Nacho López, in charge of business development in Bilbao Berria, had been talking with Quality of Spain about the past and the future of the spanish gastronomy and restaurants in the UK. Bilbao Berria, currently awarded as the best restaurant of the year in UK by the LUKAS awards, has achieve in a very sort time an excellent position in the huge gastronomy offer of London.
Do you feel that the business has changed over the last few years?
Yes, definitely. We came over here with a Spanish business idea, and this has grown and adapted as we have learnt about what people in London and the UK really expect from a restaurant.
What do you mean by Spanish idea?
Basically, we came over with the thought that business would be exactly the same as it was in Barcelona, and that we will sell a lot of pintxos as it is our main product, and we have thousands of them. But people actually prefer to order a la carte or tapas, and pintxos are not as popular as we expected. So, we have changed and adapted. We have an a la carte menu in the downstairs restaurant and upstairs a mini carte, which is more about having a few different dishes, and not just a couple of dishes from which you are full.
How has the range of gourmet products changed over the last few years?
I think that Londoners are really open minded in terms of tasting new products and trying different dishes, because they don’t have a strong gastronomy of their own, so they love many different cuisines. I think that the Spanish trend right now is becoming increasingly popular, as the quality of most of the restaurants here has grown over the years. People now have a fairly good knowledge of Spanish products, though this is mainly for tapas as most Spanish restaurants offer this.
What do you think you sell the most?
Customers like wine; they drink quite a lot of it. Sometimes people come in for sangria, which is really popular because consumers are generally familiar with it. Also, typical things like padron peppers, croquetas, and patatas bravas. We are trying to change this and introduce people to different dishes, more like a gastro restaurant, not a typical one. Obviously this is a long process because this idea is relatively new in London, so you need to educate people about the different products on offer and then see how they react.
So, can we say that consumers are easily influenced?
Definitely, they love to taste different things, even when they are a little bit unsure as to whether they will like it.
You spoke a lot about wine previously, which kind of wine do British people tend to choose?
Females definitely go for white, whereas men opt for red. We sell wines from all the regions of Spain in order to encourage people to try new ones. When we sold wines by the glass, people used to opt for Rioja for red and Albariño for white. So, what we do now is to change the choice of wines weekly, each week by the glass we have 3 whites, 3 reds, and one rose. This way, people can appreciate the difference between the wines across regions. Also, they are able to tell the difference between grapes from the same region.
In terms of bottles, people mostly go for Rivera and Rioja because it is what they know. If they ask for any information, we try to introduce them to wines that they are less familiar with, and usually they are open to a change.
What new trends in gourmet Spanish products have you seen?
I think that people are more familiar with the restaurants and the products in them here than gourmet trends. They don’t know a lot about the chef, for example Ferran Adriá. Of course, most of them know Nieves because they know that she has got a Michelin star.
Which channels do you use to gather information about Spanish cuisine?
Well, we bring most of our products over from Spain, such as hams, meats, etc. So we know where everything comes from, and we try to explain to people which kind of meat it is. For example, we explain the origin of the pork and so on. But this can sometimes be difficult, because customers tend to go for products that they have tried in other Spanish restaurants here.
Are you providing information to the people who communicate with the consumer?
Yes, of course. We have a bible that explains the contents of every dish, where the meat or fish comes from, the style and region from which it originates. Although most of the things here are basque, we do have influencers from the rest of Spain as well. Also, most of the guys here are Spanish and have been working in Spain for quite a long time, so they are very familiar with the kind of cuisine that we are selling.
Do you get information from any guru or influencer?
Well we have quite a long background and we used to get all of our products from farmers and makers. As such, we don’t use any kind of intermediary as we already know the products very well, and we have really high standards.
What do you think are the key factors that are going to make the British consumer buy quality products from Spain?
The key is in the marketing. For example, most of the olive oil that they sell here is Italian, and they don’t produce that many oils, so basically that means that they are buying from us and they are doing the packaging and selling it as Italian.
The same goes for the wine; we sell a lot of wine, to the same level as French or Italian wines, so obviously we need to know how to sell our products better. The producers should take more care about the image of the products in order to create a better perception of Spain and our main qualities. People need to be sure that the product is not like that of any other place in the world, and that Spain has such a variety of high quality food and drink.
Do you think that quality is important to your customers?
I think so; it’s what they’re looking for. They always want to learn and taste new things, but sometimes it is really difficult to show them quality. For example, imagine that all the pigs here in London come from a certain producer, and even if the taste of the pig is not of real quality, without an alternative, consumers know no any different.
So, even if you are offering something that tastes better from Spain, it can be hard to make people appreciate it because they are not used to the difference and can find it hard to recognise quality. Social media has a lot of influence as well, and blogs. If a blogger says that a certain pig is the best he has tried, then 90% of the people that read this are going to think the same, and will likely try out the restaurant that it is sold in. But if you are offering something that tastes different, or is more fatty, they are not going to appreciate the quality.
Have you ever tried to contact the social media gurus to speak about your restaurant?
Not to speak about the restaurant, no. We have had people here trying the products, and the feedback has been really good. We had a really good review from TheGayUK, and the girl from London Diaries was very impressed, and hopefully they will both come back and review us again as we are constantly growing over the months. But the most important review is from Trip Advisor, and this is difficult because anyone can review you, though this can also be good as we are always trying to ensure our products and service are the best.
How important do you think the quality is over the price? Do you think that it depends really on the quality of the products or in fact on influencers?
I think that it is mostly influencers, because people don’t always recognise quality, though it’s hard to say exactly as it depends on the product. For example, people can be willing to pay £20 for just one king prawn, which personally I don’t like because I think that the price is far too high for this. Then you have, let’s say Gamba de Palamós, which is probably the best red prawn in the world, and charge them £5 per each, and people will think that this is not good value.
So it depends on the product and how they are using it. But as I said, everything must always be explained in order for people to understand about what they are really consuming.
Bilbao Berria, 2 Regent Street, London SW1Y 4LR
Tel 020 7930 8408, http://www.bilbaoberria.co.uk/