BAB – short for “bonuses are back” – has replaced “doh” as the word on the City’s streets, following revelations that bankers raked in end-of-year payouts like the credit crunch was all just a bad dream. But whatever the reality for those outside the gilded top offices of the Square Mile and Canary Wharf, there is certainly an air of lightened spirits that makes a welcome break from the bleakness and anxiety of the winter months.
In the months following the big financial collapse, those eating out in London’s top spots were at pains to either spend less or appear to be doing so. At Nobu, those ordering mega-expensive bottles of sake would request it in a nameless jug to escape appearing vulgar in the extreme.
Champagne, inevitably, hit hard times. Newsprint everywhere extolled the virtues of “just as good but cheaper” sparkling wine, and it became seriously noticeable to be seen ordering a bottle of Krug, let alone a magnum of anything.
But now that bonuses are back, the City’s love affair with champagne has shown signs of vigorous recovery. The bubbles have returned, though instead of fuelling the lavish corporate hospitality of yore, they appear to be gracing the smaller, more intimate tables of the best restaurants and bars.
Neleen Strauss, part-owner and sommelier of High Timber near St Paul’s, which has 40,000 bottles in its cellar and attracts a loyal City crowd, says: “There’s a big comeback with champagne. We’ve started selling great stuff. At first we thought it was the weather, but it’s carried on. Champagne sales are phenomenal.” Strauss says vintage bruts in particular are in hot demand – she’s just sold out of Cuvee Elizabeth Billecart Salmon 1996 (at £250 a bottle) and the house itself has run out of stock.
BILLECART SALMON ROSE
“People weren’t liking to be seen drinking it before. But now everyone seems to be loosening up,” she says. Around 40 per cent of drinking tables are ordering bubbly, Strauss reckons, with favourites including Billecart Salmon Rose (could there be a more celebratory drink?) at £75 per bottle and Ruinart Rose non vintage for £100. Pink and smiley is the order of the day, it appears. “Sparkling wine is not doing well,” adds Strauss with a slight smirk.
Over at wine central Vivat Bacchus in Farringdon, ownder Gerrie Knoetze has noticed a similar BAB attitude towards champers. “At the start of the year everyone was being very cautious and did not want to be seen to splash the cash. Champagne sales has been one of our clearest indications of this renewed optimism. Pol Roget and Veuve Cliquot have proved particularly popular.”
THE ODD MAGNUM
And Graham Williams, manager of Terence Conran’s super-sleek new Fleet Street establishment Lutyens, says that the restaurant’s decision to stock every single Pol Roger champagne on the list has been a clever one. “Pol Roget is rather a City boy’s champagne; it’s cool to drink and very good, so sales are going well. There’s been no sign of people not ordering it because of price either.” Williams notes that the odd magnum has been ordered after dinners in one of the restaurant’s private rooms. “If you’re in a buoyant mood and you’ve got your bonus, you’re going to go for champagne, aren’t you?” You certainly are – even at lunch time. Momo in the West End has seen a 20 per cent increase in its lunchtime Pommery sales during the last two months. Bonuses or not, it looks like people are realising life’s too short to sit drinking lemonade in the gloom.