Independents’ Day7th October, 2013 by db_staff
There has been a growing trend away from anonymous bar chains churning out uninspiring, over-chilled wine towards the über-individual independent wine bar. This may in part have come about through the increasingly ethnically diverse population of wine bar owners and managers who started life in those faceless bars, writes Caroline Hampden-White.
An example of this rising tide is Daniil Vashchilov, waiter turned owner and true internationalist. September 2013 saw Daniil celebrate the first year of his new venture: Victualler in Wapping, east London.
Originally from Russia, Daniil spent much of his early life growing up in Spain. Years later, working in a wine bar in St. Petersburg, he progressed from waiter to chef to manager. Russia lacks the wine schools of the West, and he started to teach himself about wine through tasting at work and reading books in his free time.
Restless for greater development, he moved to London in 2007 and gained a wide range of experience in different parts of the hospitality and retail drinks industry including working for the St John Hotel and Wine Rack.
Wapping itself is something of a well-kept secret. Its name often conjures up the seat of the newspaper empires but nowadays it’s a chic urban village populated by well-heeled metropolitans who appreciate a civilised environment that has character, interest and style.
The site occupied by Victualler has had a slightly capricious past. Daniil worked here in its previous manifestation, when it was a branch of the ill-fated Wine Rack bottle shop. He had a vision of what the place could be and, when the time was right, returned to take it over and create something new and distinctive.
Daniil’s done his research about the local area. He repositions this reincarnation firmly back to its roots: once a public house, it’s now a fashionable wine bar with a unique personality.
“There is a great industrial heritage in Wapping and I see Victualler as part of the transition from port to punter,” he says. “When we stripped back the walls we found early Victorian wallpaper so we preserved it.” And like everything here, it’s been done in a subtle and unobtrusive way that enhances the experience rather than competing with the wines.
Daniil says: “I want people to be excited about the range of wines and foods we have on offer here. We sell wine for people to enjoy at home as well as serving them here in the bar. The local community has been incredibly supportive and we work hard to provide the very best for them. Our prices are affordable and reflect the quality of the wine we offer.”
The prime focus of this singular enterprise is passion and quality. Whether it’s the organic, biodynamic and natural wines or the locally-sourced Brixton-baked bread or homemade biltong (sourced from nearby butcher Hussey’s) painstaking care has gone in to every single element of the taste experience.
Daniil says: “I asked myself, what would they have served here 200 years ago when Wapping was a dock for spices and other precious commodities? Oysters. They’re really healthy and have loads of minerals. Did you know that the UK used to supply France with oysters? So we sourced Whitstable oysters as a feature for one weekend. Oysters are like kissing the sea on the lips and it’s great to rinse them down with some bubbles like our Gusbourne brut reserve.” He adds: “We’re not a restaurant; the food is there to complement the wines, not the other way around.”
Brothers and sisters in the wine trade will appreciate the depth of Victualler’s wine list – not because it’s as thick as a novel (it’s not), but because it features thought-provoking examples that will charm any palate suffering from ennui. Highlights from the current list include “orange” wines from Georgia and Grenache from the Rhône, but which has been vinified in Vosne Romanée.
Daniil selects the wines he serves with an eye on diversity as well as quality and hand-picks from a broad range of suppliers. He’s always hungry to discover new things and has recently introduced five wines from Andrew Corben-Clarke’s Burgundian stable to further enhance his wine list. He says: “It’s very important to establish a good relationship with suppliers; it’s all about the personal approach. If you support producers you’ll learn a lot more from them and taste new stuff from them whenever they have it.”
And it’s not just what passes your lips that’s tasty – the furnishings that surround you have been chosen with equal care. Relaxing into deep leather sofas that have thoughtfully not had their arms slashed to reveal the stuffing, the pressures of the day start to evaporate under the soft, flattering lighting. While the melodic Unfinished Sympathy of Massive Attack’s Blue Lines album can be heard, so can the words of your companion. There’s a certain feeling of Lower East Side meets Shoreditch. Without the wannabes.
As the first anniversary of this interesting venture passes, the fruits of Daniil’s labours are evident: takings are good – really good – bums are on seats and they’re not going home in a hurry. Daniil has done what no one else could manage: Wapping didn’t seem to know what it was looking for, but he had the vision, and has provided it in spades.