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Published:  23 July, 2008

Fran Macmillan, Development director, Exmouth Grill, London. Interview: Josie Butchart

Exmouth Grill 55-57 Exmouth Market London EC1R 4QL

Tel: 020 7837 0009

Fran Macmillan owns well-established neighbourhood restaurant Metro, in Clapham, but also acts as a consultant for Exmouth Grill, owned by Bernard Herbert, which opened in June 2004. Customers can choose from the set lunch or dinner menus or create their own main course from a selection of meat and fish cooked on the grill by chef Laurent Giannelloni (formerly at Tiles). A single-vineyard wine list has been created by Herbert to complement the selection of wines by the glass. Main suppliers: Albion Wine Shippers, Hayman Barwell Jones, Thorman Hunt

How did you get into the restaurant industry? I started working for Bernard Herbert on and off 12 years ago. I was initially a waitress, because I'd been working in a casino and wanted to make the transition to the restaurant industry. Then I moved to New York for a bit and when I came back I worked at Livebait and then for Soren Jessen at Noble Rot. After that I opened up my own restaurant in Clapham, Metro, and now I do consultancy work for about six months of the year, depending on how busy I am, revamping old restaurants and setting up new restaurants.

Who put together the wine list? The wine choices are basically down to Bernard, because he's a real wine lover as well as a foodie. He also owns his own vineyard in Wales, Penarth, where he grows Pinot Noir, and he has just made his first sparkling wine from the last vintage. But the whole team helps him, in our capacity as serious drinkers, by tasting the wines with the food and telling him what works and what doesn't. He's always looking for new gems to add to the list. It's his passion.

Are you going to sell the Penarth wines in the restaurant? I would like to, but Bernard only has about 90 bottles of his sparkling wine at the moment, so there's not a lot of it to sell! Having your own wine in your own restaurant is a very nice idea, though, so I'd definitely consider it as a special entry on the list.

How does the grill' concept work? It's very similar to the idea behind Borough Market. People now want more than just accessibility and convenience, and at Borough Market they can talk to the traders and find out where the food has come from and even how to cook it. There's also a much greater choice than you would find in a supermarket. I wanted to do something similar in a restaurant, so that people can decide exactly what they want to eat and how they want to eat it, but in a restaurant setting rather than a caf. I also wanted customers to be able to have more interaction with the people serving them. That's something I learnt in New York; diners there expect the restaurant staff to treat them as though they were having a dinner party at home. It is a new concept for people in the UK, but the interaction with the person who is looking after you in a restaurant is what you are paying for when you pay the 12.5% service charge.

Does that extend to the wine service? Yes. Often in restaurants the customer is left to his or her own devices when presented with a wine list, and one of the first things the waiter usually asks a customer is what they want to drink. Here at the Grill we offer the customer a cocktail or a gin and tonic first, while they're looking at the wine list, rather than immediately taking a wine order, because you can't choose the wine until you've decided what you are going to eat. Our wine choices are very much geared around the food and we will recommend wines that we think go particularly well with each dish. We also offer the customer the chance to taste a couple of the wines if they are unsure about which to choose.

Why do you have such a large selection of wines by the glass? Most restaurants only have a limited selection - a Merlot or a Pinot Grigio, for example - by the glass, and if there's something a bit more exciting on the list, like a Pouilly-Fum, it's usually only available by the bottle. So customers often end up choosing the house wine or just any wine they recognise. But why should people have to drink a 2.50 glass of wine with a 12.50 steak? Our single-vineyard range of wines is only by the bottle, but everything else is by the glass, with a choice of small or large glass. I remember when I first tried to sell the idea to Bernard for another of his restaurants he said it would never work. But it worked superbly. The staff were anxious about opening a bottle of wine just for one glass, and not selling the rest. But, of course, it is also an opportunity for the staff to taste the wines, which makes it easier to sell them to the customers. A lot of people will come to a restaurant after work if they know they can have a glass of nice' wine, rather than just basic house wine. They love the fact that when they are ordering just one glass they can still have a wine they really like.

What's your most popular wine? It has been our ros this summer, because ros is synonymous with summer, but also because it's not a typical ros; it's a Grenache with a much deeper colour than most. It's got a real kick.

How have customers reacted to your list? They've been very positive, and we've had lots of feedback, because we taste with them. It makes people feel they have not only had a nice time at Exmouth Grill but it's also been an educational experience. And they then feel empowered to really explore the wine list when they go into other restaurants.