1. The owner, Andrew Fishwick, is a bit of a charming thesp. In fact, he ran his own theatre production company after moving to London to train as an actor at Guildhall School of Theatre & drama. “I had West End success with the Oliviers and What’s On Stage awards,” he says.
2. But he kind of messed things up a bit after that. “I’d never stolen a Mars Bar before but made a very stupid mistake when I was very young”, is how he sums up a claim for a false tax rebate to save his second ever production, which was struggling. The mistake in fact led to six months in the nick. “I lost everything – the company, my career, everything I’d worked for.”
4. He had no idea of the scale of it all. “My business plan had 24 staff and now we have 64 on the payroll. It’s become a bigger beast than we ever imagined, which is of course a nice problem to have.”
5. The original concept was very simple – a place that Andrew and his wife Mary Jane would like to come for a drink or dinner. “I originally hoped to open in St John’s Wood as I’ve always believed it was horrendously under-served for anywhere good to eat or drink. But we found Maida Vale – the location is great: we’re by the canal and near the tube.”6. The Truscott Arms in Maida Vale made this year’s annual Top 50 gastropubs as the highest new entry at #10 – and the highest placing for a London gastropub. It also won the Great British Roast Dinners award. “Since then we do 500 covers across three floors every Sunday,” he says, beaming.
7. Andrew and his family live off England’s Lane, which is why he had “to open somewhere people want to go to” in Belsize Park. “There’s nothing in the immediate area. We love it as a London village, especially with kids. And we were looking for a second site, everywhere from Hampstead to Columbia Road – where we got gazumped – and lots of others. One day we saw Chinese restaurant the Weng Wah House and I thought, ‘this is awesome’.”
8. He concedes Franco Manca are “smashing it”. “That Haverstock Hill site’s been the kiss of death for every brand that ever entered. Except them.”
9. The Truscott Cellar’s interior has been designed by a major talent. Michel Shranz Design and Architecture have worked with both Tracy Emin and Damian Hirst. “It’ll be set over two sleek floors with a sustainable British wood theme and plenty of dark marble.”
10. They’ve cut away the ceiling, so you can lounge on “a floating mezzanine”. “There’s a beautiful nine-metre single piece of oak as a bar: dark, quite sexy.”
11. Expect cocktails and beer but vino as the focus: “We’ll have 380 wines with 70 to 80 by the glass, using the corovin system. The idea is everything from classics to new and emerging indie producers.”12. Hungry? Don’t worry, you can soak it up too. “Our head chef at both Truscotts is Aidan McGee, formerly of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Launceston Place, who has devised a menu of small British plates and delectable sharing dishes.”
13. But it’s small plates to share not sit-down fine dining. “It’s more casual here than at the sister pub. But some of our signature dishes will be available: the Piggy Board – crispy pigs’ ears, pigs’ head roulettes and puffed pigskin is a lovely little beer snack, or beef chips, slow braised beef chin wrapped in polenta and fried. There’ll also be the slow-braised beef cheek with mash, butternut squash salad, a whole glazed gammon on the bar, British charcuterie, a cheese board, and tapas. Most things we hope will be about a tenner or under.”
14. He’s got his eye on rolling this one out. “Yes, neighbourhood bars are something we’d like to do more of.”
15. Finally, you’ll get lots of personal tips on what wine to order. “Right now, I recommend American Oregon Pinot Noir, from Finger Lakes, nice but a bit expensive, or old eastern block countries such as Armenia. And there’s amazing Chardonnay from Niagara in Canada.”