The finest nose in Europe is found in a Winchester bistro

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The Independent Online
When Europe's champion sommelier chooses to earn his living in a provincial English city, it cannot be denied that a food and wine revolution has taken off in Britain.

Gerard Bassett, the wine expert who part-owns the Hotel du Vin et Bistro in Winchester moved to the UK 13 years ago but believes he is part of a growing trend of European chefs and sommeliers to come over to Britain.

According to the Good Food Guide, published earlier this month there has never been a more exciting time to drink and dine out in Britain. "Restaurants in Britain are doing nothing short of a grand job ... At long last this country really gets a buzz from eating out and at long last we have restaurants to cherish and be proud of on a scale never before experienced," said Jim Ainsworth, the guide's editor.

The British are spending twice as much on eating out as they did 30 years ago according to the Economic and Social Research Council. More than one in five households eat out at least once a week.

It is not just food. Britain is widely recognised as the capital of the world's wine market with wines from around 50 countries imported here. And foreign chefs and sommeliers, traditionally sniffy about les rosbifs' gourmet achievements are now coming here in order to learn from the British success.

M Bassett came to England first in 1983 and moved to Winchester two years ago: "A lot of the French and the Italians come to Britain to learn the language. If you want to have a career in catering you need to do this." he said yesterday.

"A few people always used to stay. But now there is no better place to learn about wine than England. It is not like there are many vineyards here like there are in Italy, France or Spain but there is nowhere like England where there is a choice of so many wines."

At his restaurant and hotel the Hotel du Vin et Bistro, M Bassett has a cellar full of 200 wines as well as serving a daily selection, where some of the most popular with his customers have been Israeli, Argentinian and Chilean. The English tend to be very curious about wine and they are also more willing to be adventurous. In France there is not the same appreciation. The French have the attitude "we know all about wine, we are French". The English do not have that attitude - they want to know more and more."

There is a big, big difference since I moved to Britain. Ten years ago people were mainly going out at weekends. Now we find ourselves fully booked up even on Monday nights. It is very, very busy."

"The English are more open-minded," said Anthony Rose, wine correspondent for The Independent and co-author of Grapevine, the definitive winebuyers guide. "It has become much more exciting in the last two or three years as the market has developed."

According to the new edition of Grapevine, published earlier this week, the British have turned their backs on Lambrusco, Liebfraumilch and Beaujolais in favour of the more adventurous New World wines. Germany has recently suffered a 12 per cent slump in market share and where five years ago two in five bottles of wine sold in Britain now it is down to only one in four.

"Britain is the window on the world's wine," said a spokesman for the Wine and Spirits Association. "Anyone who is an expert knows you have to come to the UK."

Gordon Ramsay, owner of the Aubergine restaurant, said he was delighted at the trend: "Over the last 18 months there has been an influx of Spanish and French staff coming to learn in Britain. This is a big turnaround and this seems to be the place to be. The majority of my dining room staff are now French. Britain is having tremendous success. My restaurant is booked up two months in advance."

And Yves Sauboua, the [French] president of the Sommeliers Club of Great Britain said that the majority of his members were French and they were here to stay: "We come to the UK to learn the language, to stay a couple of months. Then we realise the wine market is fantastic here and you think, Why go back to France when you have a good job in the best market here?"

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