In times when pubs have often lost their individuality or have been converted to restaurants it is lovely to find a pub that offers the chance to play board games and darts or maybe watch the Six Nations but the Old China Hand is more than this – it is truly unique. The fabulous hand painted street art outside the pub is perhaps a hint to what surprises may be awaiting the visitor.

Many of the vineyards featured in this magazine have amazing stories to tell and Rowena has gone to great lengths to stock products that celebrate stories from the British Isles. There is nothing in this pub that has come from outside this region including beer, spirits, snacks, cider and of course wine.

“People don’t believe it when they hear that the only products we stock are from the British Isles. One customer said ‘your wines can’t be’ but they are,’” she said with pride. When people ask why? Rowena has a perfect reply “I really want to promote products from the British Isles,” she said in a matter of fact way.

Rowena explained that previously she had a restaurant and a bed and breakfast in Harrogate and she felt very nervous when people ordered wine. “People could be very difficult about wine,” she said. To counter this problem Rowena explained that she started to buy English wine, “I did my research and knew the grape varieties and what they should taste like and people didn’t always know as much as me, so I was in the driving seat,” she said.

Rowena has a passion for the food and drink sector in London. “As soon as there is a review of a restaurant I am there,” she said. This passion is evident in the diversity of products that are stocked at the Old China Hand. The amount of effort that it takes to pull together a pub with only products from the British Isles is immense and Rowena is always on the lookout for new suppliers.

Rowena has visited vineyards in Somerset, Dorset and Sussex and will visit tastings and wine fairs in order to research wines for the pub. She also undertakes a lot of internet research to find suppliers. “I am also very proud of our beers. We rotate our beers and I work really hard to find the right beers. We have a stout that people really enjoy and I tried so many before I settled on this one.”

One of the biggest problems that Rowena faces is getting wines at the right price point. Here she praises Knightor, who have worked with the Old China Hand to develop a price point that both parties are happy with. Knightor were willing to work with Rowena because they really appreciated what she is trying to do in this busy metropolitan street. In fact thanks to Knightor, customers at the Old China Hand are able to buy a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon wine grown in England.

As a pub there is a limit to what Rowena can charge for a wine, “I don’t think our customers are cheap here on the whole, our customers are willing to pay a reasonable amount if they enjoy a wine,” she said loyally. 

Talking about rosé Rowena explained that it is very popular but that it is quite difficult to sell a dark rosé. This is a point that crops up in conversation with wineries and retailers on a regular basis and it appears that even here wine drinkers are led by their eyes.

Many of Rowena’s customer are locals, about 90% are returning customers. “When I say I wouldn’t swap my customers for the world, I really mean it, they are lovely,” she said with warmth in her voice.

Talking about introducing new customers to the wines that are available Rowena explained: “When a customer asks for wine and red wine in particular, I always say I have two reds and I give them a healthy taste of each before I tell them they are English reds. The Italian and the French visitors are the most difficult. I always say to them I enjoy and drink your wine so why not try this wine but they will never say it is good,” she said with a smile.

The choice of wines is substantial and both still and sparkling wines from suppliers such as Biddenden, Knightor, Silverhand and Kingscote ensure that Rowena’s customers will have a wine to suit them.

One area that Rowena would like to increase is her offering of Welsh Wine. The Welsh National Choir will soon visit the pub for a music night so it was great that Rowena was able to reconnect with Montgommery Vineyard at the recent Welsh Wine tasting at the London Welsh Centre. “They had slipped off the list after Covid-19,” Rowena explained. It was nice to see first hand trade tastings working well for both vineyards, suppliers and ultimately the end consumer.

What Rowena has done at the Old China Hand is make products from the British Isles the central focus. To make these products a regular part of everyday life in a bustling part of the metropolis is really a fantastic achievement and I hope that in time many will follow where she is leading.

8 Tysoe Street, Clerkenwell EC1r 4RQ

Wednesday – Saturday from 5pm