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Published:  23 July, 2008

Tim Kitchener-Smith, Wine buyer, Hush, Mayfair, London. Interview: Josie Butchart

Hush (part of Steamroller Restaurant Group) 8 Lancashire Court, Mayfair London W1S 1EY

Tel: 020 7659 1515

Geoffrey Moore (Roger Moore's son) and Jamie Barber (an ex-lawyer and singer/ songwriter) launched Hush in November 1999. The original idea was to open a spy restaurant, but Hush has since evolved into a combination of a brasserie, bar, fine dining restaurant (Hush Up), private dining room (Strictly Hush) and wine shop (La Cave). Tim Kitchener-Smith, an ex-chorister at Canterbury Cathedral and a music scholar at St Edmund's school in Canterbury, has managed boutique wine shop La Cave for two and half years and is also the wine buyer for Hush and wine advisor for sister restaurant Shumi. He is currently working on a book about French wine. Suppliers: Bibendum Wine Ltd, Coe Vintners, Enotria Winecellars Ltd, Fortitude Wine

Why did you decide to hold a Krug tasting at Hush recently?

We have a very affluent customer base in Mayfair, so we can tap into that market and host big events, knowing that people will attend. Throughout the year we have had all sorts of high-profile events - for example we did a Robert Parker 100-point tasting back in October at 500 a ticket and it sold out. But the real reason we do them is that it gives me a chance to try the wines!

How did your customers react to the Parker 100-point tasting?

They are still talking about it! It took us four months to source the wines and two days before the event we still hadn't received the Latour '82, which we had sourced direct from the chteau, so there was a little bit of a panic. When Parker 100-point wines come on to the broking market they are sold almost immediately, so it was a one-off chance to sample them. Next year we are going to do a tasting of The Best Wines in the World Ever'.

How are you going to decide which wines are the best in the world?

Well, we'll take all the wines that people would really like to try - such as Ptrus, Le Pin, Le Montrachet and top German whites - and then see if we can source them. When I have mates round for Sunday lunch we often discuss the wines we would really like to try. It won't necessarily be the top vintages for wines such as Ptrus, though, because it depends what I can get hold of.

How did a Canterbury Cathedral chorister and music scholar end up in the wine trade?

After being a music scholar for 10 years I kind of stuttered when I left St Edmund's. It was either go straight into music or find something totally different to do. So I ended up doing an HND in travel and tourism. When I graduated I joined Oddbins and was with them for four years, working my way up from till monkey to branch manager. I went for an interview with Bibendum and they said: Well, we don't really have a retail role for you but one of our accounts has a little shop and is looking for someone.' I spent the first two weeks at La Cave banging my head against the wall because I wasn't seeing anybody. It was set up as a restaurant and people were walking past thinking, What's that?' So I cleared the tables and set it up as a wine shop and a little wine bar, where you can come in and take bottles off the shelf. There is no corkage so it is the cheapest wine bar in London, but with quality wines.

What are your customers generally looking for at La Cave?

Discounts! We are in the most affluent area of London here, so it is shocking. We mostly sell Champagne and then the classic regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, but we also have a big Italian section, which is quite popular. What we are trying to do now is expand the list with wines from places such as South Africa, Australia, California and Chile. As a wine boutique we try not to buy wines that you can find in supermarkets. We are looking for small production but great quality.

How do you source your fine wines?

Mostly through brokers. I tend to buy those wines in the summer because it's so much cheaper. The first year I just turned round to Jamie [Barber] and said: Right, I need a budget of 15,000.' It makes so much sense to buy in the summer because the broking market is quiet because the restaurants are quiet. No one is buying fine wines so they tend to reduce their prices.

What have you done with the brasserie wine list?

We've got all the classics you would expect because, basically, if you stick Pinot Grigio on the list in the summer you are going to sell it. We sold bucket-loads of Sancerre ros last year and the year before that. The people who come in here for lunch have only got a couple of hours and are probably here with clients, so they don't want to look at a huge book when choosing a wine. They just want something classic and old school that they know - something like a Croze-Hermitage.

Did you change the brasserie list much when you joined Hush?

Yes. The problem we had in the brasserie was that the list had all the classic wines and then a fine wine section with the Mouton-Rothschild and La Tche, etc, so you went from 14.50 for house wine right up to 1,500 - which, to be honest, is a bit adventurous in a brasserie. You're not going to come in and have a chicken salad and a bottle of La Tche, are you? So I scrubbed that, and the brasserie list now has a selection of wines up to 40 and then a section of 20-30 wines up to 150, with a note saying if you'd like to see a more extensive list please ask your waiter'.

How many people ask to see your special list?

Probably about one in four, but it's obviously seasonal, and all that wine is sourced from La Cave. We have to run across and get it, but it is not at La Cave prices in the brasserie, otherwise we wouldn't make any money. Not that we are not making money! We had our biggest-ever day last Friday. We did over 50 grand in one day. Huge!