The Vom Fass store (which means from the barrel' in German) in London's exclusive Westbourne Grove takes pleasure in its other moniker as "a sweetshop for grownups", and aims to put the fun back into shopping. Based on the philosophy of try before you buy', the oils, fruit vinegars, wines, liqueurs and spirits it stocks can all be sampled, and are sold from casks. The small shop aims to provide an interactive Mediterranean shopping experience with an emphasis on personal service akin to lunch in a Spanish bodega or a visit to a French vineyard. Manager Nicolas Pivot admits to spending up to an hour with individual shoppers, guiding their senses. "We urge customers to talk about what they like and try as much as they want. It's not just about selling for the sake of selling. We advise and give recommendations, but it's a very personal experience; we like people to describe things in their own words. My job is to be educational." He even prides himself on getting to know many of their names and adds: "If you're proud of the product, you want to sell it." The store sells bottles of varying size and quality (starting at 30p and ranging to £56 for a handblown affair) in which to put the product. But as at the Body Shop, shoppers are also encouraged to bring their own containers in an effort to personalise the experience as well as care for the environment. Pivot fills the bottles, then writes details of the contents on them for a rustic and personal appeal. UK franchise owner, Frenchman Richard Mosconi, believes the Vom Fass concept is unique and says it addresses shoppers' desire for something new: "Going to the supermarket is like going to work, it's automatic. Selling from the cask is a bit different. It brings back the intimacy originally found when consumers used to buy directly from producers. Customers like the personal touch and finding out tips or information about products." Vom Fass stocks up to 100 products at any one time ­ between 25 and 35 oils and vinegars, 30 spirits and 30 liqueurs; the range changes throughout the year and features seasonal products. The wines are for everyday drinking with prices from £3.99 to £7.99 per litre, and vintages such as Rosso Toscano, Pinot Grigio and Merlot del Veneto. "The great thing about it is that people can try it first ­ they don't have to waste £5 on a bottle they don't like," says Mosconi. Liqueurs include homemade peach, absinthe, vodka and limoncino, while Italian Grappa is a speciality with little known varieties such as Grappa Chardonnay or Grappa Cabernet available. Spirits from the barrel include Spanish Ferandez Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva as well as Armagnacs and Calvados. The UK store uses the same suppliers as its European counterparts and although most of the products come from the Mediterranean, there are some Scotch and Irish whiskies on offer. The concept started in Germany 10 years ago and there are now 200 stores across Europe and Japan. The first UK store opened in London a year ago and the third will open soon in Putney. The company has also just signed a deal with Selfridges in London's Oxford Street to open a concession in its food hall and has plans for at least 50 and possibly up to 200 stores in the UK during the next five years using a franchise model. Adds Mosconi: "We didn't want to open a second store until we had been open about a year, so that we could feel our feet. But we've now doubled turnover since last year. We think we're starting to create a whole new market." Vom Fass has just created a mailing list to keep regular customers up to date with new products and offers, and Pivot is also proud of the fact he sends recipes to interested consumers around the world. There's no web site for home shopping yet, as Mosconi feels this wouldn't be in keeping with the concept's personal service, although he concedes it could be on the cards soon for regular customers. Mosconi adds grandly: "We're trying to wake people up and get them to rediscover their palate and to feel special. We like to think of all them as connoisseurs." n {{FEATURES }}