Proprietor Karen Williams buys all of the wine, spirits and beer at the Mulberry Tree and manages the cellar. The drinks offer, which makes up 30% of trade, is entirely geared towards the restaurant and there are dedicated bar staff only when necessary on busy weekends. As with food she keeps suppliers to a minimum and uses two local breweries for the ale and Greene King as the beer and spirit supplier.
Williams recently changed wine supplier to Bibendum whose sales rep has helped her devise the restaurant's wine list. "Bibendum also offers training courses, which I intend to make use of in the near future to broaden my staff's knowledge," she says.
The wine list features both old and new world varieties, with a focus on well-known grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Merlot and Fleurie. "But we also try to have some quirky and unusual wines such as a Mexican red, an Austrian red and a Greek white wine," Williams says. Local Kentish vineyard Biddenden is also featured.
Decisions about the wine list have been mainly customer-led according to what sells and what doesn't. "The first three wines on the list are kept below £15 and we sell 36 wines by the glass," Williams adds.
Mentor Roy Ackerman applauds Williams's decision to keep the number of wines offered to a sensible level. He says: "She's picked a good mix allowing for people who are not so well versed in wine to have some obvious choices. I'm not sure about a Mexican red, but who knows? Karen is also right to be influenced by wines that sell and concentrate largely on restocking people's favourites."
He adds: "Serving this many wines and a Champagne by the glass is a fantastic offer. So with wines available by 175ml and 250ml glass plus a bottle, there is more than sufficient choice for this type of establishment and Karen can move any wines that are stuck in the cellar by the glass if required.
"It might be possible for Karen to fill out the list a little but this will come naturally as her customer base extends and people might spend a little more on top-end wines," he advises, but adds: "Karen should not be pressurised into expanding the list and should concentrate on responding to what her customers want."
Hermitage Lane, Boughton Monchelsea, Kent ME17 4DA
FIRST CHOICE COFFE ON THE MULBERRY TREE
At the Mulberry Tree, the standard of coffee has greatly improved since Brecher started working with Karen Williams and her team.
"We've had training in the past but once we had training with Stephen, we realised that we were doing it wrong before. We now know how to foam the milk properly, without burning it and we now serve cappuccino - our biggest seller - in larger cups," says Williams.
"Not only is Karen serving coffee of a much higher quality, the perceived value to the customer is higher, thanks to the larger cup," adds Brecher.
"I think a lot of operators just focus on the food and think 'It's just a cup of coffee', but actually desserts and coffee are the last thing a customer consumes, so the quality must be comparable with the rest of the dining experience. We're known for our high standards and this now extends to our coffee offer, thanks to Stephen and the First Choice team," says Williams.
After being named the regional winner for the South East by the Good Food Guide, the Mulberry Tree last month issued its first press release to the local media. This included a picture of proprietor Karen Williams and head chef Alan Irwin with Heston Blumenthal at the event.
Williams was introduced to PR consultant Andrew Merrett of Amcomm by Chris Durant at Beacon and they discussed how to keep the media snowball turning and help to raise its profile.
"We have already started talking to the local primary school about running a food awareness class with them, which would possibly involve a trip for the children to see our kitchen garden and pigs," Williams says. "The idea is for Irwin to go into the school with locally sourced produce that is unusual in taste and texture to help raise awareness of seasonal food."
This will be supported by local media coverage.