Honey Spencer: “Our aim is to undersell and over deliver”

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Honey Spencer and Charlie Sims on their Sune natural wine restaurant in Hackney

Related tags Sune Charlie Sims Honey Spencer Sommelier Wine Hackney

Together with her husband Charlie Sims, the top natural wine sommelier has opened an understated-yet-quietly-ambitious neighbourhood restaurant on Hackney’s Broadway Market.

How do you pronounce the name of your new restaurant? 

Honey Spencer:​ It is pronounced like ‘sooner’. The restaurant takes its name from the old Nordic word for son but it’s also a nod to my former boss and mentor sommelier Sune Rosforth (a close friend of Noma's René Redzepi). He played a key role in bringing natural wine out of France and into Scandinavia. Noma and its approach to both food and wine obviously went on to become extremely influential. But, alongside all that, he is the most benevolent, humble and unassuming character. We want to bring that understatement to Sune. Our aim is to undersell and over deliver. 

How long has this project been in the works?

HS:​ Charlie and I have been working in hospitality for 20 years. We always wanted to have our own restaurant.​ A plan has been in the works since we met about 12 years ago (at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in Shoreditch). We went on to work all over the world. But when we returned to London during the pandemic and had a kid we started seriously looking for a site and some investment. It’s happened very quickly; the whole thing has taken three months from finding the site and the build only took seven weeks. 
Charlie Sims:​ Sune has been in my head for a very long time. Honey and I have always wanted to run the sort of place that people will come back to again and again. We want people to feel like it’s their place. Sune isn’t a one-off fine dining experience you might go to every six months, it’s somewhere you can pop into for a glass of wine and a snack or have a special occasion with your family. We’ll also be serving coffee in the morning, as we’re here anyway so it makes sense. For us, the whole point of a neighbourhood restaurant is that it is a versatile space. 

Are you local to the area?

CS:​ Yes, we live close by near Victoria Park. We want to be part of the community we are serving. The location is perfect for us. Our search was concentrated in Hackney but we were also looking a bit further afield in places like Stoke Newington, Newington Green and Islington. 
HS:​ The impact of the pandemic on the dining scene was in some ways a positive for us. We always thought that if we wanted to do something we would need to have something more central.

How will you balance running the restaurant and looking after your son?

HS:​ We have found a miraculous solution. We have someone living with us who is helping out with Leonard a couple of nights a week in return for a severely discounted rent. She has also done some of the artwork for the restaurant and her boyfriend, who is a carpenter, has made the tables.  

Honey, will you continue to oversee the wine lists for Studio Paskin?  

HS:​ Yes. Sune is only open for four days a week at the moment, although the plan is for it to eventually become either a six or seven day a week operation. I have consolidated my role as wine director down to one day a week. It’s worked perfectly. I have been slowly installing a  strong team around me who just need a bit of mentoring and training every now and then. I will keep doing it for as long as I can.

You are both from a front-of-house background. What does that mean for this project? 

CS:​ Sune will be front-of-house led. We want it to be as warm and friendly as possible. Michael [Robins, Sune’s chef] is on the same wavelength. Like us, he believes that, while food is extremely important, the places you go back to again and again are the ones where you get an amazingly warm welcome. That is the stamp we want to put on it. 
HS:​ We started our careers just as the industry was switching from restaurateur-led restaurants to chef-led restaurants. We have been involved in some chef-led restaurants that have been mind-blowing and game-changing. But some have been disastrous because the chefs behind them have not understood how to run a restaurant properly. 

Tell us about the food at Sune

CS:​ The menu is quite tight. We offer a dozen or so plates in total that will be changing very regularly once we get going. Within that are five or six small plates, a couple of pasta dishes, some larger main courses and a few desserts. The main influence is European but the menu is a little more eclectic and globally-influenced than the likes of Brawn, Primeur and Westerns Laundry, which are all places we absolutely love. For example, one of our most popular main courses right now is a grilled pork chop that comes with a sauce made with prawn stock flavoured with lemongrass. The neighbourhood restaurants of Sydney, which are laid-back but serve ambitious, high-end food, have been a big influence. 

What about the wine list. Presumably it’s exclusively natural? 

HS:​ Yes. I started out working with more classic wines at Fifteen and at Sager + Wilde but I fell down the natural wine rabbit hole in Copenhagen and have yet to emerge. In fact, I am in the process of writing a book about natural wine. It’s been super interesting to watch the trajectory of natural wine. Not so long ago a lot of the wines weren’t necessarily that good. They were a little wild and unapproachable. But now there are lot of producers making fine, very clean wines. The wine list at Sune tells that story. All the wines on the list are full of life and vibrant.

What does being outside of central London mean for the list’s pricing? 

HS:​ We have worked hard to get a really decent house wine on the list for under £30 (both are made by Spanish producer Finca Venta Don Quijote) because restaurants are often judged on the quality of their house wine. In order to get it at the price we need we have had to work closely with our supplier and commit to listing some of their more top-end wines. Lots of central London restaurants are now not listing any wines for under £40. That’s not because they are greedy. Prices are not what they were due to inflation, Brexit and duty rises, and operating costs are through the roof. 

How many wines are on your list? 

HS:​ It’s a medium-sized list - we have around 100 wines. It’s mostly Old World. There are a handful of wines from outside Europe, but they have to work extra hard to earn their place. We are offering around a dozen wines by the glass. We’re not using a preservation system. Sune is the type of place where we want people to ask us what they should drink. 

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