Waterside Bistro

Wines that match the customer’s needs make the difference at Waterside Bistro.

Matt Buzzo takes a very different approach to deciding which wines go on to the wine list at the Waterside Bistro in Totnes, Devon. Yes, they need to taste right and be at a good value price point for his customers, but most of all they have to go well with the food. For as well as owning the Waterside Bistro with his wife Delphine, he is also an experienced chef.

But then looking at wines through the eyes of a chef is nothing new to Buzzo, for that’s what he has done all his career, making his name working across a number of leading hotels in London and top restaurants, including Scotts of Mayfair and Livebait.

It’s at his own Waterside Bistro that he has been able to work far more closely with wine and take full control of the wines he chooses to serve with the restaurant’s style of food, which has a heavy leaning to local produce and seafood. Although he now leaves the cooking side of the business to Waterside’s head chef, Simon Drew, who he works with to create the menu.

The wine list is also a close collaboration, this time between Buzzo and Crown Cellars, a relationship that goes right back to when he first opened the Waterside Bistro some 14 years ago.

Covers all the bases

Buzzo says he really has no need to consider working with other major suppliers as Crown Cellars is able to cover all the bases for him across all his drinks.

“I would say it is the depth and breadth of its range that really makes Crown Cellars such a great company to work with. There is such a diverse choice of wines to choose from and they are always adding new interesting wines to the list,” he says.

In particular he enjoys the way that Crown Cellars’ wine consultant, Jonathan Pedley MW, describes the wines on the list with “clear, interesting tasting notes that just make you want to taste the wines,” says Buzzo.

Having such a long standing relationship with Crown Cellars is also typical of how Buzzo likes to work with his food and other drinks suppliers. He is a great believer in loyalty and working up long term relationships with the suppliers that mean the most to him, the restaurant and then its customers. The Waterside Bistro, for example, is part of the Food & Drink Devon initiative to bring producers and operators closer together.

The Waterside Bistro website even includes a special local suppliers section where you can plot and see where his producers come from, which on the wine side includes an English sparkling wine from the local Sharpham Vineyard.

“I am also seeing a big growth in gin sales and Crown Cellars again has a good selection of premium local gins to choose from,” he adds.

Every day value

Being a long established local restaurant, the Waterside Bistro is able to rely on a number of regular customers who might visit every day, be it for a coffee in the morning or a crab sandwich and glass of wine at lunchtime or light bites in the afternoon.

It is important, therefore, says Buzzo to have a wine list that offers great every day value as well as some fine wines for a treat. House wines start at around £17 to £18 with an average price per bottle of £19, moving up to the more expensive wines that are still very good value at around £35.

Buzzo says it has been a question of learning over the years and working with his customers to get the right balance of wines at the right price point.

Instead of a large wine list, Buzzo has worked with Crown Cellars to create a relatively tight list including 10 whites, 10 red, 3 rosés and some sparkling wine and Champagne. A list that is well balanced between Old and New World wines.

Its most popular wines, though, are New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Two classic styles that customers are happy to return to time and again, says Buzzo.

Crown Cellars’ Cloud Island New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is by far the restaurant’s best selling wine which is on the list at £22.

Buzzo says he has definitely noticed a marked shift amongst his customer base and their approach to wine. “People are a lot more confident now about what they like and what grape varieties they prefer, which is why we work hard with Crown Cellars to make sure the wines we choose are the ones they are know and trust,” he adds.

It’s also why the menu is a balance between family favourites such as a full pizza selection, a number of burgers and then more serious fish and local produce dishes. He admits he is still to get round to offering wine choices with each dish on the main menu, but does do for his desserts.

Hands on support

Buzzo says he also works with Crown Cellars to take advantage of the wide training opportunities it offers. All his senior management team have got WSET Level 2 wine training and he is looking to carry out more training for his other staff. “It’s an important part of our service as well and it’s great to be able to work with Crown Cellars for our training as they know our business so well,” he says.

It’s also, he says, about creating the right atmosphere in the restaurant and by offering training and support it helps to create the family, community feel that he is looking for from the restaurant.

Wines by the glass

Wines by the glass have an important role to play at the Waterside Bistro, particularly with lunchtime diners and those visiting the restaurant during the day. Buzzo says it’s important to choose the right wines to put on by the glass to ensure there is no wastage.

But some of the best-selling wines will move by the day, or within two days, so he does not need to worry about investing in an expensive wine dispensing system. Here, he is able to work with the Crown Cellars team to introduce both popular and new interesting wines that can encourage his more ambitious customers to try different styles of wine.

Buzzo says he normally has around six white wines by the glass and five or six reds to give a good choice to his customers. He offers both 175ml and 250ml glass sizes with prices ranging from £4.50 for a smaller size, through to £8 for a larger one. He also offers his three rosé wines by the glass and has a Prosecco and Champagne by the glass offer as well.