At the start of 2019, Max Venning of cult Dalston cocktail spot Three Sheets and globetrotting hospitality expert Brodie Meah opened Top Cuvée. A fun, youthful wine bar and bistro tucked just off Blackstock Road, it quickly became a neighbourhood staple. But 12 months into its run, its Italian chefs got out their phones and showed Meah how restaurants across their homeland were being shut as a response to the spread of coronavirus. ‘As soon as we had ten cases in Britain I knew we’d get to that stage too,’ says Meah. ‘We were panicking, for sure. Lockdown hadn’t been announced here, but we made the decision to close the restaurant because we had the crystal ball that was the two Italian lads in the kitchen.’
After a series of crisis meetings, Top Cuvée realised that if it was to keep the business alive throughout the UK’s own impending lockdown, its only option was to transform the restaurant into something new. The day after its last plate was cleared, it began selling wine and at-home meals, putting the word out via social media. Deciding on an approach that wouldn’t just keep it afloat, but help the local drinks industry, it renamed itself Shop Cuvée and reached out to friends at shuttered London bars, asking if they had any wine or beer they needed help shifting.
First on board was Old Street’s Tayēr + Elementary, which suggested a colab mixed drink in order to work through its spirits stock. ‘No one’s gonna buy a bottle of Midori,’ reasons Meah, ‘but they will go for a bespoke cocktail.’ Tayēr’s swanky Palo Santo Gimlet was the first, and soon Shop Cuvée was working with east London’s Scout, Nightjar and Oriole, as well as stocking Mr Lyan’s existing range of classy pre-mixes and its own range, supplied by Three Sheets. ‘We called it the “house” series, which is where they were all being consumed,’ says Meah. The most popular is the elegant-looking bottle of French 75, but the classic Margarita is hot on its heels. Venning proudly calls Cuvée’s online offering ‘the best bottled cocktail list in the world’ and he might just be right.
Though the restaurant is now up and running again, such is the success of Shop Cuvée that its emergency business plan isn’t going anywhere. It’s still offering same-day delivery by cycle courier and you can also get drop-offs at Clissold Park and Highbury Fields. ‘It’s almost too popular!’ says Venning of the picnic booze delivery service, with chilled vinho verde guaranteed to arrive within the hour. ‘We always fight to do those ones,’ laughs Meah, ‘because you show up to a group of people just going “Yesss!!”’
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