Haute couture may not seem to have much in common with meat. But to David House of Allens, the analogy is a natural one. His customers are the wealthy residents of Mayfair and their tastes in meat do actually follow the dictates of fashion - right down to the seasonality.
So what's in fashion at the moment in Mayfair butchery? "At this time of year people can't get enough game - especially grouse," says House. "We also sell rarer game such as snipe and woodcock.
"They're very expensive, but we're fortunate to be in an area where people can afford it."
House certainly puts on a stylish display. In the window hang great sides of meat, including half lambs, pork bellies and long beef fillets, with cuts of meat piled along the bottom.
But while the main focus of the business will always be on the retro-chic traditional cuts, the business also tries to cater to multicultural modern trends. The store sells exotic meats such as crocodile, kangaroo and springbok, as well as a small range of sauces and condiments.
Allens claims to be the nation's oldest butcher after 177 years of continuous trading. It is located on a corner of Mount Street, just off London's prestigious Grosvenor Square, and is one of only four shops that the Duke of Westminster, who owns the shop and most of Mayfair, officially mandated. "It was part of his vision for a model village," says House.
He and co-owner Justin Preston rescued the business from the administrators 18 months ago. When the pair took Allens on, the business was 98%-focused on catering to London's top hotels and restaurants. Though at least half the business is still catering, in 18 months they have built up a significant retail business.
In taking the business forward, House knows he has to stick to some old-fashioned values. Local sourcing is not a priority because quality should take preference over food miles, he says, but all the store's beef, lamb and pork does come from farms in the UK.
Milk-fed veal is shipped in from the Netherlands and poultry comes from France, where House claims the quality is better than it is here. Wherever it is sourced, however, all meat is traceable back to the farm. "The big thing here is the origin of the meat. It's something customers ask about more and more," says House.
Allens is probably most famous for its game and participates in an annual race against other London butchers to secure the first grouse supplies of the season. "When the shooting season begins on 12 August, I'm on the phone trying to find a shoot that will sell me some shot birds," says House. "Then I have to drive up north to pick them up and race back down to get them plucked and drawn in time for that night's sitting at our restaurant customers."
People's renewed interest in butchery has created a profitable sideline and there is now an 18-month waiting list for butchery classes. House and Preston are also finalising a website that will allow customers nationwide to order online. "We don't want it to be complex and we're still trying to get the design right," says House. "It should be ready to launch after Christmas."
All this should mean that, despite the constant threat from the supermarkets, Allens should still be at the height of fashion next century.n