By Jonathan Watt
WHEN it comes to high-end dining experiences, few combinations have endured in the same way as a superior cut of beef and a quality red wine.
The age-old pairing forms the nucleus of Aberdeen multiple operator PB Devco’s new 90-cover restaurant, Vovem – a steakhouse and bar which opened in November and draws upon the revered Argentinian approach to grilling.
The Union Street venue was previously home to Filling Station; and PB Devco operations director Paul Clarkson told SLTN that no stone was left unturned during the 18-month project to transform the former American diner.
The group spent “slightly over” £1.5 million on the project, freehold included; the refurbishment work also saw the creation of speakeasy bar 21 Crimes, described as Aberdeen’s first “secret” bar, underneath the restaurant.
Paul said the high-end look of the new venue was driven by the standard of service and offer PB Devco wanted to deliver.
“We had a vision about what we wanted the level of service to be,” said Paul.
“I certainly wanted to let diners know that they were getting really good service.
“They will be entering a nice, welcoming bar where the staff will be knowledgeable and they’ll receive a quality product on the plate.
“It had to have an ambience that leads to a relaxed way of dining, whilst providing really good service, and I think we’ve hit the nail on the head with that.
“It was a big thing to go and invest in a venue with the way that things have been since the oil downturn, but we are happy that Aberdeen has seen its worst and we’ll see the benefit of our investment in the years to come.”
It’s not just fixtures and fittings the group is investing in.
In the pursuit of grilling excellence, Vovem uses the local beef that the north east is famous for as well as casting the net slightly further afield in a menu which offers the meat in a range of forms – from £10 Deeside flat irons to £65 zabutons from Dunblane-based butcher Highland Wagyu and aged sharing cuts from R&J Yorkshire’s Finest.
“We’ve done a lot of research,” said Paul.
That research also extended to the process by which the meat is cooked, and resulted in the group having an Argentinian Ox Grill, which is designed to imbue the beef with a subtle smoky taste, custom built.
“When you look into the whole culture of grilling, Argentina does seem to be at the forefront,” said Paul.
“We really wanted to capture that ethos. We’re not saying Vovem is Argentinian but it’s definitely influenced by it in terms of how we are cooking the meat, by grilling with charcoal and wood rather than gas, that’s at the heart of Argentinian-style cooking.”
On the drinks side, PB Devco worked with local wine specialist Rutabaga to put together a lengthy list of wines that can be paired with the restaurant’s dishes.
“The extensive wine menu has been curated to match with the food experience that we want to give,” said Paul.
“John Kelman, the gentleman who curated the menu, will also be in on weekends in a sommelier-style role with us.
“It’s great to have someone with a huge wine knowledge to come in and help, educating staff and customers alike.”
And as might be expected for both Aberdeen and steak, red is the colour.
“We’ve sold so much red wine and what’s really pleasing is people’s knowledge, tastes and appreciation for good reds,” added Paul.
“It’s been amazing.”