Oh La La! (La Zouch)

Oh La La! (La Zouch)

The name might suggest a certain French flavour but La Zouch is a quintessentially English restaurant\rselling some rather exceptional whiskies. Richard Jones pulls up a chair.

Places | 10 Nov 2006 | Issue 60 | By Richard Jones

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Call me a philistine but until recently I’d never given much consideration to the strangely Gallic sounding name of Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire.It transpires that the origins are disappointingly straightforward, if rather ancient.This market town was known simply as ‘Ashby’ until it became the property of the Zouche family from Brittany in the 12th Century following the Norman conquest of England.The semi-eponymous La Zouch restaurant has been operating in Ashby de la Zouch for over 40 years and, despite these French connections, the town and eatery both remain firmly Anglo Saxon in character.“There aren’t many of us about nowadays,” begins Geoff Utting, owner of La Zouch along with his wife Lynne. “We have a few continental dishes but everything else on our three menus is English in style.” Geoff Utting took over La Zouch nearly 25 years ago and initially it operated purely as a restaurant. That altered during the recession of the early 1990s.“During those difficult times we decided we wanted to change things a little bit and move into retail,” Geoff explains. “We’d already had requests from some of our customers at the time to buy wine from us, but we also wanted to be different from everyone else and help promote drinks that were made in the United Kingdom, whisky in particular.It was then that our paths crossed with the local representative of Gordon and MacPhail.” That meeting ultimately helped create one of most comprehensive and compelling ranges of whisky to be found in the Midlands.Today La Zouch boasts in excess of 300 single malts from Scotland as well as a decent choice of blends, Irish whiskies and bourbons.“We’ve built our selection up over the years,” continues Geoff Utting. “You can’t just go in and spend large amounts of money on stock in the initial stages. So we found out what people wanted and built up the range steadily.” From that we can deduce that the customers at La Zouch are fond of five distilleries in particular: Tobermory (Ledaig), Glengoyne, Isle of Arran, Bruichladdich and Benromach. “Yes, we’ve tried to concentrate on stocking the full range from a limited number of distilleries rather than have one or two expressions from everywhere,” Geoff observes.“It can be difficult when these producers release lots of new expressions in a short space of time, but we try our best to list them all.” In reality that means you’ll find no fewer than 10 different expressions of Arran including the Marsala cask finish and 10 year old; the likes of Benromach 1973, Organic and Tokaji Wood Finish 21 year old; and Glengoyne Spring 1972 and Millennium 2000AD.As you might expect, it is not simply the customers of La Zouch who enjoy these ‘focus’ distilleries. “Around 30 years ago I went up to Scotland and discovered Glengoyne for the first time and its been one of my favourite whiskies ever since,” Geoff recalls. “There’s not a whisky that I don’t enjoy to be honest,” he explains. “There’s an occasion to drink every particular style or expression.” The breadth of the range outside the core distilleries attests to this philosophy.Since he made the move into whisky retail around 12 years ago, Geoff Utting has slowly transformed the image and reputation of La Zouch. “We’re a total mixture between restaurant and shop now,” he notes. “We have people who come into the shop and then dine in the restaurant and vice versa.” The business is spread over two levels with a retail showroom on one floor and dining areas on the other. The private dining rooms are perfect for tastings and La Zouch runs an active programme of whisky and wine events accompanied by food. Around 20 whiskies are also available to enjoy in the bar area of the restaurant as Geoff Utting is always looking to share his love of the subject. “I find it difficult to understand why anyone would want to buy a bottle of whisky, put it away in a cupboard and not want to taste it. I firmly believe that whisky is there to be enjoyed and shared with good friends.” La Zouch
Kilwardby Street, Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire LE65 2FQ
Tel: 01530 412536
Tuesday – Saturday 10am to 4pm re-opens 6pm to 11pm Sunday 11am to 4pm Closed Monday
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