At the far end of the newly-refurbished ground floor dining room of the Hoxton hotel in London’s Holborn stands an impressive mahogany structure laden with wine bottles. Around 600 bottles, in fact, stacked high on wooden shelves. Attached to the centre, and surrounded by a selection of polished glassware, sit four still-glistening chrome taps, which dispense house wines from kegs hidden within the recesses of the wine wall’s structure.
As its name suggests - Rondo being a dark-skinned grape variety used for making red wine - the latest London restaurant from hospitality group Ennismore has been created with oenophiles in mind. Currently around 75 bins feature across Rondo’s various wine lists, although that number is set to grow in the coming months as the restaurant finds its feet.
Overseeing Rondo’s far-reaching wine offering is Quality Chop House co-owner Will Lander, who worked on the opening in a personal capacity separate from his Woodhead Restaurant Group that he owns and runs with fellow restaurateur Daniel Morgenthau. While Lander says part of the draw was the chance to focus on the restaurant’s wine list, what really appealed was the opportunity to work with Ennismore’s ‘hugely ambitious’ F&B team in developing the concept for Rondo.
“I was approached by Ennismore to try to create somewhere with the look, feel and sensibilities of a great independent restaurant, while still providing the all-day flexibility of a hotel restaurant,” says Lander.
“We all felt wine should play a prominent role. The team at the Hoxton really wanted to turn the expectations of a hotel restaurant wine list on its head. Sometimes, wine can be an expensive after-thought in hotel restaurants, but here it is front and centre, both theoretically in terms of the concept and physically with the wine wall.”
Accessibility at every level was key to Lander as he set about building Rondo’s 40 bin-strong main wine list. The four on-tap house wines, which include a grenache from the Rhone and a grecanico from Sicily, start at £5 a glass, although there are more leftfield options, says Lander. “We didn’t go for the safe options when choosing the house wines, we went for ones that are earthy and full of personality.”
There’s also a food-friendly section of wines that have been chosen specifically to pair with the restaurant’s pared-back, seasonal menu, which comes courtesy of former St John executive chef Chris Gillard. Gillard’s appointment marks a reunion for the pair, with Lander having briefly worked with him back in 2003 at the pioneering nose-to-tail restaurant when he was a barman just starting his career.
“We’d heard Chris might be looking for a new project to get his teeth stuck into and we thought he would be the perfect fit,” says Lander of the decision. “His food has a purity of flavour, which works brilliantly alongside a few glasses of wine.”
Gillard, who left St John back in 2016 after 15 years behind the stoves, says Rondo was an opportunity to come in and make the food that he loves.
“I had looked at other roles, but they didn’t offer the same level of support to create the dishes I wanted to,” he explains. “Broadly, I come from a background of modern British cuisine, but I wanted to use this as a chance to draw on the parallels of the food cultures from Europe and focus on lesser-used ingredients.”
Starters include smoked mackerel served on the bone with beetroot and horseradish; brown shrimp, cucumber, fennel and cucumber; and a crispy pig’s cheek salad with roast shallots and watercress (directly taken from the St John vault, Gillard admits). Mains, meanwhile, feature a dish of grey mullet served with tomato, fennel and aioli; Tamworth pork chop with bobby beans and chutney; and roast Sutton Hoo chicken with charred carrots, caramelised onions and chorizo.
Desserts include apricot and almond tart; a Pump Street chocolate mousse cake with fresh cherries; a strawberry sherry trifle; and British cheeses from Neal’s Yard.
“I’ve been away from St John long enough to be able to comfortably make a few nods to it in my dishes,” says Gillard, who has also put a roasted bone marrow and parsley toastie on the bar menu as a tribute to his old mentor Fergus Henderson. “But I didn’t want to just put an eccles cake with Lancashire cheese on there, it would feel too obvious.”
Prices at Rondo are approachable across the board, with starters between £7 and £11; and mains ranging from £14 to £22.
For Ennismore, Rondo represents the latest stage in hospitality group’s plan to create a series of ‘destination restaurants and bars’ across all of its three Hoxton hotel sites (the other two are in Southwark and Shoreditch). Its aim is to create a collection of restaurants that compete with the high street, stand on their own legs, with no two places the same – from the design to the food offering.
While it isn’t in the same vein as Ennismore’s previous hotel restaurant launch - the luxe, marble-rich Seabird, which opened on the 14th floor of the Hoxton Southwark last September - Rondo certainly stands up on its own. It’s a relaxed, casual affair, where the wine, quite literally, flows like water.
199-206 High Holborn, Holborn, London WC1V 7BD