The name Fernandez & Wells. Ring any bells? Trigger any memories of a glass of white and a light bite, followed by an aromatic, artisan coffee sipped in a café bar strongly reminiscent of one you frequented on a recent European trip?
Just for you, MST decided to do a little detective work, which led us to Soho’s own Tin Pan Alley – Denmark Street and genial former journalist Rick Wells, the guvnor. He parted company with original co-founder Jorge Fernandez a few years ago now but the name endures, as does the ever-popular combination of simple food, wine and coffee.
Wells explains its provenance: “The concept came from a creative standpoint, not so much a business plan. When Jorge and I met in 2006 the independent coffee revolution was just starting; we added to that the idea of simple, good quality foods that we loved – good bread, good cheese, good ham, good wine. What you might like to have at home but we would share with friends and customers. So it was a very unpretentious notion.”
And it’s a notion that’s endured. The menu has stayed largely the same over the more than decade that’s passed since Fernandez & Wells began. An impeccable range of cured meats, chorizos and morcillas from the Iberian Peninsula and Italy is complemented by a seasonally changing array of cheeses from all over Europe.
When it comes to wine, Wells is a huge fan of the continental variety. “I’ve always seen wines as something you have with food so for me European wines generally tend to be more subtle and gentle, particularly in terms of alcohol, so the other flavours don’t overwhelm the food.I also bear in mind the menu when it comes to pairing. We’re not a restaurant, we just have simple cafe style food. So you might have sardines on toast and to go with that a nice dry wine from Northern Spain, Galicia for example. That’s the kind of thing I always have in mind.”
While the initial two cafes were located in Soho central (Lexington and Beak Streets), when the time came for further expansion the decision was made to venture outwards. Today the four Fernandez & Wells establishments are situated in Somerset House, Exhibition Road, Dover Street and finally the Denmark Street premises, their last Soho bastion.
This choice of location – after the closure of the two original venues – was an almost serendipitous one, as Wells explains: “We came across this across this because we opened a big place in Somerset House. Over the years, we spent a lot of time walking between the two locations and we noticed this site, which had been a job centre specialising in the catering trade, coincidentally. I love it because it’s a very historic area of London – you’ve got St Giles’s Church, Centrepoint and the street itself – Tin Pan Alley and guitar shops, It’s got a real sense of history and people know it for that. It is changing though… the whole of Denmark St is being refurbished so it’s really been quite tough for the last year or two year but hopefully it will be a lovely area when it’s finished. Just got to be patient.”
And while you’re waiting… the cheese board and a nice rioja perhaps?
Written by Gillian Smith
Fernandez & Wells: 1-3 Denmark St, London WC2H 8LP
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