The third pub in the Meredith Group offers an understandably classy choice to London's elite quarter. Fiona Sims reports
There aren't many places you can go in London's Mayfair to eat good pub grub. None - until the Meredith Group snapped up the Only Running Footman in Charles Street. You can get a good glass of wine there, too, thanks to wine consultant Joëlle Marti-Baron.
It's the latest opening from the group, founded by Barnaby Meredith six years ago. A three-strong chain of gastropubs in London, the pubs have picked up a fair few accolades, including Time Out Gastropub of the Year for the House in Islington and two AA rosettes for the Bull in Highgate.
The Only Running Footman got its share of positive feedback when it opened in September 2007, but chef Jeremy Hollingsworth has since moved on. However, it still offers honest pub grub, with decent wines to match.
"Right from the start we wanted to offer a decent line-up of wines to match the calibre of the food on offer," explains operations director Marcelo Soares. Sometimes, though - and more regularly than they expected - the wine choice exceeds the food on offer. "We get customers coming in for a £100 bottle of wine and a sandwich," says Soares, grinning. But this is Mayfair, after all.
The most expensive wine on the list is a 1982 Margaux from Château d'Issan at £182, but average spend is a more realistic £22 per head on a bottle of wine. This is the same as at the Bull, though spend is slightly less at the House, at £20, because of its younger crowd.
Each of the three pubs has between 70 and 80 bins on its list, and most - apart from a core of 10 wines - are individual to that pub. Soares explains: "Tastes are more traditional in Highgate. We sell more Old World and more expensive wines there."
The House, meanwhile, can get away with less mainstream wines. Grüner Veltliner is going down a storm there, for example. "But the Footman can sell anything," Soares reports.
The cross-section of customers is pretty broad, ranging from office workers to well-heeled wine lovers who drop by for a shepherd's pie and a bottle of posh red.
The list at the Footman is split into sections such as "Mouth-watering options" and "Chardonnay goes global", "Pushing the boat out" and "Polished Pinot Noir". And they change with the seasons, too - once in the autumn and again in the spring. "That's important for us," says Soares. "We are very particular about seasonality when it comes to ingredients, so why not wine, too? You don't want to be drinking a chunky red on the terrace in the middle of summer, do you?"
The emphasis on the menu is British ingredients sourced as locally as possible, but does that extend to the wines? "We have two English wines on our list," says Soares, "and yes, they both sell well, particularly the Chapel Down Rosé. I think people are intrigued by it."
The best sellers across the group include a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Mansion House and a Chilean Carmenère. The Footman also shifts a fair amount of Pinot Noir (from Bouchard Ainé et Fils) and a smarter class of Soave.
Beer sales are buoyant across the group (the Bull is a free house, while the other two are tied to Punch Taverns), yet wine still makes up 25% of the 40% share of wet sales. And Marti-Baron - who made her name with the Conran group - has stuck with four suppliers: Les Caves de Pyrene, Bibendum, Enotria and Corney & Barrow.
Has Soares noticed the impact of the credit crunch on spending yet? "Yes," he says. "People are definitely being a little more conservative. Instead of two bottles, they'll drink one and if it's a private party - we do lots of those - instead of Champagne, they'll look at some of the cheaper sparkling alternatives that we have."
It might be wise to stock up on some good Proseccos in the coming months, then.
What's on the list
- 2006 Sancerre Henri Bourgeois, Loire, France, £35
- 2006 Iona Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin, Western Cape, South Africa, £35
- 2006 Falasco Garganega, Cantina Valpontena, Italy, £17
- 2006 Gewurztraminer, Cotterenzio, Alto Adige, Italy, £32
- 2006 Grüner Veltliner, Hopler, Burgenland, Austria, £23
- 2004 Thomas Mitchell Marsanne, south-east Australia, £19
- 1999 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frederic-Emile, Alsace, France, £65
- 2006 Boland Pinotage Cinsault, Paarl, South Africa, £16.50
- 2005 Morellino di Scansano, Bellamarsilia, Italy, £25
- 2006 Shiraz Malbec Cerro Punta Negra, Argentina, £17
- 2004 Angus "The Bull", south-east Australia, £28
The Only Running Footman, 5 Charles Street, London W1J 5DF. Tel: 020 7499 2988