Beverage director – Portland and Clipstone
As the beverage director for the expanding empire of Will Lander and Daniel Morgenthau, which includes the Michelin-starred Portland, Clipstone and Quality Chop House restaurants, James Fryer has his hands full, curating three of London’s best wine lists. But a career in wine wasn’t a given for this would-be web developer, whose path to vinous enlightenment began Down Under. He says: “I’ve worked in various forms of the hospitality industry in New Zealand and Australia since I was 13 but my professional love of wine occurred more recently, while working for the Grossi group in Melbourne under the guidance of head sommelier Mark Protheroe.”
Working at Melbourne’s Florentino, Fryer immersed himself in the local wine scene, even producing a few of his own wine bottles. “Nothing of great note,” he hastens to add. “I was always just happy to have not made vinegar.” But the seed was sown. It wasn’t until 2014 that Fryer made the leap to London, but with the initial ambition of carving out a career in web development. However, the financial realities of living in London, and the allure of wine, soon put paid to that idea. “Luckily, a brief stint at the River Café helped reignite my love for this profession so I decided to seek out a more permanent role in wine.” Portland, in Marylebone, opened in 2015 with the aim of cooking the “best produce, simply but with imagination and plenty of care”, and today has a Michelin star to its name.
At its helm is Will Lander, the son of wine maven Jancis Robinson MW and restaurant critic Nick Lander, and Daniel Morgenthau. “I was introduced to Will and Daniel just as they were opening their first joint venture (Portland), and instantly felt at home with their ambition for great service, food and wine without the pretensions the term ‘fine dining’ can sometimes bring to the equation,” says Fryer. In 2016 a sister restaurant to Portland opened, named Clipstone, just around the corner.
A more casual setting, Clipstone is a modern bistro in Fitzrovia, where half of its wine list is available by the glass or carafe, with prices starting at £4.50 a glass. Fryer was also instrumental in the relaunch of The Quality Chop House in Clerkenwell in 2017, which in 2018 saw its footprint expand, with sister bakery and wine shop transformed into a late-night wine bar, complementing the full restaurant next door. A £15 corkage is charged on any bottles bought from the shop.