Focus on The Laughing Heart
Australian owner of The Laughing Heart, Charlie Mellor has been working in the wine and restaurant industry since 2004. He qualified as a sommelier aged 18, working in restaurants around the world as a hobby during his eight year career as an opera singer. He took a full-time position as a restaurant manager five years ago, before opening The Laughing Heart in October 2016.
Charlie can you tell us a bit about how it all began at The Laughing Heart?
I decided a few years ago that my ambition was to open my own place where I could take care of people my way, and build a business that functioned operationally in ways very few restaurants do. It has been a big challenge: dealing with bureaucratic hurdles, financial limitations and the battle to develop and maintain a philosophy of how I wanted us to work amidst these challenges. This defined our beginning.
Why did you choose to set up in Hackney?
I have lived in this area for years, and when I was the manager at Brawn I realised how great the audience was around here. You face a different set of challenges to working in central London, but people are interested in what you believe is good, and understand that because you’re a passionate professional, you probably have a good idea of what it is they should be trying. I like it when people walk in the door and just say ‘yes’ and I found that we enjoyed that at Brawn every day. Ed Wilson (Chef Patron, Brawn) knew that I was on the hunt for a venue and heard about the site I now own, less than 300 yards from Brawn. He put me onto the agents, and the rest is history.
What is the ethos behind your menu?
We serve food that we believe is interesting but that is fundamentally wine-friendly stuff that people will enjoy eating. I have believed there is scope to explore Asian ingredients and flavours with natural wine for a while, so we do that here, sometimes paring back the seasoning and the spices, in and around classic bistro cooking. We have a late night menu from 11pm that is all Chinese food, and we serve Chinese all day on Sunday using the highest quality produce we can source.
Is natural and low-intervention wine the future?
Well hopefully it is the future, right? I don’t care if you like or don't like orange wine, or cloudy, volatile, messed up (potentially delicious) wines, or think that Champagne and Chablis hold the answers to your questions. Good farming is the message here - it is the only hope we have to even secure the future of this planet, and for the best drink in your glass. I like it all, and I love the idea that natural wine can show you such an infinite array of flavours and aromas that can thrill people in new ways and evoke forgotten memories from their past. I think we’re reaching an exciting point in East London where people have a basic understanding of these products, how they’re important and why they like them, so what we need to do now is remove the fad aspect and just serve people a nice dinner, only jumping on the soap box where necessary. It’s great!
I don’t care if you like or don't like orange wine, or cloudy, volatile, messed up (potentially delicious) wines, or think that Champagne and Chablis hold the answers to your questions. Good farming is the message here – [low intervention and natural wine] is the only hope we have to even secure the future of this planet, and for the best drink in your glass.
Was wine always going to be an essential part of your menu at The Laughing Heart?
Absolutely, I adore wine and telling stories about wine and the people who make it. I always wanted to open a place with a serious program and have staff working with me who were engaged a passionate about wine in the same way that I am.
What would be on your ultimate wine list?
If money or rarity were not factors, then I would have a large list of edgy, interesting and affordable wines that was accented by all the exciting rare stuff from the Jura, old vintages from the great producers from France and Italy, and I would want those wines to be as cheap as they could be - get them in a glass, enjoy and then move on to something else.
Where are some of the best places to find great wine?
There are a few gems that I love to visit when possible that seem to always have something interesting. In Italy you have Ristorante Consorzio in Turin or Enoteca Vanni in Luca. In France the options are many but I love the Auberge Tour Cassée in Valvignères and a caviste in Paris called Crus et Découvertes. All these places seem to have older vintages of the wines we love, which are harder to come by these days.
What is currently your favourite wine on the list and why?
My favourite wine depends on the day and the mood that I am in, where I am, what I am eating and who I’m with. Having a big list is great for that.
Who is or has been an influence on you in the wine world and why?
I definitely work in this business in London because of the people around me. A few years ago I decided there was a big gap in some parts of my education within the key procures of natural wine, and Les Caves’ own Didier Cappa was great with me, showing me things that perhaps I should have tasted years before and putting together a curriculum of growers that I still use today to teach my own team.
What is next for you and the restaurant? Do you plan to open any other venues in the future?
Right now I am focused on managing the business I have smoothly… but watch this space.
If you wish to sample or learn more about the wines from Les Caves featured on The Laughing Heart wine list please contact us directly or visit our online shop.
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