The Truscott Cellar is now open at 240 Haverstock Hill, NW3
Owner of Maida Vale pub The Truscott Arms, Andrew Fishwick, on why he's serving up a wine bar to Belsize Park
Andrew Fishwick is proud of his Maida Vale pub and restaurant The Truscott Arms. Not just for its awards (GQ Pub Of The Month, Time Out Best Pub), but also how it has established its place in the neighbourhood.
"It's such a big building we've got the space to be a hub for the community. Pubs should put themselves at the heart of their local area if they are going to survive." With baby yoga classes, garden parties and the local school's PTA meetings all held here he's done just that.
Andrew and his wife Mary Jane (MJ), who live in Primrose Hill with their young daughters Neve and Flora, initially began their search for a site for a gastropub venture in St John's Wood. "But then we saw this place in Maida Vale and fell in love with it," says Andrew.
Built in 1878, it was originally a hotel and pub called the Shirland Hotel before it became the Truscott Arms. "It was much-unloved, but as soon as we realised Maida Vale was an area in need of a 'destination dining' place we set about refurbishing it," says Andrew.
"It took four-and-a-half weeks, working around the clock with a team of builders and our architect friend Michel Schranz. It nearly killed us. It's about 6,500 square feet over five floors. A beast of a building but a brilliant venue."
Two years on and The Truscott Arms is a roaring success, simply decorated, with rotating art exhibitions on the walls and awards for its seasonal, sustainable food. The open kitchen in the second floor dining room is run by "very talented, very calm and very lovely" head chef Aiden McGee, formerly of Launceston Place and Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental. But eating and drinking are only where it's night-time activities begin.
"We're known for our events, such as the Curry And Quiz night. And Eating With Sound where the chef works with a composer who creates an original piece of music around each course. It's played live by a chamber orchestra in the dining room while people are eating the food it inspired."
Bringing a touch of the theatrical to eating reveals his background as an Olivier-award-winning theatre producer in the West End and US, where he had 15 years of "eating and drinking in some really nice places around the world". Add that to his student days behind the bars in big pub chains, and he should know what works in this industry.
"Essentially you're putting on a show. There's an expectation of a great experience, as sense of performance and good hospitality." He insists he has never wanted the Truscott Arms to be seen as the latest hip destination. "We've always wanted it to be the kind of place we'd like to come for a drink or dinner. Everything we do hereis based on that one criteria. If a dish goes on the menu, it's because we want to eat it. If a wine goes on the list, it's because I like it."
Clearly there are a lot of wines that Andrew likes, with around 350 different bottles to choose from. "I wanted to offer much more than the usual three or four wines by the glass, we have 50 to give people a chance to try some interesting, ones, from your classic Bordeaux to an amazing Japanese white wine I found."
It's this love of wine that has led Andrew into his new venture, a wine bar in Belsize Park [on Haverstock Hill]. The Truscott Cellar is a more intimate, 60-seat bar in a two-storey Victorian property that was previously one of the first Chinese restaurants in London. Andrew and his wife had been looking for a smaller second site for over a year when MJ suggested the Weng Wah House. "I thought she'd lost her marbles," jokes Andrew. "But then I saw both the space and location are fantastic."
Working again with Schranz to redesign it, and with McGee overseeing the menu of more casual sharing plates, plus copious bottles of wine, it's sounding like a hit already. “The resurgence of the wine bar that's happening will help. Now customers are more confident and educated about wine, less scared by sommelier-types, so they' re drinking more interesting wines at home and out, as long as that place is accessible, comfortable and cool."
But are locals happy with the change of establishment? "When we bought it, we had a big giveaway of all the Chinese things we inherited but didn't need. MJ opened the doors and put up a
sign saying 'free stuff'. I didn't think anyone would come, but we made so many people happy. If you believe in good karma, that' s not a bad start."
The Truscott Cellar is now open – 240 Haverstock Hill, NW3 2AE.
The opening hours are seven days a week 12-11pm.
Words Emily Anderson photography Fox and Favour
Compass by green&co Issue 05 Summer 2015
Updated September 2015