They have already wowed us with The Truscott Arms, now Andrew and Mary-Jane Fishwick are looking to revive the classic wine bar with their second venture, The Truscott Cellar, in North London
As I sit down to interview the husband and wife team that gave us Maida Vale gastropub hit The Truscott Arms, I admit my knowledge of wine extends as far as watching the classic Del Boy falling through the bar scene in Only Fools & Horses. ‘Wine bars can be so intimidating,’ Mary-Jane Fishwick soothes my anxiety. ‘We went to The Vineyard at Stockcross and they had this tome of 20,000 bottles of wine. We want to be the antidote to that.’ ‘The wine bar is an old concept, big in the 80s,’ adds Mary-Jane’s husband Andrew, ‘and then it died out. We are on the crest of a new renaissance.’
It’s 10am and we’re talking wine, but for a very good reason. We are sitting upstairs at the Fishwicks new venture, The Truscott Cellar, in the heart of Belsize Park. ‘We thought this location was perfect,’ Andrew says on the site. ‘We have been living here for six years. It’s rubbish for grown-ups, but brilliant for kids with places to go out to. For us, if we wanted to go out for a glass of wine, there was nowhere.’ ‘It was a relatively simple business concept,’ smiles Mary-Jane, ‘offering a nice glass of wine!’
People would come in and we would ask “are you here for the seven course tasting menu?” and they would answer “well, I was here for the WeightWatchers meeting, but that sounds much more fun”!
What instantly surprises me is how different this is from The Truscott Arms, which offers five floors of pub, fine dining and a host of events. ‘We once had a seven course tasting menu event with a WeightWatchers meeting going on in another room,’ Andrew offers an example of the venue’s busyness. ‘People would come in and we would ask “are you here for the seven course tasting menu?” and they would answer “well, I was here for the WeightWatchers meeting, but that sounds much more fun”! It’s our pride and joy, but we knew we couldn’t do anything of The Truscott Arms size again. We wanted to take aspects of what we really enjoy about the business and the wine list is something we are known for. We spent time, probably too much time, working on that,’ he laughs.
The two aren’t like many married couples I know, clearly in sync with each other and enjoying good banter, and it’s easy to forget launching such a business must have been a risk in the first place. ‘Well MJ always says we had no form of reference [when opening The Truscott Arms], so it didn’t feel stressful at the time,’ Andrew considers. ‘It was a lot of work, but actually a lot of fun too. You have to build it and see how people are using it, then adjust. The desire for private rooms was huge, much larger than we ever thought. The dining has been the other thing, we always knew we wanted to do a pub with really good food. The standard and level Aidan [McGee, the Executive Head Chef] took the dining room to was amazing. This,’ he looks around our surroundings, ‘was much more stressful to open!’
Both say they were looking to open a second venture for some time and the concept was clear in their minds. ‘The casual dining market is increasing year on year, but we didn’t feel the wine bar market had moved on at all,’ Mary-Jane says. ‘There is a gap there. We went to try – oh the hardship – wine bars all over London and just felt very strongly there was a space for it to be done slightly differently. We live around here, we know the people.’
The Truscott Cellar certainly looks the part. It’s a 60 cover wine bar, and Aidan McGee has come along for the ride too with a menu adapted to the venue’s size. The wine list here will be 300 bottles strong, with 50 choices by the glass. Exploratory wine flights will also feature, drawing from Andrew’s existing AA Notable Wine List 2015 at The Truscott Arms, and the list will champion independent, small and rare producers alongside the well-known. Aidan’s menu will feature the likes of The Truscott Beef Chips, The Pig Board, Mushroom Welsh rarebit, and Roast root vegetable with Jersey Royal fondue alongside charcuterie, cheese and fish boards.
‘This is a neighbourhood bar with a focus on wine,’ Andrew harks back to my lack of vino knowhow. ‘You might end up getting into wine if you come here. We will continue to evolve, you have to do that across any offer. You can’t be static – you have to be dynamic and organic.’
‘We want to encourage people to support the local area too,’ Mary-Jane adds. ‘I am a really big believer in that. Around Maida Vale and here, you just have to look to find really good people running independent businesses. If you can get your coffee from someone who really cares, the whole community will generally benefit.’ Unlike Del Boy Trotter, the Fishwicks don’t look set for a fall.
WORDS Mark Kebble
The Truscott Cellar, 240 Haverstock Hill NW3 2AE; 020 3581 3223; thetruscottcellar.co.uk