A different kind of education
We pile into a side-room just off the main restaurant. There are roughly 30 servers in today’s training session, all of whom are based overseas. Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines are all accounted for.
Nash starts the session and asks for a quick show of hands for who is genuinely interested in wine. The response is a little lukewarm.
Next we get to the wine tasting. P&O recently started selling a specially-commissioned wine label. There are four — one white and three reds — all of which were blended and overseen by wine-writer and Saturday Kitchen regular Olly Smith.
“Do any of you know who he is?” Nash asks the room, but again, the response is a little flat.
“If you mention his name, your guests will be very excited,” she laughed.
While the servers are given key characteristics and aromas to pick out on the Merlot (“soft”, fruity” etc), the focus is less on the terroir and affect of the climate on the grape, and more on the branding. In fact, the staff are warned not to go into too much detail with the grape variety.
“The premise isn’t just education, it’s also about making it exciting,” she said later.
This, Nash explained to me later, is one of the things she loves about her job. C&B work with a wide range of bars and restaurants, from gastropubs to Nobu, so while there is a “core” wine school rooted in the WSET’s programme, which also teach staff how to up-sell a wine, each lesson is tailored to the client, with the consumer always in the back of their minds. The following week, she was heading to one of Drake & Morgan’s London bars to give the staff a deep dive into Pinot Noir expressions.
By the end of the training session, one server comes over to ask Nash more about sparkling wine, something which wasn’t covered in her Olly Smith run-down, with that glint in his eyes that hints that it’s all suddenly clicked. He loves wine.
“That’s the best bit about it for me,” she said.