Richard Bigg has been a staunch advocate of Spanish wine and food for years and at the forefront of innovating when it comes to the pushing the boundaries, opening the UK’s first Sherry bar – Bar Pepito – which soon went on to win Time Out’s “Best Bar in London”. He talks to us about life, wine and Spain.
What did being made a Caballero mean to you?
RB: This was hugely important and significant for me having attended the dinner on numerous occasions and fully appreciating the very special nature of the event and the institution.
I’ve been in love with Spain the country since my first trip in 1984, and the fascination for its wines kicked in very soon after that. Over the intervening decades I have been discovering and appreciating the wines from all over Spain, which moved up a few gears since launching Camino.
How did you get involved in the restaurant business?
RB: Long story, but the short version is I started bartending as a part-time job in London pub in the early 80s, and then properly in the USA a few years later. Realising I enjoyed the bar life so much I knew I needed to open my own place. After a few years, I finally opened my first bar Cantaloupe in 1995 in Shoreditch, (the first bar in the area which amazingly won Time Out Bar of the Year 1997.) Following a succession of other bars, a club and a festival, we simplified the business and combined my love of Spain with my love of bars and opened Camino in King’s Cross in 2007 (voted OFM Best Bar in Britain 2008). Bar Pepito (Britain’s first dedicated Sherry bar) opened in spring 2010, and became Time Out’s Bar of the Year a few months later. In 2014 Camino won Best Spanish Wine List UK from the Imbibe Louis Roederer Awards.
What interested you so much about Spanish wine and food?
RB: The strong contrasts the country offers in terms of landscape; the mountains, the sea and the meseta all impact the food and wine enormously, and give the regions a very strong sense of personality and identity. I relish the fact that a wine should taste of where it’s from, and this is still very clear in Spain, with its vast array of indigenous grape varieties, regions, climate and altitude.
What are the challenges for Spain right now? Over and above the obvious effects of Covid – is the future bright?
RB: Spain’s value for money across the quality spectrum seems to be unrivalled. The best wines from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat are absolute bargains on the international quality wine stage. Other regions all around the country are gradually and deservedly gaining more recognition too, especially for example the white wines from Galicia. There is so much more to come, with the pioneering efforts, passion, innovation and determination being showed by Spain’s creative and energetic wine-makers.
Spain also seems to be in a good position as far as climate change is concerned too. To escape the heat, if you can’t change your latitude you can at least increase the altitude, and as Europe’s second most mountainous country after Switzerland Spain has no shortage of high altitude regions. This is already proving to be its secret weapon with wines offering superb balance of acidity to fruit and terrific structure, all possible due to the significant diurnal temperature ranges.
It’s been a tough year for the on-trade, what does this year hold and what are your predictions for the sector?
RB: I do think people are super-keen to come back to see their friends and family – we’re a social species, and think we’ve missed bars, pubs and restaurants so much, and expect there will be a new-found appreciation for them. As the restrictions are removed, we’ll see places fill up again quickly, and I would expect trade to be almost at 2019 levels by the end of the year, and matching or exceeding them by 2022.