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David Waddington, Manager, Bistrotheque

Published:  23 July, 2008

What was it like growing up on a small farm in Yorkshire?
I was around livestock all the time, putting straw in their beds, but I was never cut out to be a farmer. The brutality is difficult to understand when you're a child, and farming is a tricky business now. A lot of estates have yet to recover after foot and mouth, and it really decimated the area round my folks. The landscape went from being filled with cattle, to fields containing long grass and not much else. It lingers longer in smaller communities because things tend to move more slowly.

So then you went to the opposite extreme by studying fashion.

Yes, it was about as far away from my previous life as you could get. My parents were unsure about my moving to London, but they were supportive. A few people took the mickey, but I sensed there was a lot more to the world than a small hamlet in rural Yorkshire.

Was it hard getting to grips with wine?

I found it confusing at first, but I have a great friend - Peter Mitchell at Laytons - who really helped out. He's a bit of a fanatic and has just passed his MW. We decided to focus on European wines at Bistrotheque. It's in a totally unlikely location and in a very strange building, so when we put the menu and wine list together we tried to use familiar names to counterbalance this feeling of weirdness. We sell Sancerre, and if people want something from the New World, we push them to bigger, softer Rhne styles such as 2001 Chteau d'Aqueria from Lirac, which is a super bottle at 24. There are some amazing Australian wines, but they tend to be expensive - and there's a huge raft of crap in supermarkets that devalues them.

It's a surprise that people don't demand more from the New World.

It's my decision because I don't like big, jammy, sweet confected things - even though it's what people have been taught wine should taste like. Give people Bordeaux, and the response is, What the hell is this?' We ran an event the other

day for an insurance company with 1999 Chteau Potensac, which is relatively fruity and forward and not that tight or tannic, and you could see that our staff, as well as some people from the firm, just didn't get it. The fact there wasn't a big belt of flavour from the outset really confused them.

Do people find it similarly hard to understand Bistrotheque?

Some wine merchants think that unless you look like Wiltons you can't be a proper restaurant. It actually helps, because I get hassled less. In my position it would be easy to start buying bits and bobs from all over. That's how some places operate, where the sommelier is fascinated with the idea of collecting. It's fine to do that at home, but this is a business.

Some of the critics have certainly misunderstood you

We've had some stinking reviews. Tracey MacLeod in The Independent was our first big national piece, and she hated us. She didn't go as far as Toby Young, however, who really couldn't stand us: it was total vitriol; pretty much the worst restaurant review I've ever seen. Fay [Maschler] was good to us and, along with AA Gill, she turned the business around.

AA Gill usually hates travelling east.

Well it was a really good write-up, even though the whole thing was so Fawlty Towers it was ridiculous! I was sitting in the bar downstairs and it was a quiet Tuesday four weeks into opening when in he walked. There was a mini-panic when we ran around screeching, Oh my God, AA Gill is here, what the hell are we going to do?' Then we phoned all our friends and got them to come in. It filled up quickly, although Hazel nearly gave the game away by going round saying hello to everyone.

I had to remind her that we weren't supposed to know our customers yet!

I think he thought we were insane and also couldn't work out what the hell we were doing in this part of town, but that worked in our favour.

Are you still running drag karaoke, too?

Yes, although we call it tranny lip synching' - anyone can turn up and mime to the music dressed as a member of the opposite sex. I've been a particularly unconvincing woman. The winners of eight different heats battle it out in a grand final. It's Pablo's idea, and each season he develops a character that takes part. His latest one wore a large black burka, which is a bit edgy in this part of town. It also means you can't see the lips, which is slightly strange. I went to watch him and the audience were standing there in stunned silence!

Bistrotheque, 23-27 Wadeson Street, London E2 9DR, Tel: 020 8983 7900

David Waddington was born and grew up on a farm in a small hamlet in Yorkshire, before moving to London to study fashion at St Martin's College in 1990. After working for a variety of fashion-design companies,

in 1994 he became a barman at the Bricklayers Arms in Shoreditch, where he met Pablo Flack and Hazel Robinson. They would eventually open the now-defunct cutting-edge fashion label House of Jazz, and as the area grew in stature, David stayed on to manage the pub where other local designers met and drank. In 2000, however, fed up with the commercialisation of Shoreditch, he left to run events for an outside catering firm and then to work in a gastropub before moving back to Shoreditch to manage a bar called the Shoreditch Electricity Showrooms (now closed). David opened Bistrotheque with Pablo and Hazel in March 2004. Bistrotheque suppliers are Laytons, OW Loeb and Indigo.