A modern interpretation of the members-only wine club - from the founders of London's 67 Pall Mall - is set to launch in Singapore in Autumn.
The club will offer an unmatched selection of 5,000 wines from 42 countries, a thousand of which will be available by the glass. The London flagship club, by comparison, has 800 by the glass, which is currently the world’s largest offering.
The concept of the club is based upon the proven format where a common interest in wine breaks down any pre-conceived barriers of socialising amongst the 3,000 members.
Singapore was chosen as the first international debut and the club is likely to open in the third quarter of this year. Premises have been secured in Orchard Road in the penthouse of the Shaw Centre and are being converted. Keeping faith on style with the London club, the founders have used the same name for Singapore basing the design and food approaches on the same ratio; 75 percent London style and 25 percent local touch.
Turning back the clock to give some background; for centuries, the classic London clubs in St. James’s and Pall Mall were where ‘The Establishment’ effectively ruled society; their highly elitist memberships comprised the inner circle of the aristocracy.
Tradition and historic values were key notes, especially with elder members resisting change. Today, there are still clubs in London that are reminiscent of the old days, document cases are left with the hall porter; no business should be seen to be carried out. Nothing should disturb the peace and quiet, and the atmosphere is more akin to a religious building. In the august Travellers Club, the oldest in Pall Mall, a legendary tale is that a member died unobserved at dinner. It was not until he was offered some stilton at the end of dinner that his demise was realised.
The founder of 67 Pall Mall was very unhappy with paying over-the-top prices for fine wines in restaurants; the original idea was to open a restaurant with wine at far more realistic prices. Seeing that a new generation of London clubs which possess an energy unheard of in years gone by, the concept of a wine and fine dining club emerged. The wines are offered with a mark-up of only around 35%, rather than multiples of their cost in restaurants, complementing fine dining.
67 Pall Mall deliberately avoided opening in the financial City location as the intention was to provide ‘a place to go on the way home’ thus attracting a broader mix of people. The club is housed in a classic former banking hall adjacent to St. James’s Palace. The result is a relaxed buzz with strangers chatting at the bar; the common interest in wine is a great leveller. It follows that there are many members involved in the wine industry as they can have their own wines stored in the club cellars; members simply pay for storage and corkage. If members wish to both drink and sell their wines, they can be added to the club’s wine list.
The club’s interior décor presents a very relaxed atmosphere, added to which they have chosen very personable staff. In total they have a head count of 120 staff, including 17 sommeliers. All of the sommelier team are encouraged to taste any bottle in the club’s wine collection which, naturally, should be an essential requirement.
I was privileged to be given a tour of the labyrinth of cellars where there is a large strong room containing many highly celebrated wines. There is an amusing story about a television crew from the US programme ‘Today’. They were exploring the strong room and closed the barred inner gate only to find they were locked in leaving their cameraman abandoned outside. As they were due live on air imminently and the key was elsewhere, they had to improvise and broadcast their piece through the bars. Certainly a novelty for their viewers.
Currently the club’s wine cellars hold 35,000 bottles – this capacity is being increased to take the number to over 100,000 in total. The club grew quickly to 3,000 members and some 4,000 wines, doubtless that will be increased to match the planned 5,000 in Singapore. There are wines at all prices up to £25,000 a bottle, however, a glass of house champagne is £7.50. All the wines I tasted were all less than £50 a bottle; the quality at those prices have not been matched in my experience at any UK restaurant.
There are constant events (most days) both private and open to club members with tastings, talks, master classes, etc. Sommeliers in the London club can be seen in deep conversation with members exploring any number of wine related topics. That precious relationship will be reflected in the new Singapore club.
Members will find a little corner of London’s modern style on their doorstep but with a local flavour; a fusion of good taste and conviviality. The club concept that sets a modern but timeless style which has all the right ingredients to be successful around the world.