Head sommelier at the London outpost of Hong Kong favourite Duddell’s, Konrad was born and raised in Poland, and arrived in the wine industry thanks to a food allergy. Due to his restricted diet, his mother would have to get creative, opening up a “world of unexpected flavours and aromas” and his eyes to the world of wine. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with an allergy to red wine at the age of 17, but this didn’t stop the budding sommelier, who battled against this set back, determined to pursue his love of wine. With time, his symptoms lessened, and he embarked on a career in the wine industry. Having worked as a wine buyer for a group of restaurants in Poland, as well as for a wine merchant, Konrad moved to the UK, starting out at French restaurant L’ortolan in Berkshire. Last year, he joined Duddell’s in London as part of the restaurant’s opening team – which he describes as the “younger and funkier brother” of the two-Michelin-starred Duddell’s Hong Kong Restaurant.
What or who inspired you to become a sommelier? (How did you arrive at the position you are in today?)
Allergies! At the age of 17 I was diagnosed with a red wine allergy. From that moment I started reading more about wine and tasting more wine. I wanted to be stronger than my allergy. Since then, wine and its complexity has fascinated me more with every day. I was also lucky to work with people who believed in me. At the beginning I was helped by my father hiring me in his restaurant as a commis waiter and later I met a few people who gave me the chance to work with wine during my studies in Cracow.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I love the process of creating a new wine list and improving it just as I love the numbers and spreadsheets behind the list. I think that nowadays the biggest challenge for a sommelier is to find a balance between a very attractive price for guests and profitability for restaurants. You have to go the extra mile to attract your guests and give them a feeling of well spent money.
What’s the biggest misconception about the role of a sommelier?
That sommeliers should explain everything in a simple way to their guest. Wine recommendations should be more than just two sentences about grape, bouquet and origin. Sommeliers should also give special attention to wine and food pairings. Such a simple thing like explaining why high acidity in wine is good with fatness or why low alcohol is helpful with spiciness can make someone’s experience.
What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?
It depends on what I eat! Most often it’s something red, soft & juicy… like Frappato, Croatina or Corvina. I proposed to my fiancée in the vineyard next to Corvina vines – that’s why I have a soft spot to Italian wines.
What’s your most embarrassing front-of-house moment?
I wanted to demonstrate to one of the guests that my water glasses are unbreakable. Unfortunately, during the presentation I smashed the glass.
If you could give your younger self advice when starting out as a sommelier, what would it be?
Don’t worry so much about corks that you broke and wine that you spilled.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
It wasn’t single bottle, but rather a diversity of wine styles. Every vintage, every region, every grape is different.
What to date has been your most memorable wine experience?
Offer of marriage to my fiancée at La Collina dei Ciliegi vineyard with an unforgettable view of Valpantena Valley and city of Verona. She said yes, so I could open the bottle of IL Classico Brut 2011.
Which customer habit annoys you the most?
When I hear: “I a am an expert and wine connoisseur, so I do not need advice”, and later I can see dissatisfaction because of the taste of the wine… When I am in the restaurant, I always ask a sommelier or waiter for advice. Who knows their wine list better than they do?
Who is your inspiration in the gastronomic world?
Anyone who likes his profession and comes to work happy.
What’s your ultimate food and wine pairing?
Foie gras with blood orange and Jakot 2010 from Radikon.
Where would your fantasy vineyard be?
Near the coast, in the agricultural part of Mallorca.
If you weren’t a sommelier, what would you be doing and why?
I would be a Michelin Guide inspector! To be honest I still believe that they will call me one day with an offer that cannot be refused.
Which wine (grape/style) do you find it impossible to get along with?
I am an open-minded person, so I believe that there is no such grape or style of wine.
Who is the most memorable customer you’ve ever served and why?
I remember all those who were interested in wine, asked the questions and were grateful for the advice.
What makes you most proud to be a sommelier working in London?
For me, London is worldwide capital of wine. There is no other city in the world that is so open to wines from all over the world.
What’s on your wine bucket list?
I am lucky, because at a very young age, I tasted many mythical wines from great vintages including Romanée-Conti, La Tâche or some Bordeaux classics like Château Pétrus, Cheval Blanc or Château Lafite Rothschild. Thanks to that I’m bit fussier regarding to my bucket list. Now I’m looking for very old vintages of Lugana, Hárslevelű and Riesling from Rheingau. Of course, I would like to drink them with winemaker to understand the process of development this wine.
Finally, what wine and paired plate would you pick from your list and why?
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Blason Rosé with dim sum symphony. Why? Because I love the harmony. Saltiness, that is missing from Champagne’s flavour profile, can be counter-balanced by salt and intense taste of dim sum with king crab and prawn. Moreover, PJ Rosé is always at home with delicate seafood steamed dim sum as well as with crisp, deep-fried dumplings or Cheung Fun, and its slight sweetness keys in perfectly with the subtle spicing.
Read Wine List Confidential’s full review of Duddell’s here.