Within the wine community, it is easy to get into a debate of Old World vs New World. Whilst some purists scoff at the idea of wines coming from south of the equator, one lady is leading the charge in proving the critics wrong.
“There’s just a spirit and personality that New Zealand wines exude,” says Melanie Brown, award-winning entrepreneur and founder of The Laundry, a new modern neighbourhood bistro and wine bar in Brixton. Brown has been at the forefront of the New World movement and crowdfunded her way to a spot at Pop Brixton for her wine shop and bar, The New Zealand Cellar. “Marlborough Sauvignon is the rock star,” she shares. “It’s instantly appealing and recognisable. Keep your eyes peeled for Chardonnay though…these wines are only going to get better and better.”
Brown’s new venture sits on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton Village, and gets its name from the old Edwardian building it sits in, which used to house a commercial steam press laundry in the early 1900s. Guests enter the red-brick building underneath the old sign offering shirt dyeing and cleaning.
The interiors reflect the marriage of old and new—antique furniture and exposed brickwork sit alongside marble tables and teal banquettes. The food menu is simple and ingredients-led, with a focus on local produce from trusted farmers. Dishes include heritage tomato bruschetta with basil; grilled broccoli with toasted hazelnuts, and chilli; and lamb rump with sweet potato mash and salsa verde.
Whilst the wine list puts Brown’s beloved New Zealand wines in the spotlight, it is curated in a way that encourages guests to discover new flavours with the confidence that they’ll always have some old favourites to enjoy too.
You’re originally from New Zealand. How did your upbringing influence your choice to work in hospitality?
New Zealand was a wicked place to grow up! I was very fortunate to be exposed to so many unique experiences, cultures, and attitudes. This forms a wonderful foundation of adaptability, or at least I think it does! My mum is Swiss, so I was lucky to have my father’s ‘can do’ attitude complemented by my mother’s Swiss-ness.
What was it like coming to the UK and having to build your name in a very competitive restaurant industry?
I was lucky that I’d been in the restaurant industry for more than 5 years before I embarked on my career in London. The skill and determination that were driven into me from a young age as I completed my apprenticeship in NZ gave me grounding and focus as I leapt into the industry in London. I couldn’t be more thankful for the aspirations and intuitive nature of my chef leaders who guided me as I left school.
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Tell me about your journey into the wine industry.
I was very fortunate to be welcomed to an incredible kitchen at The Providores; it was like a home after home for me. My partner at the time was—and still is—an exceptional chef and I had this enormous hunkering to learn and understand more about the wine industry. I quickly embarked on WSET courses and, with the support of Peter and Michael at The Providores, quickly found a passion that fuelled my fire.
When you returned to The Providores and Tapa Room as a bar manager, you successfully introduced a 100% New Zealand wine offering! How did you go about doing that?
Under the guidance and stewardship of Peter Gordon, we both saw the enormous recognition of NZ wine in London. Due to the space constraints (like most restaurants) we decided to lose our ‘other world’ section to make way for up-and-coming NZ wineries, creating our entirely NZ wine offering which became one of the biggest NZ wine offerings in London. We knew this list was special, and were thrilled that it became revered as a NZ Wine HQ in London.
What made you decide to start your own business? What was the process of launching that first venture like?
The decision was easy, the execution was a tad more arduous than I imagined! Looking back, I think you become naïve to the hard work as you are driven to create something…whether it’s an experience to a member of our team or a hospitality experience in one of our venues, or the experience of the journey in which it took to arrive here, this process is one that inspires me daily.
What makes New Zealand wine some of the best in the world?
I believe New Zealand wine has attitude, like nowhere else in the world. This is partly due to its incredible terroir; being completed surrounded by water at the bottom of the world provides a certain tenacity. It’s also made in a cool climate provided by the sea breeze, with no vineyard being further than 90 km off the coast!
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How would you describe the philosophy behind The Laundry?
The philosophy at The Laundry is simply driven by the ability to curate exceptional restaurant experiences. So often restaurants are too consumed by a food element or a wine style or the design and architecture of a building. For me, it’s all about creating an incredible experience from the moment you walk through the door.
How does The Laundry differ from anything you have ever done before?
In every way! A tapestry of food, drinks and experiences—whereas I’m used to specialising solely in wine—and in a simply magnificent building. We are custodians for a moment in time here and I’m proud to honour the integrity of such an incredible building.
What is your favourite item on the menu right now and which wine would you pair with it?
Beef Tartare, triple cooked chips, and a glass of Langhe Nebbiolo. This combination is the ultimate mouth f**k. The silky texture of Nebbiolo coupled with sharp, meaty melange of retired dairy cow beef, capers, fermented chilli and prawn oil. Umami off the scale!
When you get home tonight, which bottle of wine are you cracking open?
I’m all about the rosé at the moment—I know, I know, it’s the middle of winter—but there is something about a rosé with a little more texture, a bit of complexity. I’ve been extremely honoured this year to produce a collection of wines from New Zealand, called New Press wines, and we’ve created a rosé that it exactly to this tasting.
With stints at Pop Brixton and your new bistro being based in Brixton too, what are some of your favourite neighbourhood gems?
I am totally head over heels in love with Naughty Piglets—the food and wine are outstanding. I’m also a huge fan of my original neighbours from Pop Brixton, Kricket—the most enticing Indian food and cocktails south of the river. And then there is Salon—Nicholas Balfe is a chef genius, and their natural wine shop is insane.