Opening five years after the launch of his original King's Cross venue, Richard Bigg is opening Camino Monumento, in the Cityâ€™s Mincing Lane. Douglas Blyde meets him as he applies the finishing touches to the site.
Whatâ€™s your design philosophy?
People are tiring of minimalism. With our designer (The Formation Creative Consultants), we've roughed-up a perfectly nice building. In the process we exposed pipes, the largest and brightest of which I intend to adorn with the old Spanish toast: 'Salud, Amor, Pesetas'.
Why did you include a keystone?
I liked the one in a granite arch at my grandmaâ€™s garden in Jersey and wanted to mark the year I turned a formerly bland Bertorelli outlet into a place for fun.
How important is sustainability to you?
Extremely. Executive Chef Nacho del Campo and I insist on the highest possible animal welfare standards and strict provenance. We source all fish from the British Isles, mostly from family firms in Cornwall. Some Spanish products like jamÃ³n, though, must be imported; without it we wouldnâ€™t be a Spanish restaurant!
Tell me about the wine in Camino.
I try to make our list accessible, both in price and through my descriptions. I put myself in customersâ€™ shoes, remembering theyâ€™ve come to enjoy themselves rather than be bamboozled by fancy terminology. Service temperature is a major focus; Cava and Fino must be super cold, and weâ€™ll serve reds at 17-18 degrees, which was the original â€˜room temperatureâ€™ before homes were centrally-heated.
How does Camino Monumento differ from Camino Kingâ€™s Cross and your Canary Wharf operation?
I used to find the idea of chains anathema. But I never take a cookie cutter approach and with each site, thereâ€™s evolution and quirks. At Monumento, weâ€™ve included wire bottle cages and Andalucian floor tiles similar to those at Pepito, my Kingâ€™s Cross sherry bar. The counter, which is topped with a little ridge acting as a dam against spillages, is made of rusted then lacquered steel panels. The dining roomâ€™s curved wooden ceiling gives the effect of being inside a barrel. Thirty-two of Spainâ€™s wine areas are depicted in stencils on the back wall of the bar, while rare vintage posters adorn some of the walls.
Where do you get your inspiration?
From many places. If I lived in a cave, Iâ€™d have no ideas! Our chairs, which loosely resemble saddles, are based on examples at Buenos Aires restaurant, CabaÃ±a Las Lilas. In the Ladies, weâ€™ve provided chalk and blackboard paint walls for inspiration (â€˜Expresate; Pared de la InspiraciÃ³nâ€™). Itâ€™s an idea borrowed from a bar beside the beautiful bay of La Concha, San Sebastian.
What aspect are you most pleased with?
The mural in the SalÃ³n de Fiesta is by a Bristol-based firm run by a friend of Banksy. Part brush work, part spray can â€“ the results are incredibly realistic. I love the suggestion of a castle and the slogan, â€˜AlegrÃaâ€™, which means happiness.
Where do you source your paraphernalia?
I hired a van to bring back wrought-iron railings, ancient copper cauldrons, frosted demijohns and an old wooden barrow from Madridâ€™s Sunday market, El Rastro. I used a new wheelbarrow to load them, and came back with an old one! The wardrobe doors came from the huge almacÃ©n (warehouse) of a characterful couple in Granada. Sometimes you think you get a bargain. But, although those doors cost fewer than â‚¬20 each, I spent that figure several times over to adapt each of them - the same scenario with old toolboxes for cutlery, which the builders rather over cleaned-up.
From where does your passion for Spain come?
After dismal school results, I became an office junior, earning the grand sum of Â£5,000 a year. I spent it immediately, sinking into debt, paying my way out through bartending at night. Disillusioned with the city, in the height of summer, I drove across Spain in a black mini. In less than a fortnight, Iâ€™d grown addicted to the country, and soon headed to South America.