Why Brighton restaurateur Ben McKellar is dedicating a terrace to English wine

Ben and Pamela McKellar, founders of The Gingerman Restaurant Group, have supported great local produce from day dot. And not just in food – they’ve been serving Ridgeview’s English sparkling wines for 21 years.

The McKellars were definitely onto something back in the 90s, and their dedication to championing local will certainly appeal to the 48%* of consumers who try to buy locally-sourced produce wherever possible. And with English Wine Week on the horizon, what better time to capitalise on the ever-increasing passion for all things home-grown?

To gain more insight into successfully stocking English wine, we talked to the pioneers themselves. So, Bibendum’s Charlotte Levy travelled to the coast to chat to Ben at their new site, The Flint House.

Why hospitality?

I love food, of course. I’m a chef by trade, and after working in lots of places, I had the opportunity to open my own restaurant, and so I did. The first was The Gingerman. Now we’ve just opened The Flint House in Brighton town centre, right by the Lanes.

What would you say is The Gingerman Restaurant Group philosophy?

Good food, good drink, and friendly service. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel by serving quality ingredients in a relaxed setting, but we want to do it well.

And part of that quality comes from seasonal and local ingredients?

We always use seasonal ingredients and buy local if it’s good enough. But that’s an important point – we never use local produce for the sake of it, only if it’s good. So, I suppose we’re quality and seasonality first, locality second.

You’ve been serving Ridgeview since 1998. How did that come about?

Mike Roberts MBE (Ridgeview founder) used to come to the restaurant, so one day we tried the wine. I instantly loved it and I liked the people, so we started serving it by the glass instead of Champagne. We were actually the first to serve Ridgeview by the glass in Brighton!

I guess that was a bold move for a restaurant in the late 90s!

Well back in the day, when English wine wasn’t well known, it was a hard sell. But like anything, once people try it, they don’t mind parting with their money. So, we let people taste it, they find out it’s good and are happy to pay for it.

Now it seems most places list at least one English wine.

If restaurants don’t, then they’re missing a trick. But you shouldn’t just have one. The days where you had a token English sparkling wine are gone. We have three by the glass on our main list, but we’ll have more, especially on our Ridgeview terrace at The Flint House. We’ve got some vintage magnums and other bits that will come on the menu too, which is exciting!

The English wine terrace is a really cool idea, why did you decide to do it?

I wanted to promote a local vineyard. We could’ve done a gin terrace, or a Champagne one, but we wanted to support something local because not only is the wine good, but as I said, we like the people. And it’s not just about money either. Maybe I could make more serving a big Champagne name (and perhaps I’m stupid not to!) but it’s the overall concept. If you say you stand for quality first and foremost, then you’ve got to back it up.

I suppose the Ridgeview wines have come on massively since you first began selling them.

Of course, every year they get better. They were pioneers, and produced very good quality wines 20 years ago, but now with new investment into their vineyards and cellar, they’re striving forward. As is the whole industry. It’s a rising wave that’s lifting everyone along with it.

Are you serving any other English wines?

We have some of the Albourne Estate wines, as well as some from Rathfinny Wine Estate. It’s exciting to have diversity and a range of English wines.

How does your newly opened site, The Flint House, differ from your other places?

The other sites are more restaurants, where you spend two or three hours over dinner. Here, you’d pop in – kind of tapas style without the Spanish food! I also imagine it’ll be a younger demographic, being in the town centre, and only doing walk-ins. We really want the terrace to be a little oasis in the busy Lanes.

Want to spruce up your English wine offering?

Find out more about our two new 'yin and yang' producers here.

A gastronomic love affair began young, when this caviar adoring child ended up chasing Michelin stars as an adolescent. Many meals later, a wine obsession grew. Now she’s learning fast and delving into the wine world with ambition and a great passion, writing, taking pictures and tasting where she can. @lottiejlevy

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