Hamish Anderson on his artful development of the Tat's prestigious wine collection
The Tate Gallery opened on the site of Millbank Penitentiary in London in 1897. Officially named the National Gallery of British Art, it quickly became known as the Tate Gallery after founder Sir Henry Tate. Over the years, the gallery's remit has expanded to include the national collection of British art and the national collection of international modern and contemporary art. It now operates on four sites: Tate Britain and Tate Modern in London, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives. Collectively known as Tate, it ranks as one of Britain's greatest museums.
Its catering operation is unique, with an inhouse team owned by Tate. All profits made though catering are paid back to the organisation.
All wine and beverage buying is done by Hamish Anderson.
After starting his career at Bibendum restaurant in London, Hamish moved to the Tate Gallery restaurant at Millbank, where he took charge of a wine list famous for its depth and breadth, for mature vintages (notably of claret)
and, most significantly, for its very consumer-friendly pricing. We asked him about his role: "I look after everything that relates to drinks in all our sites, for example, purchasing, training and finances. Wine is the glamorous side of the job and that is my background. However, I approach the rest of the drinks offer with the same mindset as putting together a wine list. Thus, we now only serve leaf teas (from a wonderful supplier called Jing) in all our sites and deal directly with an orchard in Hertfordshire for our apple juice. I am currently in discussion with a farm in Suffolk who will be buying some extra cows to supply us with the most fabulous milk for coffee."
When you started, at what we now call Tate Britain, you had a particular brief. What was that?
To rejuvenate a famous wine cellar. The restaurant had been in the doldrums for a few years and the list, while still having some gems on it, needed a complete overhaul. I sold nearly £200k of stock in the first year I was there. I was lucky to be given a fairly free rein to do what I wanted. So while reinvesting in our traditional strengths, like Bordeaux, I was allowed to indulge my prejudices; hence, we now have a very strong collection from Burgundy and Australia.
Has your brief changed over the years? Only in the sense that we are now that much bigger.
At the moment, we also run the café in the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge). Next February, we are opening a fine dining restaurant in the Bluecoat Centre in Liverpool. Our basic principles are the same. We buy fine wine and lay it down, it is then marked up with margins that are significantly below the industry standard. The cellar now has to reflect the demands of our other sites and our corporate customers – we run the catering at the evening events in the gallery, which is a significant proportion of turnover.
Do you work from a core list of wines or is each list different? Tate Britain's list is pretty much a stand-alone entity. I am always mindful of protecting its unique identity. Throughout the rest of the business there are a number of core wines that appear on most lists. We buy a number of wine ex-cellars, a couple of which are unique to us, not having agents in the UK.
These wines, bought in big volumes, make up the basis of the lists around the country. We now distribute this wine ourselves to the other sites.
What are the particular challenges of serving wine in a museum? There are more benefits than challenges. The only major challenge is the fact that the majority of our business is done at lunch time. This means that you need to make as many wines as possible available in small formats. So at Tate Modern, lots of wine by the glass, half bottle and carafe. I think that we have the best selection of halves in the country at Tate Britain (over 80). The benefits of a museum environment are many. Art and wine has a natural synergy – people who are interested in one are often interested in the other. Also, people who come in the middle of the week to an art gallery are on holiday; they are relaxed and so inclined to have a drink.
What makes your wine list(s) special? Two things. We cellar wine, so I offer it when I think it is ready to drink – most restaurants don't have this luxury. Secondly, we make small margins.
That we can do both of these things makes my job very easy.
Do you still work the floor? Intermittently! I now only work for the Tate three days a week.
Do you use sommeliers? Yes, a grand total of one. She (Jade Koch)
works at Tate Britain four days a week and at Modern one night.
How do you deal with staff training? We are fairly lucky to have a reasonably stable group of staff, so I don't have to battle against a high staff turnover.
We put a huge amount of effort into inspiring our staff, recognised by the fact that we now have IIP (Investors in People) status at two of our sites with others to follow. We provide the WSET foundation course in-house (all waiters have to take this as part of their induction). I, Jade, and another assistant run regular tastings for staff at both sites. I also call upon on our suppliers, so visiting winemakers will come and taste their wines with our staff. We run a number of trips a year for key staff, for instance, a visit to our Champagne supplier (Billecart-Salmon). I blend our house wine in Rueda each year, so again, staff accompany me. We are taking all our senior managers to the Douro in October and we even sent some guys out to the Illy's coffee university in Trieste. All our staff can also buy any of the wines, at cost, to take home. I think the word ‘training' can make the whole process sound sterile. The key is not to get a waiter to recite some tasting note I have written, but to look the customer in the eye and say with enthusiasm ‘I tried this wine the other day with Hamish/winemaker et cetera, and it is bloody marvellous', or words to that effect… Are there differences between the sites in terms of what sells? Yes, due to a range of factors. Tate Britain is a one-off, it is effectively a stand-alone restaurant and many people come there to drink classic fine wines. It is also a predominantly British clientele. Up to 40 per cent of visitors to Tate Modern are tourists; this is great as we can sell a really diverse range, as you find tourists will stick to their own country. St Ives are British tourists generally, fairly affluent so will buy good wines; we encourage local products in our regional sites, so Cornish beer and wine go very well. Liverpool is mostly locals and as a city, is increasingly aspirational; the list I'll put together for the Bluecoat will be an interesting one.
Does a major exhibition change the profile of customers? Yes. Loosely, the age range is affected by how traditional/cutting edge the exhibition is.
Does this affect wine sales? A bit, but you can always read too much into these trends. Young Londoners have a high disposable income. This group is more open to trying new things. The reverse is true for traditional shows. However, every show is different and even after working at the Tate for 10 years, I find it hard to predict.
It has been said that you have the widest wine selection of any museum restaurant. True? In the UK, yes. The Modern restaurant in MoMA New York has a bigger list. However, it is not the size that sets us apart, rather the way we purchase and sell it.