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Published:  23 July, 2008

Giles Webster, Co-owner, The Coach and Horses, Clerkenwell, London. Interview: Josie Butchart

The Coach and Horses 26-28 Ray Street London EC1R 3DJ[/b[

Tel: 020 7278 8990

Giles Webster and Juliet Peston (executive chef at Alistair Little in Soho) opened The Coach and Horses gastropub 16 months ago. Head chef Andy Tyrell serves up a daily changing menu, using rare-breed meat supplied by Long Ghyll Farms in Lancashire, in the old city pub with seating for 35 inside and an additional 50 in the covered garden. The Coach and Horses recently won the Time Out award for Best Gastropub 2004.

When did you first get involved with food and wine? I have a physiotherapy and rehabilitation clinic in Harley Street, but years ago I started cooking one shift a week at The Fire Station in Waterloo for Dan Evans, who was the chef there. I did it for free, on the principle that as long as I was having a good time and/or learning a lot they were welcome to my labour. I stayed there for a long time then tootled off to work in several other places, including Kensington Place, and eventually fetched up at Alistair Little's because I had met Juliet Peston through Dan Evans. Juliet became a great friend and it was a friend of hers, Morfudd Richards at Lola's, who suggested we open a gastropub together. The place we were after fell through, but we then found this site. It was rather more expensive, so Morfudd, with enormous good grace and candour, said: Look I'd love to stay in with you, but I'm a control freak. I'd have to have 51% and I can't afford 51% so I'm dropping out. But I'll be as much help to you as I can.' And she has been, she's just fab. So Juliet and I went ahead and here we are.

So do you do this full-time now? No, but I probably do more hours here than in the clinic. I start at the clinic at 7am and I often finish here at 1am, so I give them both their fair share! I'd hate to give up my clinic but I'd like to cut down the hours. Actually, I'd like to cut down the hours in both places a little bit, but I'm afraid Morfudd Richards is not the only control freak in the business!

What sparked your interest in wine? I've always been interested in wine but I'd like to say my ignorance is encyclopedic. The more you learn about the subject, the less, you realise, you know. But I must say that doing this job you learn an awful lot. Most obligingly, wine suppliers queue up to say: Here! Buy some wine from us.' You learn a lot reading lists, particularly if they are good, well-published lists. I'd like to mention Laytons here because Laytons do the job as well as anybody could possibly do the job.

How many wine suppliers do you have? At the moment six, but I am seeing another one this afternoon and another one next week. Although I want a core list that people can depend on, I think it's fun to be able to roll wines as we go through the seasons, in the same way as we have a rolling menu. We had a very nice chilled Chinon during the summer. Not a lot of people bought it but it was a nice wine to have there on the list.

Do you get a lot of support from your wine suppliers? It varies from marvellous right through to complete disinterest. That's why I'm so happy with Laytons. They do a fantastic job, they are consistently interested and they call in often. The chap at Laytons had a couple of New Zealand winemakers over recently and he brought them in here for lunch. They brought some wines for me to taste - two of which weren't going to be available at all in the UK, they were just to taste so that I could see what they were doing. They both had that enormous infectious enthusiasm that gives you a real lift.

Does the wine trade tend to have lower expectations of a gastropub wine list? I think people are often surprised to find me, in that there tends to be a certain sense that a publican is not going to know anything about wine. And I am, after all, a publican.

Have you ever considered having a speciality beer list? I'd love to have a beer list but there's an awful lot of affectation around having a beer list at the moment and I'm not interested in having a spearmint beer or a Ben & Jerry's beer. If it weren't for the fact I'm so tied for beers (as a Punch pub) it would be fun to experiment more with different kinds. Punch is trying to do something like that but what it is actually doing is putting together a pre-determined box of bottled beers. One dreams of being able to approach beers in the same way as wine: having different beer suppliers in for tastings before putting together a list. Wouldn't it be fun?

What prompted you to list an English wine? Someone challenged me to taste it [Three Choirs Phoenix] without seeing the label and asked me to identify the country, the nationality of the winemaker and the grape variety. Well I got them all wrong of course!

Will you list more English wines? Yes, I don't have any snobbery about it. The English wine we list has a fantastic start, not a bad finish and no middle at all, which I think is not untypical of English wines, but it has been made with enormous care and precision and given where it is - they don't have the greatest terroir in the world or perfect weather - I think it's a fantastic job. And they are producing it at a not ridiculously expensive price.

What is the most popular style of wine? It's always: I'd like a nice dry white', and it's tempting to say: We've only got a bad sweet purple'. Customers also ask for sweet red wine, but I know what they actually want - and we're delighted to supply it.