so popular that two pigs a day are being cooked to keep up with demand. Patry adds that the heirloom tomato salad with truffle burrata, basil and gazpacho vinagrette "has been flying - though perhaps it's a summer thing".
It might not have been what Patry envisaged four years ago, but there's no disguising her enthusiasm for a project that is both raising her profile and gaining plaudits. And with her nose for wine combined with Van Loo's cooking, this looks like it will be another instant Atherton success story.
What the critics say
Social Wine & Tapas is the best tapas joint I've ever encountered outside Spain because it gets the emphases right: this is, basically, a very fancy wine bar with a long menu of small dishes to share while trying umpteen wines in small 125ml servings.
John Walsh, The Independent
Seafood and rabbit Spanish rice (£9) was the star, enough for a meal in itself: richly savoury rice (a fish stock?) with pieces of rabbit, more of those chipirones, some mussels, a hint of chorizo, beautifully saffron-suffused: like a paella gone to heaven and refined before being returned.
David Sexton, The London Evening Standard
Everything they put in your mouth is belting. There were veal and foie gras sliders with pulled pork, little mini cheese toasties crowned with sunken quails' eggs, Szechuan-fried chipirones with black mayonnaise, unbelievable seafood and Spanish rabbit riceâ¦ Oh, and the wine, that's the whole point.
Giles Coren, The Times
Laure Patry trained at catering school in the Loire Valley, completing her advanced sommelier course in 2000. That same year, she started working at the Angel in north Yorkshire, before moving to Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's to take up the position of assistant head sommelier in 2003.
While working with Ramsay, Patry helped launch Maze and Maze Grill, where she worked with Jason Atherton. In 2011, she joined Atherton as group head sommelier for the launch of Pollen Street Social in Mayfair.
For the past four years, Patry has been responsible for managing Pollen Street Social's drinks team, working with all the group's head sommeliers and acting as wine consultant to Social Company's clients.
She has also helped establish Atherton's operations in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and latterly Dubai - hiring the sommeliers, setting up the wine lists and providing training.
Patry is a fan of natural wines and passionate about small growers. She says she enjoys wines that take guests on a sensory journey back to the vineyard.
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