Co-owner and wine buyer – High Timber
South African-born Neleen Strauss, co-owner of Thameside restaurant High Timber, takes a no-nonsense approach to the fine art of food-and-wine pairing. Becoming a sommelier, she told the drinks business, was “the natural process of being a waitress first and just getting deeper into the wine side of things. Food is better with wine, and people are also generally better with wine – so why not do what I love for a living?”
Outspoken and direct, Strauss made headlines in 2012 for hand-delivering a bill for £90,000 to the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson to protest against alleged losses of trade during the Olympics, claiming that turnover was knocked by 80% over the fortnight as workers abandoned The City during the tournament. “This is – give or take a few hundred pounds – what the Olympic Games have cost me in turnover since they began,” she said at the time. “And I have asked Boris Johnson to pay the bill personally, not from the seemingly limitless coffers that supported London 2012.”
Strauss loves working in London because it is “a diverse city that accepts anyone and anything”, but her fondest wine memories come from her homeland. She told us about the first time winery boss Gary Jordan spent a day with her at his Family’s estate in Stellenbosch, taking her through every stage of their winemaking process. And she ays her own fantasy vineyard would be in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, next to the Kruger Park.
She reckons she would be working as a game ranger if it weren’t for her love of vino. A lot has changed in the UK since Strauss moved here in 2001, most notably the consumers’ knowledge and interest in New World wines. “The web helped a lot for the average UK wine drinker to realise there’s life outside of France,” she says.
“The price point of fabulous wines from the New World also helped their sense of adventure.” The biggest lesson she’s learned on the job, like many of our influencers, is that the lesson is never over. If she could go back in time, she would tell her younger self to “be humble, learn, don’t assume and listen. And never be a loudmouth about cricket…”