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The Interview - Robyn and Robert Wilson, Owners, Bleeding Heart Restaurants, London

Published:  23 July, 2008

Robert: I was working as a wine merchant, storing wine in this building, and decided it would be much more profitable to sell wine to people who came to us, rather than delivering wine to people all over the country, which was fraught with returns and other problems. So in December 1983 we turned the premises into a wine bar.

When did it start evolving into a larger operation?

Robert: Within days of opening, really. We never intended to open a restaurant. Our original plan was to just open a small wine bar with a really great wine list, and we assumed people would just want some simple charcuterie and cheese to go with the wines. But we soon realised that our customers really wanted something hot to eat. The problem was that we didn't have a kitchen. So we employed a 'chalet cook', who lived in a houseboat in Chelsea, to cook the plat du jour. We would then dispatch one of the waiters each morning to collect a huge pot of it and cart it back here on the Central line. Over the years, as demand has increased, we have opened more and more rooms. In 1996 we moved the bistro upstairs and opened the restaurant below, and in 1998 we opened the tavern in a new building [at the entrance to Bleeding Heart Yard]. We can now seat 120 in the restaurant, 120 in the tavern, 120 at The Crypt and 80 in the bistro.

Have you any plans for further expansion?

Robert: The day we stop expanding I will fall over! The key principle is that we have only ever expanded when there was an identifiable demand, and we are turning away more than 7080 people a day. The business has been growing at 7.5% each year, and last month we beat that quite substantially, so this year we plan to move the bistro into another new building in the yard (due to open in November 2005).

Do you manage to spend any time at your New Zealand wine estate (Trinity Hill)?

Robyn: We visit New Zealand every January and February, and each year we extend the trip by a week. Last year we were away for seven weeks because we went via Argentina and spent a week in Mendoza, visiting vineyards. We didn't manage to see everything we wanted to see, so this year we are going to stop there for two weeks. We are very lucky because we have some very good people working here who really know how to do their jobs. There are never any problems when we are away.

Do you source many new wines on your travels?

Robyn: What we do is visit vineyards and then put people in touch with Christophe [Papis], our head sommelier and wine buyer. He looks after the wines on a day-to-day basis.

Robert: One of the key things for us is that we know a lot of the people whose wines we buy and we have visited many of them, so we can tell our customers all about the wines.

How many wine suppliers do you have?

Robyn: Over 40. If someone has a good wine but is a small company, we are not going to say no just because they are small.

Robert: We also ship wines direct from Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhne and New Zealand.

How has your wine list evolved over the years?

Robyn: We probably have proportionately less 'posh' French wines, such as serious Bordeaux, than we had originally, and we've got more wines from the Rhne and the New World. We had a house in Gigondas for about seven years and we became very fond of Syrah and Grenache during that time. We've probably got a disproportionately large number of New Zealand wines on the list, and we have more wines from Spain now because there are some really terrific new wines coming out of Spain. We're also quite fond of the new-style Italian wines.

Is there any part of the list you would like to develop?

Robyn: About 10 years ago we had a lot more wines from California. Then, when the dollar got very strong and California wines got very expensive, we really cut back on them. We are going to be in California later this month, so we will have a look. But then again, there isn't really a market demand for them: customers aren't asking for California wines.

Why did you decide to host the 'Full Monty' charity event on 30 June?

Robyn: It's terrific that the wine trade is getting together to do something that looks outside the industry. The commitment from the generic wine bodies has been very impressive, and The Crypt is an appropriate venue because we have lots

of wine tastings and dinners there, so it is well-steeped in wine.

Bleeding Heart Restaurants, Bleeding Heart Yard, off Greville Street, Hatton Garden, London EC1 8SJ; Tel: 020 7242 8238/2056; web:

New Zealander Robyn Wilson and Scot Robert Wilson are ex-journalists who met while working in South Africa. They opened the Bleeding Heart wine bar in December 1983 and have since expanded the operation to include the Bleeding Heart restaurant, bistro and tavern in Bleeding Heart Yard EC1, The Don Restaurant in St Swithin's Lane EC4, and operate The Crypt in Ely Place EC1, which is the venue for the Women of Wine charity wine trade event on 30 June, organised by Christelle Guibert of consumer wine magazine Decanter. Robyn and Robert are also partners (with winemaker John Hancock) of Trinity Hill wine estate in New Zealand.

Key suppliers: Adnams Wine Merchants, Berkmann Wine Cellars, Enotria Winecellars, Laurent-Perrier (UK), Maisons Marques et Domaines Ltd.