Five minutes with… Laura Aitken and Kiki Evans

The founders of wine bar and shop Unwined on what they will be drinking at Christmas and why opening presents calls for fizz

Food and Drink 20 Dec 2021

Laura Aitken and Kiki Evans of Unwined

Laura Aitken and Kiki Evans of Unwined

Can you introduce us to Unwined?

Kiki: We created Unwined as a friendly and relaxed place to enjoy wine! Our wine list changes with the seasons. Whatever we choose, it’s constantly evolving. You’ll be sure to discover wines that taste great, with stories you’ll love.

Laura: Unwined started as a wine bar in Tooting Market in 2015, followed by our second site on Lower Marsh in Waterloo in 2018. Since the pandemic we also have a fab online offering including at-home cheese and wine tasting experience kits.

What inspired you to get into the wine industry?

L: I loved food and realised that adding wine into the mix made it taste even better. That and the chance to discover thousands of grapes and explore how wine varies from country to country. I continue to be surprised every day.

K: Very similar to Laura! I started working in restaurants as my weekend job when I was in high school/university back in Australia but coming to London opened my eyes to all the amazing wines of Europe and beyond.

Which wines will you be gifting to loved ones this Christmas?

L: Controversially, I am loving cider this year – I mean it’s like wine, but made with apples, right? There’s some really fun stuff out there from Pilton, The Newt and Little Pomona, to name a few! I also love to give a delicious, sweet sherry made from the Pedro Ximénez grape, which is the most perfect Christmas pudding match. Anything a bit off-piste generally!

K: I always like to challenge people’s expectations, so I’ll find something that people would not normally buy themselves – perhaps a sherry or vermouth, or something from a lesser-known region such as Austria, Bulgaria or Slovenia.

What is your favourite wine to pair with opening presents?

L: It’s got to be fizz – we open presents mid-morning, so the bubbles add to the excitement! I tend to go for something traditional to start, usually a Crémant from France – it’s made in the same way as Champagne but way better value.

K: I’m for fizz too! Our tradition though is Moscato d’Asti, low alcohol, fizzy sweet wine from the famous Asti region of Italy. Pair this up with toasted panettone, berry compote and mascarpone for a Christmas morning treat.

What will you be drinking on Christmas Day?

L: A whole combo of wines. My motto is if you are trying lots of different foods, then you should try lots of different wines too! My starter wine will likely be a Chilean Riesling, it’s dry yet fresh, so super versatile. Whereas to go with the turkey I have my eye on a northern Italian red this year, made from a rare grape called Slarina, which is packed full of red berry fruit and herbs, yet light. Let’s just say it’s the cranberry to my turkey.

K: A tradition I’ve brought with me from Australia is sparkling red… now, hear me out! Back home it’s summer at Christmas time, and BBQ is the main event on Christmas Day, but alongside seafood and steaks a chilled, sparkling Shiraz goes down very well. In the UK though, I’ll pair up an Italian Lambrusco with cheese after our main meal – it has all the flavours of a port, but the bubbles make it a lot less heavy than port after a big meal.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career?

L: In wine; you’ll never know it all. Not only are there so many wines in the world but thousands of grape varieties, different interpretations and emerging wine regions. So, I love the fact that there will always be something new to discover. It builds into Unwined’s philosophy of discovery too.

K: Try everything once – a bit of a life motto in a way, but we’ve definitely found that sometimes the things we didn’t think would work, customers love, and other times things we thought would do well absolutely flopped. You can do all the market research in the world, but at the end of the day you just need to give it a go.

Who is your role model and how they have influenced you in your work?

L: I have loads of role models in different aspects of my life, but Jamie Oliver has had the biggest influence on my career. It was in his restaurant Fifteen where me and Kiki met. Both our passions for food and wine were fuelled by the ethos of his company which just embodied the love of food in every way.

K: I absolutely agree with Laura, we have to give credit to Jamie Oliver for the influence Fifteen had on us as young hospitality workers. We weren’t a part of the apprenticeship programme, but the whole ethos of Fifteen was about excellent training, being part of a family and supporting each other and we’ve really tried to embody that in our business too.

What do you like to do on your day off?

L: I love going out for a meal, and always love discovering new local restaurants – and wine bars, of course!

K: My partner and I finally got a puppy this year so it’s all about country walks and ending up in a pub for a bite afterwards.

Where are you most looking forward to travelling to next?

L: Venice. Through working at Fifteen it made me fall in love with Italy’s amazing food and wine scene, and I love the regional diversity. We had Venice booked in 2020 and we are determined to visit in 2022, not just for the food and wine, but to experience this one-of-a-kind city.

K: After seeing family in Sweden and Australia, I’m desperate to go to Japan. I love Japanese food, and I’d really love to explore the cuisine more than sushi and ramen. I’d also love to understand more about sake.

Apart from wine, what are your biggest passions?

L: Yoga is a big thing for me – having worked the crazy hours of hospitality for most of my life, yoga helps me ‘unwined’ and relax. I started doing Yoga with Adriene in lockdown and have continued to do so, as despite loving the front of house hospitality buzz, I am a homebody too.

K: Food! It’s my daily pleasure. That’s not to say I don’t love something simple, but to me there’s something miraculous that happens when you combine a bunch of ingredients, add some heat and seasoning. And finding a wine to add to this mix is just the icing on the cake.

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