Questions of Taste: Tatiana Fokina

The founder and CEO of Hide and Hedonism discusses managing Europe’s largest wine list

Over a decade ago, Tatiana Fokina and her partner Yevgeny Chichvarkin told wine suppliers that they aimed to open up the best wine shop in the world. The statement was often met with a wry smile and polite pass. Hedonism, their award-winning fine wine & spirits boutique in Mayfair, could now very well lay claim to this title. Resistant to just selling ostentatious lines – whose prices would give you a headache before you’d even started drinking – the two floor store prides itself on a broad selection of wines from Bordeaux and beyond that don’t break the bank. Whether it is Red or Rose, White or Sparkling, there is a wine for you from their 10,000 strong selection. Because managing Europe’s largest wine list simply wasn’t enough work, the couple also opened Hide together with celebrated British chef Ollie Dabbous (we spoke to Dabbous after it shortly opened). Both continue to operate at a slightly altered but nonetheless frenetic pace during quarantine, and in between running the businesses remotely, Fokina spoke to Port about life under lockdown, working with loved ones and the joy of vintage champagne.

How did Hedonism and Hide begin?

As much as London is very much a capital for wine retail and trading, it was lacking one shop that would not only deliver the range, but also the right level of service and knowledge. We wanted to be accessible, modern and offer a depth and breadth without being intimidating. Hedonism opened in 2012 and it’s safe to say that it’s probably one of the best-known wine outlets in the whole world now. We quickly became a bit of a Mecca for anyone who is into their wines and spirits, that covers all budgets and tastes. Be it a serious collector or someone with a modest budget, we have something for them.

When Yevgeny and I ate out, especially fine dining, the wine pricing seemed unnecessarily prohibitive. You always want your wine to be the same level as your food, but inevitably with the restaurant mark up it’s quite hard to do. Our customers always used to say ‘if only you did food, we’d never leave this place!’. We thought ‘why not?’. After five years of planning and assembling the team, we opened Hide a couple of years ago and within five months the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star. Ollie’s name was top of the list when we were thinking of a chef to partner with and it’s been a complete delight to go through this process with him. His creativity and cooking has only gotten stronger.

How is lockdown?

We’ve been keeping busy by cooking for the NHS and are also doing Hide at Home, a takeaway service. Over the Easter weekend we did over 300 meals, which was great because we felt like a restaurant again. I miss that buzz of a live restaurant. Many of our customers have told us the first thing they’ll do when this is over is have breakfast, lunch and dinner, one after the other! We’re roughly 200 strong and are hopeful we’ll be in a position to give everyone their jobs back when this is over.

What’s it like working with your partner?

It’s hard to divide business and your personal life, because inevitably, you bring conversations about work home. We really shouldn’t because it’s healthier to have a division between the two, but sometimes it’s not realistic to keep them separate. We have a strong partnership, but would I advise anyone doing it? Probably not!

Do you get to travel much?

Unfortunately no. Most people picture me flying from vineyard to vineyard, but I am mostly stuck in the office. I get invitations to the most amazing châteaus but unfortunately don’t have the time to visit them. People in the world of wine are so passionate about what they do, that they are always eager to share that love. Whenever I travel with my family though, if it’s the Basque country, Rioja, Georgia or France, I always try to make sure that we go to a winery and taste everything.

Whereabouts in the world is producing interesting wine at the moment?

In the UK, 20 years ago, I don’t think could have foreseen the success of British sparkling, but everyone is excited to see what happens next. Georgia is doing many different affordable wines, likewise Morocco and Switzerland, there’s a wonderful broad spectrum. You only need to pick a region and you’ll find something of note, that’s the beauty of it.

What are you drinking at the moment?

I am a big champagne fan. It’s obviously a drink strongly associated with celebrations and there are currently very few things we can celebrate. It gives you that lovely kick, a feeling of something less mundane. One of my all-time favourite champagnes is from Henri Giraud – that’s something I’m treating myself to for my lockdown birthday. It should hopefully brighten up my day! /

Park and Hide: Ollie Dabbous

As the founder of one of the most talked about London restaurants of recent years, Ollie Dabbous has set the bar high for his new venture. Port meets the celebrated chef to find out how it’s going.

In September 2016, Ollie Dabbous – the darling of the new London food scene – stood in a vast, hangar-like space on Piccadilly, contemplating an ambitious venture. A few months earlier the chef, now in his late 30s, had controversially shut his celebrated eponymous restaurant, Dabbous, for which he had won a Michelin star within eight months of opening, and a rare five stars from the Evening Standard. Now he would be heading up a much bigger prospect: two restaurants, the largest wine list in London, and the backing of a Russian billionaire and Dabbous regular, Yevgeny Chichvarkin.

HIDE opened earlier this Spring, the vast space now divided into three floors – ABOVE, the flagship taster menu restaurant; GROUND, for more casual dining; and BELOW, a bar. The launch of the year so far, it earned Dabbous considerable coverage in the press, even if the headlines focused on the size, and the panorama of Green Park afforded from the top floor. The statistics – that the restaurant spanned 12,000 square feet and employed 150 staff – almost overshadowed Dabbous famously masterful cooking.

Nest Egg

Quietly, however, without fanfare, the food at HIDE shines through, and it becomes apparent that the size of the restaurant, and the depths of the cellar, are details that will be quickly brushed past in the many, inevitable word of mouth retellings. Through the courses of raw tuna with prickly ash and Exmoor caviar, Dabbous’ uplifting and famous Nest Egg, and slow-roast goose with charred kale, there was a sense of clarity; a balance of flavour that marks Dabbous’ food out from the sparse and simple imitations of his style, served in self-consciously minimalist restaurants. Clearly Dabbous can exist happily on any scale, only here, looking across the traffic of everyday life to the urban oasis of Greek Park, he has found a fitting home. 

Dressed in a set of chef whites designed by Maria Grachvogel for the restaurant, rather than his trademark tight white t-shirt, Dabbous spoke to Port about the particulars of contemporary fine dining, staying down-to-earth, and how Dabbous has changed him as a chef.

Ollie Dabbous

For a taster menu, the HIDE lunch menu is very light and easy. How do you find that balance? 

The food I like to cook has always had a focus on light, clean flavours, so it’s never been something I’ve set out to achieve, but here a big influence was the use of natural light in the architecture. When I was beginning to think about the food you would want to eat here, especially with the vegetables at the beginning and the broth, I thought about the light and view over Green Park. You see the busses go past and people jogging – a little vignette on London life – and that suggested something organic and light, rather than something quite ‘cheffy’. 

It seems to be quite a modern approach to fine dining.

Hopefully it’s the right thing and reflects people’s desires to eat a bit more healthily without it feeling like you’re missing out, or being purged of anything flavoursome or tasty. There’s ways to achieve that sense of luxury and indulgence without piling the calories. Our second course on the basic menu, for example, is the raw tuna dish which is incredibly indulgent texturally but there’s very little fat content in it.

Raw tuna with prickly ash and Exmoor caviar

The taster menu for HIDE is notably down-to-earth in terms of pricing. Where does the motivation for that come from?

I’ve always felt fine dining was a bit flabby or bourgeois, and thought there could be a way of streamlining the experience without compromising the food. With HIDE, I wanted to get a broad demographic through the doors; I don’t want it to feel like the cliche Mayfair restaurant clientele. When we opened I wanted to have a taster menu under £100 and the entry-level glass of wine to be a fiver. Then, if you want to spend more, theres the breadth and depth of the cellar of Hedonism wines, and the £30 corkage for that service has been a winner so far. 

I think the motivation ultimately comes from when you start your career and you value every penny you’ve got. Chefs don’t work for much money when they’re learning the trade and even long on into their career. I had to work hard to earn the money that was in my pocket and I still remember that now.

After all, you are still young and so these memories will be fresh in your mind.

I’ve never lost that perspective and I never want to. I remember things that used to frustrate me or motivate me, and I try and empower the staff as much as I can, to give them all the tools they need, the recipes, the space. A little bit of empathy goes a long way and I try to look after them – they’re the most important asset you’ve got as a chef.

Dabbous was a particular success – what convinced you to shut up shop and work on HIDE?

I couldn’t turn down the offer to set up HIDE, and after five years at Dabbous it was feeling smaller by the day. I needed a fresh challenge. Then Yevgeny emailed me out the blue – it felt like a one-off so I got things moving straight away – closing the company, keeping my initial investors happy, and then moving all the staff across. I started working on the menus straight away in a little test kitchen on an industrial estate and, after four months of that and a six week break, I was typing the menus up.

Vegetables, flesh and bone, bread and broth

Did any dishes carry over to HIDE from Dabbous?

I didn’t want to bring too much with me because it’s a new restaurant with a new name, but it’s nice to have a little nod to the previous restaurant, and the Nest Egg is a dish I first cooked about eight years ago. It’s been refined over the years but it’s still very simple – as with all the food at HIDE, I want it to make sense as you eat it.

What’s your opinion towards Michelin? 

We have clear aspirations and I think we are cooking to a high level, and being very self-critical about it. We would love to get some accolades for what we’re doing but ultimately it’s up to the judges to say if we deserve it or not. It’s always more about the work of the staff in any case – a pat on the back for their hard work. There’s nothing like getting official recognition when you’re a young chef to bolster you.

Roast Huntsham Farm suckling pig, salt-baked turnip and golden raisins

It has been a few months since HIDE opened. Has it changed you at all as a chef?

It’s forced me to delegate more, which I needed to do and is also something I feel more comfortable doing given the strength and depth of the head chefs on each floor. But my day to day existence is, as it always has been, completely unglamorous: early starts, late finishes, dirty aprons. I always say you’re only as good as your last service and I think if you have that mentality it will benefit you in the long term.

Where do you go from here? 

Making it as sustainable as possible, as enjoyable as possible… and I’ve got another book that I need to write at some point. At the moment it’s all about just constant refinement – you get a little bit better everyday, a little bit easier everyday, just through being smart. It’s been satisfying being involved in something of this scale from the get go and seeing it become what it is, and hopefully it will get better and better.