With Pullman style booths, ‘Press for Champagne’ buzzers and Russian-accented, Great British dishes, Soho’s ‘Bob Bob Ricard’ restaurant and member’s bar created a stir among diners when it opened a year-and-a-half ago. However, it is the venue’s unusually evenly priced cellar which most interested me. This is because couthly clad co-owner, Leonid ‘Bob’ Shutov, 43 levies a maximum mark-up of £50 per bottle on trade price. Controversially, this means many restaurant wines are cheaper than retail.

Some of the accessibly priced icons:

  • Château d’Yquem ’02, £119 at the restaurant, £120 at Harrods, £310 at Alain Ducasse
  • Dom Perignon Rosé ’98, £238 at the restaurant, £310 at Selfridges, £650 at Apsleys
  • Château Pichon Lalande ’95, £178 at the restaurant, £245 at Selfridges and £600 at Alain Ducasse
  • Bollinger Vieilles Vignes ’99, £294 at the restaurant, £385 at Harrods and £923 at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
  • Echezeaux Grand Cru, Romanee-Conti ’96, £462 at the restaurant, £675 at Harrods and £1,600 at Alain Ducasse
  • Château Cos d’Estournel ’96, £147 at the restaurant, £150 at Selfridges and £275 at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
  • Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Allegrini ’05, £67 at the restaurant and £153 at Coq d’Argent

Although such pricing clearly benefits customers, Shutov claims that they do not necessarily know what to make of the mark-up ceiling. ‘They often have a very vague idea of how sommeliers position their wines. However, when they see the actual price comparison printed on the menu, they are often shocked.’

Whilst many members of the wine industry have reacted positively, Shutov laments the hospitality press who he claims have largely ignored his initiative. ‘This is possibly because it seems like a direct attack on other key restaurant players, which journalists may have built relationships with over the years.’ At worst, Shutov has seen his example dismissed as ‘silly’ by restaurateur rivals, ‘because it gives away so much of the margin.’

The key element to delivering value seems to stem from Shutov’s confidence to speculate on high value wines that may become available in substantial quantities at a ‘good’ price. ‘If we believe such a wine would work well with our customers then we secure a large volume in order to maintain a continuous supply,’ he says. ‘Needless to say there is a considerable capital requirement and a risk on whether that wine will sell. But on the plus side, if we are right (and let’s face it, we are not the types to believe we will be wrong) we get a good deal ourselves that translates into a great deal for customers.’

Unsurprisingly, Shutov takes an aggressive approach to vinous transactions, as demonstrated by his actions over the ’03 heatwave vintage of Super-Tuscan, Sassacaia, currently on Ricard’s list for £135. ‘We took the entire UK allocation, plus all of another European country’s.’ Unfortunately, to avoid ‘getting in trouble’, Shutov prefers ‘not to say which one.’

Shutov first became interested in premium alcoholic drinks whilst living in Russia. ‘I was mostly interested in vodka, especially the emerging malted and vintage versions.’ However, since moving to the UK four-years ago and conceiving the restaurant, which took most of that time, Shutov has expanded his wine knowledge considerably, ‘partly out of necessity.’ Ultimately, he realises the wealth in wine beyond finance. ‘I am very fortunate to have daily access to some of the best, rarest or most valuable wines and Champagnes in the world.’ However, despite such abundance, he is adamant to have ‘never developed a habit – miraculous in itself given my addictive personality…’

Bob Bob Ricard – 1 James St, Soho, London. W1F 9DF