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Harris quality

Mark Harris is an important name in the restaurant world, and he's using that as a platform to promote whisky, too. Dominic Roskrow reports
By Dominic Roskrow
Ask Mark Harris what he does for a living and he may well hesitate a little before answering.

In fact he is involved in three businesses and to a lesser or greater extent, whisky straddles all of them. Not only that, he’s operating at the top end of business and at just 34 years old, he’s definitely firmly parked in the ‘ones to watch’ category.
Harris spends his time between his London base and The Cotswolds and is a busy man, his days long and full. But he’s man with a clear sense of purpose and one of his objectives is to help bring whisky to a new audience.

Harris’ interest stems from when he worked for The Capitol Hotel in Knightsbridge London.

“The head barman at the time David Thompson used to take me to Milroys in Soho where I would spend my weekly tips on a bottle of whisky. The whiskies were so expertly recommended that the shop manger would later become my mentor in all things whisky.

“My time at The Capitol was fascinating. David introduced me to many of the characters in the whisky business. When I started started at The Capitol there were only eight malts. When I left, there were more than 40.

“Owner David Levin said that if I managed to sell a bottle of Royal Lochnagar Select Reserve at £24 a shot 16 years ago then The Capitol would drastically increase its stock of whisky and I sold it.”

Mayfair restaurant owned by Simon Parker Bowles. During one planning meeting the owner suggested they make one side of the bar more interesting.

Harris suggested extending the whisky choice.

“The next day Simon popped over to the restaurant and gave me a blank Coutts cheque and told me to go and buy a selection of whiskies for the bar.

I was in heaven.”

By now Harris was a full converted whisky nut and spent any time he could find visiting distilleries and meeting whisky makers. The final piece fell in to place when he saw the opportunity to launch his own independent bottling company.

“While on a family holiday my father brought up the subject of starting a family business and from here, whisky took off. After a great deal of time, effort and money, Harris Whisky was born.”

But Harris hadn’t given up the day job, and he’s had a particularly busy two years, possibly a little to the detriment of the whisky business. He left Green’s and went to work for Searcy’s at the top of London’s famous gherkin. His real ambition, though, was to have a consultancy business and when Green’s offered to take him on in such a capacity for three days a week, he set up Harris Restaurant Consultants, a company designed to provide high end secret customer feedback and advise restaurants on how to improve themselves, right up to Michelin star level.

Part of the work has involved advising on drinks, and in particular, whisky. He has chosen the whisky for the gherkin and Green’s. He is firmly of the view that whisky is in the early stages of a renaissance in Britain and that young people are turning to it. There is a real opportunity for restaurants here, he says.

“I think that dedicated whisky rooms are the next logical step forward,” he says.

“Just as in wine the service makes for a better experience, I believe that the same principles should work with whiskies.”

Now Harris hopes to move his whisky business forward again. He’s drawn to light, quite young whiskies often from lesser known distilleries, and he believes he has discovered a niche in the market.

“I want my whiskies to appeal to the novice and the connoisseur alike,” he says.

“I now have time to take the company to the next level.“


Profile



Name: Mark Andrew Harris
Age: 34
Home: London
Favourite whiskies: The Harris range of course! Adelphi Rosebank 9 years old, Ardbeg 1977
Favourite distilleries: Macduff (Glen Deveron), Balmenach Currently drinking: Harris Dalluaine and Teacher’s